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MILITARY DEATHS

Army Spc. Matthew Ramsey, 20, Quartz Hill; among 6 troops killed in Afghanistan

An Afghan border policeman they were training turned his weapon on the men in Nangarhar province, on the Pakistani border.

February 13, 2011|By Robert Faturechi, Los Angeles Times
  • Matthew Ramsey's wife, Mirella, who was his high school sweetheart, and his son, Zachary, not yet 2 years old, were his life, his father says. Ramsey's wife is pregnant with another son who will be named Timothy.
Matthew Ramsey's wife, Mirella, who was his high school sweetheart,…

They had to hold the funeral at a big church in Palmdale. Matthew Ramsey, a native of nearby Quartz Hill, was just 20, but the young soldier's life had already touched many.

Inside the crowded sanctuary were his buddies from childhood sports, former teachers and counselors, fellow sheriff's Explorers and other military veterans. His son, not yet 2 years old, was up front with Ramsey's young widow, pregnant again but barely showing.

Images of Ramsey were projected on a screen: One showed him as a toddler, laughing atop his tricycle. Mourners chuckled when that one went up.

Brenda Cowan, Ramsey's high school career advisor, attended the service with her husband. She had met his family years earlier when she worked at his elementary school.

At a funeral for a 20-year-old, there's no shortage of gut-wrenching moments. Cowan's came as she watched a burly young man sitting alone in her pew. "He was crying the whole service," she said. "I wanted to comfort him, poor thing."

Unlike many U.S. military deaths, Ramsey's, on Nov. 29 in eastern Afghanistan, received extensive news coverage. An investigation is continuing, but initial reports indicate that an Afghan border policeman, who was being trained by Ramsey and five others, turned his weapon on the men, fatally shooting all six, according to the military. The attack in Nangarhar province, on the Pakistani border, was a reminder of the dangers that may come with intensified Western efforts to turn security responsibilities over to Afghan soldiers and police.

Ramsey, a specialist, and those killed with him were all assigned to the 1st Squadron, 61st Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) at Ft. Campbell, Ky.  Ramsey was on his second tour of duty in Afghanistan.

The soldier's father wasn't home when the phone call came, but his brother told him the news once he got back. He said the numbness lasted for hours.

"Here's someone you did trust," Wayne Ramsey said of the man alleged to have killed his son. "Matt would be the first one to say this man had been there for almost three years working with Americans, working with Afghans. Why would you question him after this length of time?"

The attack hasn't shaken Wayne Ramsey's faith in the war effort, however. His son, he said, was devoted to God and country, and believed in what he was doing. Many of his friends felt the same and had also enlisted, one just before the news of Ramsey's death came.

"It was a thing they all felt was necessary," Wayne Ramsey said.

Matthew Ramsey was an average student but worked hard. During grade school, he played a variety of sports and was a "team captain" type who encouraged others, his father said. In high school, he became a sheriff's Explorer. At a restaurant, he once confronted another patron who had gotten drunk and was grabbing and shoving a woman with him, his father said.

"You got to stop that," Ramsey's father recalled him telling the man. "You can't treat her that way."

Ramsey met his wife, Mirella, at Quartz Hill High School. They stayed together when he left for boot camp, and were married when he returned on leave.

He would check in with her via Facebook at least once a day from Afghanistan. When their son, Zachary, was born, Ramsey would call frequently. The months-old baby learned to recognize his father's voice, and would laugh and babble back into the receiver.

With another son — who will be named Timothy — on the way, Ramsey was eager to be home.

"His kids and his wife were his life," his father said. "She was his true love. Even when they had an argument, they would talk, come back and communicate."

Ramsey's ashes are at home with Mirella until she decides where to spread them, his father said.

In addition to his wife, son and father, Ramsey is survived by his mother, Melissa.

robert.faturechi@latimes.com

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