Merced native honored for service by artist Beyonce

Merced native Army Sgt. Monica Estrada, 30, was one of five National Guard soldiers honored by famed vocalist Beyonce Knowles on Tuesday evening for their service in Iraq.

Estrada was chosen to attend "The Beyonce Experience" concert at the Save Mart Center in Fresno as part of the Army's Operation Tribute to Freedom Program, which recognizes returning soldiers for their service in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Estrada, now stationed at the Joint Force Headquarters in Sacramento, returned from Camp Victory on the outskirts of Baghdad in October. There she worked as a computer specialist, boosting Iraqi soldiers' skills in technology. "I feel like we made a difference over there," she said in a telephone interview. "I missed home, I missed everything. The hardest part was being without family."

Her mother, aunts, niece and nephew still live in Merced.

-- Dhyana Levey