A young man and a dream die in war
December 15, 2010
At an age when most teens still find it challenging to crawl out of bed in the morning, 17-year-old Matthew Ramsey was driven, a doer. So as he aimed toward an early graduation from high school three years ago, it surprised no one that he also decided to join a friend in the Los Angeles Sheriff Department’s Explorer Program.
What Matthew did not expect to find as member of Explorer Class 79 was his calling. After helping deputies in the Lancaster Sheriff’s Station with a variety of tasks, the Quartz Hill teenager decided he wanted to wear the department’s badge, too, as soon as he turned 21.
In the meantime, he and a buddy made a pact that they’d enlist in the Army to hone their skills and emerge as prime candidates for the Sheriff’s Academy when their military hitch was up.
For Matthew, that tour of duty ended a lifetime too soon.
Shortly after Thanksgiving, while working at an observation post in Afghanistan’s Nangarhar Province near the Pakistani border, Matthew and five of his fellow soldiers were shot and killed by a rogue Afghan Border Police officer that his unit had trusted and worked with for several months. American soldiers killed the gunman seconds later; Al-Qaeda sources claimed he had been their sleeper agent, but that could not be confirmed.
By then, Matthew was married with a 17-month-old son, Zachary. His wife, Mirella, was pregnant with their second child. But Matthew’s death resonated well beyond his grief-stricken family, sending shock waves through his hometown and the close-knit Sheriff’s Department.
“The kids who join the Explorers are generally kind of a notch above,” says Deputy Michael Kuper, who oversees the Explorer Program for the Lancaster station near Matthew’s home. Kuper says Matthew fit the mold, an eager kid who was fully committed to a program that seems anything but glamorous. Explorers assist deputies in non-hazardous law-enforcement situations that include ride-alongs, crowd control, traffic management and community events.
Matthew finished his service with the Sheriff’s Law Enforcement Explorer Program in April, 2008. After turning 18, he left for basic training.
His mother, Melissa, admits she wasn’t happy with his decision to join the Army.
“It’s not something that we wanted,” she says. “I don’t think any parents want them to go, but we couldn’t change his mind.” While Melissa’s father, served in the U.S. Air Force, her son wasn’t raised in a military family and enlistment wasn’t a foregone conclusion. “He was my youngest, and I didn’t want him to leave. I wasn’t ready for him to go.”
Still, Melissa says, “I definitely supported him and the choices he made.”
Matthew was eventually assigned to the 101st Airborne Division. In his various deployments and assignments, Matthew earned numerous citations, according to the Army, including the National Defense Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Army Service Ribbon, Overseas Service Ribbon, NATO Medal and Air Assault Badge.
Two more will soon be added posthumously to that list: the Bronze Star and Purple Heart.
“He put 110% into everything he did,” says Melissa, whose son recently told her that he would soon be promoted to sergeant, a particular point of pride for her because of his relatively young age.
Those who knew Matthew in the Sheriff’s Department also share a sense of pride in the young man who impressed them with his sense of responsibility and enthusiasm.
As a Sheriff’s Department military liaison, Lancaster Deputy Mike Ruiz helped organize Matthew’s memorial service last Saturday at Highlands Church Fellowship, where the family worships. More than 1,000 mourners gathered.
Sending a message that life goes on, the family insisted that the church leave in place all its seasonal decorations, including a frosted Christmas tree, twinkling lights and the stage set for an upcoming Christmas musical that allowed barely enough room for all the flowers.
Melissa delivered a poem for her son, and a cousin performed a song. Speakers included the local congressman, Rep. Buck McKeon, and Brigadier General Robert B. Abrams, the commanding general for the Army’s National Training Center at Fort Irwin. Dozens of local Sheriff’s Explorers were also there, as were representatives from the Air Force and Marine Corps.
More than 100 members of the Patriot Guard Riders, a national motorcycle club whose members include former military personnel and retired police officers, helped escort the funeral cortege. A 21-gun salute was fired, taps were sounded and a precisely folded American flag was presented to the family.
Besides his wife, mother and stepfather, Matthew leaves behind an older sister, Meghan; two stepsisters, Corrin and Stephanie, and three nieces. American Security Bank in Lancaster has established the Matthew Ramsey Memorial Fund on behalf of his widow and children. Call (661) 723-2000 for further information.