2011-06-10 / Community

Soldier coming home from war

By Darleen Principe

Robert Ruvalcaba Robert Ruvalcaba Army Specialist Robert Ruvalcaba was asleep in his bunk when an alarm began to sound throughout the military base in Afghanistan.

Just a five-minute walk away from where Ruvalcaba received this rude awakening, a trusted civilian guard was showing his true colors.

“On this specific day our top (unit) was cleaning their weapons— no one had their weapons assembled yet,” Ruvalcaba said.

“They were wiping down their weapons, getting ready to go out, when one of the guards who usually watched our perimeter from the towers comes strolling down.

“It turned out this guy was actually in the Taliban.”

Unaware of the threat that walked towards them, the Army soldiers cleaned their weapons until a man they trusted loaded his firearm and began spraying the unknowing Americans with bullets.

“Several people were wounded,” Ruvalcaba said. “And we lost two that day.”

One of the soldiers killed was from Chicago. The other was a 19-year-old medic from Canyon Country, Calif.

Although Ruvalcaba wasn’t a close friend of either soldier, he couldn’t help but feel angry about the attack.

“ To be honest, I actually wanted to go and put some rounds in that man myself,” he said. “I was pretty pissed.”

Ruvalcaba, 22, told this story over the phone last week with a mixture of sadness, anger and defeat in his voice. It happened just shy of two months ago.

“It was one of those days where I really wish it didn’t happen,” he said. “I’ve had nightmares. Well, maybe not nightmares, but really unhappy thoughts about these people.

“Even though I already left the desert, I still feel it.”

Ruvalcaba, who first set foot in Afghanistan on June 8, 2010 as a raid camera operator, completed his first military appointment on May 16 and relocated to the Army base in Vilseck, Germany, to await his return to Moorpark. The E4 specialist is scheduled to come home today, where he’ll get to stay for 28 days before returning to Vilseck.

With four more years of Army service and at least two more deployments ahead of him, Ruvalcaba has mixed feelings about being a soldier.

“I dislike the military, but serving my country—that’s an accomplishment and I don’t regret it,” he said. “It’s an accomplishment because most people, they don’t make the commitment to sign up. You realize you can do so much more just by signing a piece of paper. I was born here and I’m going to fight for this country.”

Although he’s still patriotic, Ruvalcaba seems disenchanted.

He enlisted in the Army in March 2009 because he couldn’t find a job in the troubled California economy.

His father Frank Ruvalcaba, a Moorpark realtor, “challenged” him to join, he said.

“I was out of a job and my dad would say, ‘Son, you’ve got to find a new job,’” he said. “He started writing down jobs for me to apply to. At the bottom of the list, he put ‘join the military.’ I applied to five different jobs, but by the fifth one, I was just annoyed. So I said, ‘All right, let’s do it.’”

During his first tour of duty in Afghanistan, Ruvalcaba worked 12-hour shifts, seven nights a week, watching a camera that monitored the perimeter of the military base.

Often times, he would be left alone at his station while fellow soldiers “crossed the wire” onto foreign territory.

Even though he only left the base a few times, Ruvalcaba was never too far from danger.

Besides the surprise shooting a few months ago, Ruvalcaba was also very close to being killed by a bomb that hit the base.

“ The things that happen around you kind of take a toll on your mind,” he said. “Depending on what you do, you can see things or actually, physically be there. But all of it stays with you forever.”

Ruvalcaba, who is just one rank away from becoming a sergeant, said he didn’t know exactly what to expect when he first got to Afghanistan. But since being there, he said he has learned some important lessons.

“One thing is that people in the United States have life way too easy,” he said. “People in Afghanistan, they live in huts— these molded, mud huts. They have no bathroom system. They have very little jobs. Neighborhoods— they don’t even have that. They have little settlements. It’s a different lifestyle and it just opens your eyes.

“We take a lot of things for granted in the U.S.”

At 11 a.m. Sat., June 11, Frank Ruvalcaba, in collaboration with the City of Moorpark, American Legion Post 502, Moorpark Kiwanis Club and Moorpark Rotary clubs, will host a surprise “Hero’s Welcome” at Mammoth Park, 7000 Elk Run Loop in the Moorpark Highlands neighborhood.

The soldier’s father invites all of the Moorpark community, especially those who have loved ones home from active duty, he said.

“The original idea was definitely about my son,” Frank Ruvalcaba said. “But I realized it’s not just about him—it’s about every soldier out there serving who is coming home.”

For information about the event, e-mail welcomehome@mhpgroup.net or call Frank at (818) 314-5303.

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