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Albuquerque native and retired U.S. Marine David Torza is among the 22,000 people who were holed up in the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad after militiamen backed by Iran attacked the compound Tuesday.
Torza, 40, a 1997 West Mesa High School graduate, is working at the embassy for a subcontractor to provide protection and guard services for the massive live-work compound, said his mother, Gail Holien, and stepfather, Roger Holien, who have been in contact with Torza via text messages.
Wednesday morning he sent an update on the situation.
“Today was a very crazy day,” Torza wrote. “It started off pretty calm then as I was on the phone with Melinda (his wife) giving her the update, the protesters started acting up again. They continued to try to breach our walls and throwing burning tires, Molotov cocktails and slingshotting rocks at us. It definitely was intense but at no time was I worried about our safety.”
Torza and other U.S. personnel used tear gas to try to control the protesters before some help arrived, he wrote.
“Finally later in the afternoon, the Iraqi force got involved and pushed the protesters away and were able to set up a perimeter,” Torza wrote. “So all in all we had a lot of structural damage due to the fires that they set but no death or serious injuries to any individuals (at) the embassy.”
Gail Holien saw the news of the attack after waking up Tuesday morning and immediately texted him when she saw people were being evacuated.
“I asked him if he was being evacuated and he told me no, but he was on standby,” she said. “My first thought was when they announced that they were evacuating, I knew at that point it was pretty serious. Our government just doesn’t evacuate people from that compound. It’s the newest and most fortified of the embassies.”
She got a later text from Torza.
“We are under attack from 3,000 to 5,000 aggressive protesters that are trying to breach our walls here at the Embassy in Baghdad,” he wrote. “It’s definitely a threat to us but we’re in good defensive positions. I won’t be able to continue texting as you know I’m a little busy. If anything happens I will be sure to let you know.”
Torza retired from the Marines in June 2018, she said. “Then he went to work for a contractor and does security contract work for the embassy guarding the U.S. embassy.”
He wrestled and played football for the Mustangs before joining the Marines a year after graduating from high school and now lives in Temecula, California, with his wife and two daughters. He retired as a senior gunnery sergeant.
Torza, and his wife, Melinda, also a retired Marine, saw combat tours of duty in Afghanistan and Kosovo.
The situation has been percolating for a while, Gail Holien said he told them.
“Our son has told us the situation has been tense for some time,” she said. “It has been going on for the past eight or nine months or so. When the airstrike (that set off the Tuesday protest at the embassy) happened, we knew there would be consequences. Something like that can’t happen without some kind of retaliation.”
While her son is in danger, Gail Holien said she understands his role.
“I thank God for men and women who are that courageous and that brave,” she said. “I just think David is groomed for this. They (Torza and his wife) have been in really intense situations most of their lives. Casualties around them. They have a strong survival instinct. But they have the protection attribute. They do everything they can to protect their country and other servicemen and other servicewomen. That’s deep within them. It’s like their calling. It’s so in them.”