This article was written by former San Benito High School student reporter Denisse Mendoza Hernandez and is part of the Veteran Voices Project.
Veteran's Day events are being held Sunday, Nov. 11 in downtown Hollister at the Veteran's Memorial Hall. Activities start at 10:00 a.m. and the parade begins at 1:30 p.m.
Ray Ramos, a veteran and Hollister resident, is one of the most charming people one could meet. He looks back at his time in the United States Army fondly. In an interview with students enrolled San Benito High School’s Mexican-American history class, he reminisced about his time stationed in Germany and opportunities he had, like going to the top of the Eiffel tower on Christmas Eve, and paying $5 dollars to watch the rock and roll band, Great White, perform in an abandoned parking lot. He thanks the Army for the many unforgettable experiences, although he recalls how tough it was.
Ramos was 20 years old when he chose to enlist as an engineer. On Feb. 14, 1989 he pledged his oath in Oakland and was sent to Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. to complete his basic training. Arriving in Missouri, he was shocked at how different the culture was, as well as the climate that consisted of 30 degree weather and constant rain and snow.
His training consisted of carrying 70 pounds worth of gear--which at the time was half his body weight--and marching up to 12 miles in the snow. His days at Fort Leonard Wood would start at 5 A.M. and consisted of completing many tasks, such as personal training, first aid, hand to hand combat, and weapons training. For 12 weeks he trained until 7 P.M. And since he was in training he did not have the freedom to go anywhere, so he would read handbooks, shine his boots, clean the bathrooms, and even buff floors.
Even though this all seems exhausting, his least favorite thing to do was bivouac. This consisted of going out to a field, fully geared, and laying in the cold and wet mud for days at a time without showering.
In Sept. 1990, he went on his first, military tour. He explained Operation Desert Storm was an effort to build up the troops and defense in Saudi Arabia due to Iraq’s then-leader, Saddam Hussein, invasion of Kuwait. Ramos recalled having moments of doubt during this tour. “We kept hearing on the outside that it was all due to oil…‘Are we actually here to help Kuwait out? Or are we just here for oil?,’ ” he recalled thinking at the time.
Ramos moved around a lot, so when he wrote letters to his loved ones it took a month for them to receive his letters and a month or longer for their response to get to him, depending on where he was stationed at the time. His tour ended in April 1991, and Ramos returned stateside.
His second tour was Iraqi Freedom. This operation removed Saddam Hussein from power.
Ramos was deployed in September 2004, just 9 days after his first daughter was born.
“Iraq was crazy,” expressed Ramos, adding, “We had a lot of hard fights there at that time. We knew what we were doing but we weren’t sure if we were gonna ever make it back to base or back home. It was real tough on everybody.”
At times, he had to follow orders that he did not agree with. On one occasion Ramos was transporting translators to a voting site 10 miles from his base. This came at a time when insurgents were attempting to interfere with the voting system and the vehicle’s lack of armor made it vulnerable.
There were improvements at base since his last deployment. The internet cafe made it a lot easier to communicate with his family via email. His team also had a satellite cell phone and he called his future wife at least once a month. He recalled how rough his situation was on her because the only way she knew he was fine was when he called her, otherwise she was in the dark. He returned home as a civilian in July 2005, just in time to see his daughter turn a year old.
In October of 2008 he was sent on his third deployment and second tour of Iraq. This tour was a lot easier because he was working as a contract manager. He was in charge of making sure that the schools being built were safe and that people were following codes and getting paid.
During this tour he was faced with another tough and memorable decision. He was the team leader of a four man unit. One day they were mortared and a team member got shaken up because it was close to where he was sleeping at the time. Ramos had to make the decision to let his fellow soldier stay back or go on a mission. Ramos decided to leave the traumatized soldier behind despite the effect it would have on the soldier’s career, as psychiatric evaluations are part of a soldier’s personnel file.
Following his third tour, Ramos returned home as a civilian.
During his deployment in Desert Storm, Ramos got used to driving in the middle of the roads and had tough time adjusting back into civilian life for a few months. But there were other effects of his war experience.
“For a while it was hard because Fourth of July fireworks go off, we get jumpy because everything sounds like gunfire,” he said.
The holiday season proved to be another challenge.
“We are always trained and told not to have the crowd around you. If you get a crowd around you, use your weapon, disperse them out,” he said of his time as a soldier, adding, “when you're shopping with your loved one and you're at the mall or you're at a store and you know it's just everybody cluttered together... It's still there. I don't think it will ever go away. I’m hoping eventually I'll get to the point where I'm just a straight civilian and I don't have to worry about the military stuff anymore.”
Ramos is now retired, but keeps in contact with his former comrades and tries to hold an annual lunch where they can meet and catch up because they have each other as support.
Listening to Ray Ramos opened up my mind about who veterans are. They are fighters. They keep us safe by putting themselves at risk, so they should be honored and respected.
Contact Frank Pérez at San Benito High School for more information about the project and the book that was produced containing twelve additional narratives about local, Latino Veterans. His email is, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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