Carla Jane Stewart, a GCC dance department alumna and an Army Reserve member, was a beloved 5-foot tall woman who died on Jan. 28 when her convoy vehicle overturned in Tallil, Iraq.
Even at the age of 37, she reached her goal of wanting to serve in the military in 2004. Her mother, Emmy Aprahamian, said that Stewart was determined to enlist in the military. She was even going to join with a friend when she was 17 years old, but both of them got cold feet.
“I told her that she might end up in Iraq,” Aprahamian said. “But she [Carla] said, ‘I have to do it. If I don’t, I’ll regret it for the rest of my life.’ ” So Stewart finally joined the military when she was 34 because the cutoff to join the military is 35.
“She really loved the military and she always wanted to be a soldier because she loved this country so much,” said close friend Robin Ward. “A lot of people don’t know that about her because when she was here, she was a dancer and that’s that people thought of her as.”
Before the military, Stewart was a graduate of Glendale’s Hoover High School and attended Glendale College. She was known as a dancer and Patt Paczynski, a dancer/choreographer at the dance department, said that Carla was always up for the new dance. “She was great, funny, cheerful and easy to work with,” she said.
“She was full of joy and talent,” said dance instructor Lynn McMurrey. “She was the type of person who when you were down, she’d come in and you’d immediately feel better. She was tiny and brimming with energy. We kept in touch and everyone [who knew her at GCC] went to her wedding.”
“It’s been years since she’s visited and when I heard that she was killed, it hit like bam,” said McMurrey. “She is mourned deeply.”
Aprahamian said that Stewart gave her so much as a mother. “She had so much love, respect and trust,” she said. “We had the perfect relationship.”
She also said that Stewart was a great student who loved what she chose to study, mechanical drafting. “I didn’t miss anything,” she said. “When she used to do ballet, I did her make up for her just to be with her like all the other parents with their children.”
“It’s been really hard,” said Ward. “We were really close. I told her before she left for Iraq that we were supposed to get together on her return and that didn’t seem to work out.”
“Out of all the people I lost, ending with Carla, I never expected her to not to come back,” she said. “She wasn’t in combat. That was not even a thought to me that she would not be returning.”
Her mother is still distraught about Stewart’s passing. She said, “I feel horrible. I lost my daughter and my best friend. We shared everything – our joy and our pain… It has been a great lost for me.”
Stewart earned several medals and stars because she was always rescuing someone or something.
According to Ward, there was always laughter surrounding Carla because there was always someone laughing. “Even the troops that she was with in Iraq,” she said. “I’d read a lot of stuff that they’ve written about her and it was always positive.”
They would talk about how they would come back from a mission and how she would come up to them when she would see them down. Even if she was exhausted, she would go talk to them and make them feel better. “That was the kind of person she was,” she said.
“I don’t know anyone who has anything negative to say about Carla,” said Ward. “The only negative thing people could say about her is being short. The troops that she served with called her Stuart Little, but that never affected her because everything was pretty much a joke.”
The GCC dance department hopes to be holding a memorial service in Stewart’s honor next month with current dance department members performing in Stewart’s honor. “They [the students] don’t know her,” said Ward. “But they’re doing the memorial for me and her mom will be there.”
She is survived by her mother, her father, Edmond Babayan, and her brother, Richard Babayan, and her estranged husband, Brandon Stewart. “I’ve truly been blessed to have been friends with her,” Ward said. “I can say that she’s very missed all around.”