After six tours in Afghanistan and Iraq, Army Staff Sgt. Ricardo Barraza was scheduled to return home to Shafter, Calif., this month and to marry his fiancee in May.
Instead, Barraza, 24, was returned home for burial Friday at Bakersfield’s Hillcrest Memorial Hill of Valor.
Barraza, a squad leader in the 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment at Ft. Lewis, Wash., was killed by small-arms fire March 18 in Ramadi, Iraq, west of Baghdad. Sgt. Dale G. Brehm, 23, of Turlock, Calif., who was wounded with him, died March 19.
Barraza was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star Medal for Valor, Bronze Star Medal, Purple Heart and Meritorious Service Medal, according to his regiment’s public affairs office at Ft. Bragg, N.C.
“I am proud of my son; he will always be my hero,” his mother, Nina Barraza, said through a family spokeswoman and friend, Donna Smith. Too heartbroken to speak, his mother, a grocery store clerk, and his Spanish-speaking father, Fransisco Barraza, a contractor, asked Smith and Shafter Police Chief John Anthony Zrofsky to speak for the family.
When Barraza came home on a furlough in October, his mother tried to talk him out of reenlisting, Zrofsky said. But he told her his duty was in Iraq with his men, the police chief said. Barraza returned to Iraq on Nov. 11 -- the last time his family saw him.
Barraza’s death has shaken the residents of Shafter, a close-knit community of 14,000, Zrofsky said.
Barraza is the first soldier from Shafter to die in action since the Vietnam War, he said.
“It’s very painful to the community,” the police chief said.
On Friday, about 700 people, including his Ranger colleagues, attended a funeral Mass at St. Therese Catholic Church, his home parish.
After his burial, about the same number of people attended a reception put on by the American Legion, Women’s Auxiliary, Rotary Club and his mother’s employer.
Barraza moved with his family to Shafter from Washington when he was young. He, his three sisters and brother all grew up there. He joined the military after graduating from Shafter High School in 1999. He served three tours in Afghanistan and was deployed three times to Iraq.
Barraza’s absence will be felt for a long time by the community, “which holds young people dear,” the police chief said. “Being a Ranger and a squad leader at 24 was an extraordinary achievement. He was an extraordinary young man with extraordinary talents. He embodies the full spirit of the Ranger creed.”
In addition to his parents, Barraza is survived by two sisters, Amanda and Rachel Barraza, both of Shafter; another sister, Jamie Barraza, and a brother, Frankie Barraza, both of Sunnyside, Wash.; and his fiancee, Maghan K. Harrington and her daughter, Kayla, of Lacey, Wash., according to the 75th Ranger Regiment.