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Iraq Transition

Missing soldier's family in shock

Brother was 'cold and quiet' during last visit

Pfc. Kristian Menchaca, 23, of Houston, Texas, went missing after a checkpoint attack near Yusufiya, Iraq.


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HOUSTON, Texas (CNN) -- Relatives of a 23-year-old Army private reportedly abducted Friday from a checkpoint in Iraq expressed dismay Monday over his predicament and hope that he would be released.

"I'm still kind of, like, in shock," said Julio Cesar Vasquez of Houston, younger brother of Pfc. Kristian Menchaca. "It doesn't look good."

An al Qaeda-linked group -- Mujahedeen Shura Council -- claimed on a Web site Monday that it had abducted two U.S. soldiers south of Baghdad. The group did not post images or video of the soldiers.

Its claim could not be verified, but insurgent groups have posted messages on the Web site in the past. (Full story)

The Army has identified the two soldiers who went missing after an attack on the checkpoint near Yusufiya as Menchaca and Pfc. Thomas Lowell Tucker, 25, of Madras, Oregon.(Watch family voice fears about missing soldiers -- 3:03)

A third soldier, Spc. David J. Babineau, 25, of Springfield, Massachusetts, was killed in the attack.

More than 8,000 U.S. and Iraqi troops have been sweeping through 12 villages in search of Menchaca and Tucker, a military spokesman said Monday.

Brother 'wasn't the same'

Vasquez said his brother returned to their home north of Houston a month ago on a 10-day leave, and appeared changed by the war.

"He just said how pretty bad it was over there," Vasquez said. "He wasn't the same on the inside anymore. I guess that's what war does to you."

Vasquez, fighting to hold back tears, described his brother during the visit as "cold and quiet," and largely uncommunicative.

"He said he didn't care any more if he were to get killed. I noticed that change in him. He got a little cold in the inside."

Asked what he would tell his brother's captors, Vasquez offered nothing.

"I don't think they care," he said. "They're insurgents to us. We're probably insurgents to them. They don't care. They're probably happy at this."

And to his brother?

"Just hang in there. Just pray to the Lord ... and that we all love him and hope to see him again. But I don't know. I don't know if I ever will," Vasquez said.

Vasquez said he had been preparing for the possibility of bad news, but he was surprised by the report of his brother's abduction. (Watch what U.S. troops are doing to find soldiers -- 1:40)

"One thing is getting killed, another thing is getting kidnapped," he said.

"Now you have to think about what the terrorists or insurgents are doing to him, if he's still alive. He might be getting tortured now, and thinking about it just bothers me."

Vasquez said he learned that his brother had gone missing from his sister-in-law, who, after a two-week courtship, married Menchaca last year, just a month before he was deployed to Iraq.

The two were planning to live together at Fort Campbell when Menchaca returned, Vasquez said.

'He was numb'

An older cousin, Gabriela Garcia, said Menchaca -- with whom she grew up -- told her during his leave that he thought many of his fellow soldiers were suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

"I asked him if he was, and he said 'No.' But that's not true," she said. "He was numb. He had to survive.

"He needed to go numb to survive. He couldn't allow himself to feel the fear. It seemed like he was in survival mode."

Still, his time in Iraq appeared to have imbued him with a sense of confidence and self-assurance that he hadn't had before, she added.

"He was not so timid, but he was still very caring," she said.

Asked what she would tell her cousin if he were watching, she said, "To not give up, that we love you, we want you home."

And to those who are holding him, she said, "Let him go. What's one person going to do for them? What's this going to prove?"

Asked if it was time for all U.S. troops in Iraq to be sent home, she hesitated, then said, "I want to say yes."

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