Wender Ramos returns to Martha’s Vineyard from Afghanistan

A crowd of grateful Islanders greeted his ferry on Saturday.

There were smiles and hugs all around for CWO2 Wender Ramos from his longtime friends, the Boyd family, including Kyle (from left), Aaron, Heidi and Lauren; far right is Legion member Bob Nute. –Photo by Michael Cummo

Army helicopter pilot Wender Ramos returned from Afghanistan in the service of his adopted country to the warm embrace of his community Saturday night. Chief Warrant Officer 2 (CWO2) Ramos arrived home at 7 pm to the sound of sirens, flashing lights, cheering and applause from a crowd of friends, family and grateful Island veterans.

His sister Viviane Ramos and cousin Daniel Monteiro accompanied him down the ferry ramp to a tearful and happy reunion with his mother, Geralda Silva, of Vineyard Haven.

Dukes County Veterans Agent Jo Ann Murphy helped arrange the homecoming, which included a color guard made up of local veterans and first responders and their emergency vehicles, which added some ear- and eye-catching pizzazz to the celebration. Several departing passengers, after learning what all the fanfare was about, walked over to thank the returned soldier.

“This is awesome,” Mr. Ramos said of his surprise homecoming celebration.

In a phone conversation with The Times on Monday, Mr. Ramos said his sister managed to keep his homecoming event a complete surprise. Even as they got off the boat, he had no clue.

I didn’t notice; I was talking to my sister as we walked down the ramp and then I saw the American flag,” Mr. Ramos said. “And she said, ‘That’s for you,’ and then the sirens went off.”

He was honored, surprised, and happy at the turnout. “I appreciate everybody’s time, especially on a Saturday night, when I’m sure they all had something better to do.”

Duty in Afghanistan

Mr. Ramos, 32, deployed on January 21 for a nine-month tour to Afghanistan as a Blackhawk helicopter pilot with the 101st Airborne Division out of Fort Campbell, Kentucky. He returned to the States on September 21.

He was first stationed at FOB (Forward Operating Base) Shank, in Eastern Afghanistan. He later moved to Bagram Air Field, the largest U.S. military base in Afghanistan.

We were an air assault unit, but that wasn’t the main thing we did,” he said. “Basically it was just moving people around from place to place. They’re closing down a lot of small outposts, so we’d go pick people up, drop them off, and deliver supplies.”

The crew typically included another pilot, and a crew chief and door gunner that manned guns on each side of the helicopter. Fortunately, he said, they did not experience enemy fire.

There were a lot of people that had that to worry about, but my job was probably one of the safest,” he added. “I was lucky.”

Mr. Ramos chuckled before describing what he missed the most. “You miss going into your own shower and not having to bring a bag with you,” he said. “And driving wherever you want to go. Small things like that, aside from the obvious — family, friends, foods you want to eat.”

Taking flight

Mr. Ramos said his interest in flying and the military dates back to childhood. A native of Brazil, he and his sister arrived on Martha’s Vineyard from Brazil in 1994 to join their mother, who moved to the Island a year earlier.

He started at Edgartown School as an eighth-grader. He didn’t speak English when he first arrived, but that changed quickly. “As a kid, after about three months, I started picking it up,” he said.

Friends at school helped him out. “And I just jumped in,” he said. “The adjustment was really nothing.”

Mr. Ramos said he and his family moved often because of the Island’s seasonal rental housing market. “We never lived in a place for more than about six months,” he said.

He graduated from Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School in 1999.

He  attended Bridgewater State College and joined the ROTC, but had to quit after a semester because the commute to participate in the nearest program at Boston University was too difficult. In the meantime, he earned his private pilot’s license.

He graduated with a B.S. degree in aviation sciences in 2006, and went to work for a company that ran tradeshows. “I bought a condo in East Bridgewater and all that stuff, and stayed and paid bills, and eventually I thought, all right, I’ve got to go and do this,” Mr. Ramos said.

“I was 28 when I joined the Army, and I think the cut-off for a pilot is 33. I thought, if I don’t do this now, I’m never going to do it, and I really missed flying.”

Citizen soldier

His decision ultimately helped him achieve two dreams, to become a U.S. citizen and to serve in the defense of his adoptive country.

Mr. Ramos enlisted in the Army in 2010 and completed basic training at Fort Jackson in Columbia, South Carolina. As part of the basic training process, he applied for his U.S. citizenship.

I thought it would take a long time,” Mr. Ramos recalled. “But I filled out some paperwork, and it only took a few months. I didn’t think it would be that quick and smooth, but it was. It’s great they had a program to speed that up and help out.”

He said he wanted to become a citizen in the country where he had spent most of his life. I don’t have a lot of contact with people in Brazil,” Mr. Ramos said. “It just completed living here. It’s really special to me that it happened, because it’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time.”

Following basic training, he was stationed in Germany as a mechanic servicing and repairing Chinook helicopters used in Afghanistan and Iraq. After one year, he applied to be a pilot and was accepted to Warrant Officers Candidate School at Fort Rucker, Alabama, in 2011.

Mr. Ramos spent a total of about 18 months at Fort Rucker, including seven weeks of warrant officer’s training and flight school, which he finished in August, 2013. He was trained to fly the Blackhawk helicopter and the C-12, the military version of a twin turboprop passenger and cargo aircraft based on the Beechcraft Super King Air.

CWO2 Ramos was assigned to Fort Campbell as a Blackhawk pilot.

When I finish this assignment I’m hoping to go fly the C-12, to get some experience on both,” he said. “But I’m happy flying, either way.”

He said he is not scheduled for overseas deployment for probably a few years. In the meantime, CWO2 Ramos plans to enjoy the next two to three weeks on Martha’s Vineyard, catching up with friends and family.

His mother is currently self-employed as a housecleaner, after working for 12 years at Martha’s Vineyard Hospital. His sister Viviane works for the Orleans Bowling Center. Both work long hours, Mr. Ramos said, and their communication with him in Afghanistan was limited to messages on Facebook.

We were so happy to hear his voice again on the phone, when he got back to the States,” Ms. Ramos told The Times.