Friday, November 06, 2009

Army Pvt. Francheska Velez

Remember Our Heroes

Thirteen people were killed when an Army psychiatrist opened fire on soldiers at the Fort Hood Army base, including Francheska Velez.

Francheska Velez, 21, of Chicago, was pregnant and preparing to return home. A friend of Ms. Velez’s, Sasha Ramos, described her as a fun-loving person who wrote poetry and loved dancing.

“She was like my sister,” Ms. Ramos, 21, said. “She was the most fun and happy person you could know. She never did anything wrong to anybody.”

Family members said Ms. Velez had recently returned from deployment in Iraq and had sought a lifelong career in the Army.

“She was a very happy girl and sweet,” said her father, Juan Guillermo Velez, his eyes red from crying. “She had the spirit of a child.”

Ms. Ramos, who also served briefly in the military, couldn’t reconcile that her friend was killed in this country just after leaving a war zone.

“It makes it a lot harder,” she said. “This is not something a soldier expects — to have someone in our uniform go start shooting at us.”

The army private, stationed in Iraq, returned to Chicago to celebrate her 21st birthday last August. Back in Iraq, where she disarmed bombs, she learned she was pregnant, her family said, and arranged for maternity leave.

"She was supposed to be coming very, very soon. Everyone's devastated. Everyone's at a loss for words," said her cousin Jennifer Arzuaga. "She was very young. She wasn't supposed to die the way she died."

Velez, whose father came from Colombia and mother from Puerto Rico, attended Kelvyn Park High School and joined the army three years ago because she wanted to travel and make something of herself.

"She was the happiest person in the world," Arzuaga said.

Her pleasures tended toward the simple and her dancing was divine. Salsa and meringue, especially.

"She always made everybody happy. That's what it was about for her -- her family and her friends," Arzuaga said. As for Iraq, "She didn't really like it, but she was okay. She was just keeping strong. She was ready for anything."

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