View Full Version : El Paso mom gets her 3 military children home for holidays

01-05-09, 07:00 AM
El Paso mom gets her 3 military children home for holidays
By Chris Roberts / El Paso Times
El Paso Times
Posted:01/05/2009 12:00:00 AM MST

EL PASO -- An El Paso military mom got her wish for the holidays, the safe return of her three children who have served under fire while supporting the war on terrorism.

Two sons and a daughter each have served multiple tours of duty in Afghanistan or Iraq -- and they were all home for Christmas this year, a wish Christina Vilches expressed to the El Paso Times in February. "Normally people want their children to grow up and leave," Vilches said then. "I want my children to come home.

"It just makes the holidays that much more enjoyable," Vilches said last week in the living room of her East El Paso home, where a Christmas tree still glowed in full splendor. "I'm ecstatic."

Being with family for the holidays "has a special meaning because you went over there to keep your family safe," said Jesse Ruelas, the eldest of the three at 25, who retired from the Army as a sergeant in August. "I feel more of a sense of pride because all three of us are combat veterans."

Vilches' Army son and Air Force daughter both left the military and are pursuing careers they hope will allow them to stay in El Paso. Now Vilches worries mainly about her Marine son, who still is on active duty and says he will go back to Af ghanistan if the corps asks him to, even though his term is up in six months, which is not enough time for another deployment.

All three came under enemy fire during their service.

Jesse Ruelas spent 42 months in Iraq starting with the invasion in 2002, when he was a Bradley fighting vehicle driver and engaged both the "elite" Iraqi Republican Guard and Iraqi paramilitary groups called the Fedayeen Saddam. Ruelas, who returned from Iraq in May, said he joined the Army to "earn my right to be called an American."

During his three tours in Iraq, he served in Baqubah, Ramadi and Baghdad. He survived attacks involving rocket propelled grenades, roadside bombs and small-arms fire. However, he said, his last tour was less dangerous and involved mostly stability operations such as restoring public services.

"We maintained a pretty safe environment," Ruelas said. "Insurgents didn't really mess with our area because of our command presence."

Vilches' daughter, Brandy Perez, 24, left in September as a staff sergeant from her job as an Air Force security forces officer, which is similar to military police in the Army. She joined the Air Force, she explained with a smile, because she was angry at the Army for taking away her older brother.

When Perez signed up, she said, the recruiter told her she would not have to leave the country. "We didn't think she would be going anywhere," Vilches said.

On Perez's first overseas tour, which was in Korea, she turned 19. She was stationed at Talil Airbase during her first tour of duty in Iraq.

"I don't think it really hit me, as far as (being in a combat zone) until my first rocket attack in Iraq," Perez said. "They were just lobbing stuff in and hoping they hit us."

The second time she was in Iraq, her unit performed security patrols, in Humvees and in the observation towers ringing the perimeter of Camp Bucca, a southern Iraq prison camp that was the largest in the country.

During her deployments, Perez missed many of the mileposts in her daughter's life, including the toddler's first steps and her first birthday.

In computer videoconferences, Vilches would make sure her granddaughter saw her mother's face, photographs of which were placed on toys and other objects around the house, such as key rings. "I didn't want her to forget," Vilches said.

Her other son, Cpl. Matthew Ruelas, 21, has been all over the world, including two tours in Afghan istan.

"I didn't want Jesse and Brandy to have all the fun," Matthew Ruelas said. He added that rather than copy one of them, he chose a different military branch -- the Marines.

"I'm in the infantry, so I wanted to go to the fight," Matthew Ruelas said. "Ididn't want to just hang out."

Matthew Ruelas said that the Marines distributed such things as shoes, books, pens and medical supplies -- but that they did it with an attitude. His unit would go into the mountainous areas in southern Afghanistan controlled by insurgents to establish a presence. They often found a fight, he said, and would continue distributing the humanitarian aid after the fight was finished. In the following days, they would return to the town where the attack took place to show the residents a persistent security presence.

In September, he volunteered to go back for three months.

"Everybody was hoping to go to this (forward operating base) where the fight was at," Matthew Ruelas said. "It was a new FOB they had just built and there were no showers, no running water. ' It was just us and the Taliban out there."

His mother rolls her eyes when he talks about going back. "Yes, he will volunteer because that's him," Vilches said.

She's proud of the three, but she is ready for a break from the constant worrying, and it is a relief to her that none of the three are planning careers in the military. Matthew Ruelas said he will go back to school when he leaves the Marines. Jesse Ruelas said he is looking for a job with the Sheriff's Office or the post office or another federal agency. Perez plans to become a registered nurse.

"I'm very proud of them because they have the courage to do what other people don't," Vilches said, adding, "Of course, a mother would rather have her children home."

Chris Roberts may be reached at chrisr@elpasotimes.com;546-6136.