By COLLEEN SPARKS GSN Staff Writer
Chandler is mourning the loss of a Hamilton High School graduate who was killed by enemy fire in Somalia – the first Arizonan killed in combat since 2016.
Staff Sgt. Alexander W. Conrad, 26, died of injuries sustained June 8 during an operation in Somalia while supporting Operation Octave Shield, the Pentagon and other sources said.
Staff Sgt. Conrad had been assigned to 1st Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Group, Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Four U.S. service members were injured during the attacks.
“He’s a hero. I can’t say that enough,” said his brother Jacob, 24, of Chandler.
“He was selfless,” he added. “He always put out his best effort to make everyone happy. He was a people pleaser. He loved his family and he loved his friends.”
Jacob, a Phoenix police officer, said Alex inspired him to join the Army after graduating from Hamilton in 2012. Jacob was on active duty for five years before joining the Army Reserves a few months ago and taking the job as a police officer.
Jacob said Alex was “really smart” and “he excelled in the Army.”
“He graduated with honors from leadership school, went to a language school I’ve heard is incredibly hard; he excelled in that,” Jacob said, adding:
The Army sent him to France to live with a family. He did that well and after a second deployment, he was talking to Special Forces guys; that became his dream. He never went halfway into anything. He jumped all the way in.”
He said he and Alex “loved competing in anything.” Both brothers played football at Hamilton and enjoyed shooting guns and mountain biking.
Jacob laughed when he recalled how when Alex had just gotten his driver’s license, he and Alex went for a ride in their father’s truck and Alex hit a bump and “cracked the frame of the truck.”
“When I got my (driver’s) license, I was driving; he was like, ‘I swear you hit every pothole,'” Jacob added.
Jacob said Alex was very outgoing and loved craft beer. He also enjoyed spending time with his nephews, Jack, 5, and Tommy, 3, the sons of Jacob and Alex’s sister, Christie Palcisko of Oceanside, California.
“Alex loved those kids,” Jacob said. “Alex would send them boxes and they would send him cards. They would send him pictures they’d color.”
He added Alex took Jack and Tommy to Legoland and bought Jack “the biggest pirate ship Lego he could find.”
Served twice in Afghanistan
A 2010 graduate of Hamilton, Staff Sgt. Conrad was born in Mesa in 1992 and joined the U.S. Army on June 1, 2010.
After finishing basic training at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, and advanced training at Fort Huachuca, Arizona, he was stationed as a human intelligence collector at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington.
While stationed there, Sgt. Conrad was deployed to Afghanistan twice in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, from 2012-13 and for four months in 2014.
Sgt. Conrad was the first love of Sarah Burke, who was part of his graduating class at Hamilton.
Burke, 26, an Ahwatukee dietitian, said they had their first date while students at Bogle Junior High and dated off and on through their junior year at Hamilton.
“He was loved by so many people,” Burke said. “I don’t think there was hardly a person in our senior class that didn’t know who he was. He was my first love and I was his.
“It’s so crazy just all the memories that come back. I first knew him in seventh grade; he was really quiet. Once he opened up to people he was funny. He was just a good person and he cared about other people. He wanted to make everybody happy.”
She remembered how he asked her on a date when they were in eighth grade.
“He came up to my locker after school,” Burke said. “He asked me out.”
At first, she declined because she was not sure if she would be allowed to go on a date, but she said a friend “set up a secret meeting” for her and Alex at the Chandler Fashion Center.
They went to a restaurant but she was so nervous she couldn’t eat, so Alex did not eat anything either.
Burke said Alex always worked hard, helping his father with projects and serving as a referee for youth soccer. She said he also worked at Sandbar Mexican Grill and other jobs and was very smart.
“He could pick up any job and do it,” Burke said. “He just had the common sense that I never had. He just figured stuff out. He didn’t need a lot of guidance. He was someone that was mature and had this deep understanding of the world at a younger age.”
While dating, Burke and Sgt. Conrad often went to movies and took walks in parks.
“We went to dances together,” Burke said. “He was my first dance at our eighth-grade formal at Bogle. I had my first slow dance there. He taught me to snowboard, too. He was an avid snowboarder.”
Sgt. Conrad was also one of the kickers on Hamilton’s football team and he had played soccer in junior high school. Burke said he also loved baseball and was “a really great horseback rider, too.”
“He loved that corny humor, like ‘Family Guy,’” she said. “He would laugh. I can still picture the way his face, his smile was. He was such a good guy. The first sign of trouble, he would be the first person to step in.”
Burke added Sgt. Conrad was “loyal to a fault” and a “man of character, integrity.”
Even after they broke up in high school, Burke and Sgt. Conrad kept in contact and she went to his cousin’s funeral at Sgt. Conrad’s request.
“We’ve always had this kind of bond even though we didn’t stay together,” Burke said.
‘Good person to be around’
J.R. Bratek, 26, of Mesa, a correctional officer, also was in Sgt. Conrad’s graduating class at Hamilton.
He played football with Sgt. Conrad and they were in some classes together. Bratek said Sgt. Conrad had to leave for basic training before their graduation ceremony, but a video was shown at the event to recognize him.
“Alex was one of those guys that everybody got along with,” he said. “He was a good student. He was a good person to be around. He made everybody laugh. He was always laughing, always had a smile on his face.
“He was very outgoing…was always there when you needed him. He made being on the football team fun. He was very smart, very intelligent.”
Bratek said Sgt. Conrad was excited and honored about enlisting in the Army.
“If I remember correctly, he wanted to make a career out of it,” Bratek said.
Sgt. Conrad earned many awards and decorations during his time in the military. He was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart, as well as the Meritorious Service Medal.
Sgt. Conrad also received the Meritorious Unit Commendation (second award), Army Commendation Medal (third award), Army Achievement Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Combat Action Badge, NATO Medal and other honors.
He completed a basic French course at the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center in Monterey, California, in 2016.
Staff Sgt. Jon Chagoya of the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Group out of Fort Bragg, North Carolina, was the language instructor who taught him French.
Chagoya spent a short time with Sgt. Conrad for a language course in Bavaria, Germany, and again as Chagoya was finishing his tour in Africa, Sgt. Conrad’s group arrived to take over for the soldiers.
‘Made friends easily’
Chagoya, 35, said Sgt. Conrad was “not naturally talented in the language” of French, but he worked hard.
“Alex succeeded because he was able to recognize that about himself,” Chagoya said. “He applied himself and worked very diligently to get to the point where he could pass a very difficult course.”
He said Sgt. Conrad “made friends fairly easily” but “enjoyed actually getting to know people as compared to simply being a surface-level guy.”
Chagoya fondly remembered how while in Germany last year, he, Sgt. Conrad and other American soldiers went to a beer festival.
Their tour guide told them about a “stone-lifting competition” at the festival and jokingly asked if anyone wanted to participate.
Chagoya said Sgt. Conrad without hesitating said he would “absolutely love to do that” without knowing what it would entail.
Chagoya said rather than a stone, Sgt. Conrad had to lift something “like a weight with a handle” that weighed about 500 pounds while on stage.
“It was a good example of the kind of guy he was,” Chagoya said. “He saw a challenge and said, ‘All right, why not?’ He was the only American that participated in that event. Adventurous is a good way to describe him.”
He said Sgt. Conrad liked weightlifting but showed his softer side when they went to an orchestra concert in Prague.
“I remember thinking, this doesn’t really seem like Alex’s thing,” Chagoya said. “When the concert was finishing up, he was wiping tears out of his eyes. He said it was incredibly moving. To me, that’s just one of the aspects of him.
“We’re all multifaceted people. There’s a lot that’s going to written and said about Alex over the next days and weeks that is focused on him as a soldier. It’s important to highlight this aspect of him, as well,” He added.
Tributes, condolences pour in
Chandler Mayor Jay Tibshraeny expressed his condolences to Sgt. Conrad’s loved ones.
“This was extremely sad news,” Tibshraeny said. “Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends today. To have one of our own residents perish is a grim reminder of the thousands of brave men and women who, on a daily basis, serve to protect this country – as well as to protect the rights and safety of others all across the globe. Our hearts go out to this Chandler hero.”
Flags at City of Chandler facilities were flown at half-staff on June 11 until the morning of June 12 to commemorate Sgt. Conrad. The City Council also observed a moment of silence in honor of the soldier during its June 11 study session at City Hall.
Gov. Doug Ducey ordered all flags at all state buildings be lowered immediately to half-staff until sunset on June 11 to honor Sgt. Conrad.
He also said the flags would be lowered the day of Sgt. Conrad’s funeral, which had not yet been scheduled.
“The prayers and hearts of all of Arizona are with the family and loved ones of Staff Sergeant Sgt. Conrad,” Ducey said, adding:
“He made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of his country, and we are forever grateful.”
President Trump also paid tribute to Sgt. Conrad.
“My thoughts and prayers are with the families of our serviceman who was killed and his fellow servicemen who were wounded in Somalia,” Trump posted on Twitter. “They are truly all HEROES.”
Family members traveled to Delaware recently to receive Sgt. Conrad’s body and escort him home for a funeral, which was one of soldier’s wishes.
Sgt. Conrad will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery, as was his wish. Jacob said Alex loved Washington, D.C., and had several friends buried at Arlington.
The family asks that donations be sent to pattillmanfoundation.org.