War for What?

Sgt. Cabadiana was the poster child for the Bush military. Then they took his wife away.

The Cabadianas met through mutual friends in 1997 in New York, where Frank was stationed at Fort Totten in Queens. They hit it off immediately. There was the Ecuadorian connection -- Frank was born in Guayaquil, though he had come to the States as a teenager and become a citizen in 1990, and she was from nearby Manabi. They both had upbeat, high-spirited personalities that clicked. Within months, they went to the Municipal Building in downtown Manhattan and got married. Then they hired a lawyer and applied for permanent residence status for Patricia.

But the papers got misdirected when they moved to Florida in 1998, Cabadiana says now. "The lawyer put the wrong address down, and we never got them," he says. If they had, the Cabadianas would have realized that, not only had permanent residence been denied to Patricia but, on September 22, 1998, a federal immigration judge in New York had ordered her deported.

In Florida, Cabadiana worked as a banquet worker at the Weston Hills Country Club and ran a car detailing service while spending a weekend every month with the National Guard. After he was called up for active duty in Iraq, Cabadiana quickly made a name for himself for both his warmth of personality and his physical strength "He was a good person and as strong as an ox," says Spc. Oliver Perez, a Florida International University student who served in Iraq in Cabadiana's company. As the regiment settled into the dangerous Sunni triangle, Cabadiana was made a squad leader, supervising nine men on patrols on the treacherous east side of Ramadi. The unit's principal thoroughfare was Highway 10, the "Highway of Death," which cuts through Ramadi toward Baghdad.

Frank Cabadiana feels it all slipping away.
Michael McElroy
Frank Cabadiana feels it all slipping away.
Frank and Patricia on their wedding day.
Frank and Patricia on their wedding day.

Cabadiana was injured September 15, 2003. While traveling in a small convoy bringing food to soldiers in the field, he passed an ice stand. The vendor, who had aroused the suspicions of a squad leader riding ahead, had disappeared. As Cabadiana's Humvee passed, a bomb hidden in a container of ice exploded. "There was a loud roar, like thunder in a hurricane," says Cabadiana, who was sitting in the passenger seat. "Thank God, nobody was hurt." Fragments flattened the car's tire and knocked a hole in the radiator while the bomb carved a foot-deep crater out of the hardtop road. But the only serious physical casualty was to the sergeant's hearing.

"We were blessed that morning," Cabadiana says.

Cabadiana tried to soldier on, but the ringing in his ears got worse and worse, he says. A month and a half after the explosion, with a constant zuzzz zuzzz in his ears, a doctor declared him unfit for service at the front. "My high-frequency hearing is gone," says Cabadiana, who now uses a hearing aid. "The doctors say it will only get worse."

When his papers are processed, Cabadiana will be the 24th member of Charlie Company, in his regiment's First Battalion, to receive a Purple Heart.

Back in Hollywood, Cabadiana was set to settle in for some well-deserved rest and relaxation with his wife and stepson. A big yellow bow is still attached to the front of the house, a fading reminder of his happy return. When he stepped through the door, Patricia and Adrian were there to give him the kind of home comfort he had imagined while on patrol. "It was everything I dreamed about," he says.

But while driving to Orlando to hook up with his family for a Disney World visit, Cabadiana's left side suddenly went numb. "I just followed the 'hospital' signs, driving with one hand, using one eye to see," he says. "When I got there, I crawled into the ER and told them, 'Please help me. '" He had suffered a myocardial infarction -- a classic heart attack -- with four blood vessels blocked.

"They told me, 'You're one lucky soldier,'" he says.

Cabadiana's mother, Olga Perez, who lives in uptown Manhattan, insists that the heart attack resulted from the war. "The stress, the heat over there, and the high fat diet that they were feeding him -- that's what caused it," she says.

Three months later, while he was recuperating at home, Patricia went out on an errand. She was stopped for a minor traffic violation by Miami police, who searched her records and found an outstanding federal warrant in her name. She was extradited to New York and then, on September 1, placed in custody in the New Jersey jail. "The doctor told me he wants me to have zero stress," Cabadiana says, with a pained look.

Tim Emmons, a spokesman for the jail, which holds immigration detainees under a contract with the Homeland Security Administration, says that Patricia is being held in a dormitory and that it was "unlikely" she had been deprived of a mattress. They acknowledged that she had received medical treatment, but they could not say for what. But a request to interview her on the telephone received no response.

Cabadiana has enlisted the help of Rep. Kendrick Meek, a South Florida Democrat, who has requested a stay on the deportation order for Patricia. "The problem is that Sgt. Cabadiana filed [with immigration authorities] for his wife, but he never followed up on the petition," says Meek's aide, Ernesto Ramos. "That makes it very, very hard. But we're not giving up."

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