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Cadets make over home of mother whose soldier son died in Iraq

With shovels, hoes and wheelbarrows, a platoon of teenage cadets launched their assault Saturday as the sun rose over Marina Vance’s Henderson home.

“I wanted to beat the heat,” Sgt. Maj. Robert Brown said as the team of two dozen Army Junior ROTC cadets from Mojave and Valley high schools set out to sweat and “spit cotton,” as one soldier put it.

Stormmie Banegas, 16, of Mojave high, said the sight of the unkept landscape “was really gloomy.”

Fellow cadet Adrian Castellanos, 17, described the scene “as a blackish-gray mess of dried grass.”

Their job: remove tons of that dead grass and dirt from the front yard, and replace it with rock and desert landscaping. Then give the stucco-and-rail fence a makeover with fresh paint. Then focus on the house’s exterior, said Chief Warrant Officer-4 Loyd Crathers, the senior Army instructor at Mojave High School.

The reason: It’s been almost 10 years since Vance’s son, “Nacho” — Spc. Ignacio Ramirez — was killed when a roadside bomb exploded in Ramadi, Iraq.

With Memorial Day approaching, Chere’ Pedersen of Blue Star Mothers of Henderson and Boulder City thought a makeover of the Gold Star mother’s home was long overdue.

Enter the Army.


“We heard Marina needed some help,” said Raiza Aleman, a cadet major in Valley’s Viking Battalion and an Army private who just joined the Nevada National Army Guard.

“I have a brother in the military, and I known it’s hard for military moms. And she lost her son. I would want someone to help my mom if she was in that situation with my older brother,” Aleman said.

“It’s awesome! I want to cry,” Vance said when she returned from work at 6:15 p.m. and saw the result of the cadets’ efforts.

“Seeing all these kids, I think I see my little boy there in between,” she said. “It’s very emotional. I’m very thankful. I’m very blessed.”

Ramirez was killed Aug. 9, 2006. A student athlete who graduated from Henderson’s Basic High School in the Class of 2002, he died during the year that Nevada mourned its most war deaths, 17, topping 16 the previous year, 2005.

Of Nevada’s 79 war dead, 50 died in Iraq or Kuwait during Operation Iraqi Freedom, and 28 died from missions in Afghanistan mostly during Operation Enduring Freedom. One, Army Staff Sgt. Kerry W. Frith of Las Vegas, died in the Philippines in 2002.

Some died in firefights, Humvee wrecks and helicopter crashes, but most, like Ramirez were killed by roadside bombs or suicide car bomb attacks as was the case with 19-year-old Marine Pfc. John Lukac. He was a stellar student from Durango High School in Las Vegas who joined Marines after graduating in 2003 because “he wanted to make a difference,” his mother, Helena Lukac, has often said.

Brown, an Iraq War veteran, was on tour when Ramirez was killed. He and Crathers are members of the Nevada Veterans Council where they found out about the Blue Star Mothers’ plan to spruce up Vance’s home.

“We probably have 25 kids here working to help the family realize we’re going to stay connected with them as long as they want us to.

“We’re going to start painting the house tomorrow,” he said. “Today is the heavy labor day for the kids.”

He envisions hauling in some railroad ties to make a base for a flagpole and add some special lighting.

Contact Keith Rogers at krogers@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0308. Find him on Twitter: @KeithRogers2

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