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Ascent; call to arms pt.1

By Sgt. Valerie C. Eppler | | June 23, 2014


Editor's Note: This is part one of a two part story titled "Where No Ramos Has Gone Before"

One of Daniel Ramos’ favorite television shows growing up was “Star Trek”. The characters on the show appealed to Ramos’ sense of duty. He could not help but notice how sharp the characters looked in their uniforms. Ramos, now a retired master sergeant, felt like he was destined for the military. Little did he know, his sense of service would start a tradition of military service.

First Contact

 “The recruiter told me, ‘You won’t be given anything.  You have to earn everything you get.’”

Ramos’ early life was all about earning. His family emigrated from Mexico in the 1940s and settled in a small border town called Eagle Pass, Texas. He was the youngest of 20 children. He was so young that some of his older brothers and sisters had moved out and went back to Mexico.

But he still had a strong relationship with the 12 siblings closer to his age and still living at home. They shared the same hobbies and interest. Most of them went to the same school. Played together. And they watched television; shows like “Leave it to Beaver” and “Little House on the Prairie”.

And “Star Trek”.

Several things about “Star Trek” fascinated Ramos.  In addition to the uniforms, he was intrigued by the spaceship USS Enterprise and the chain of command. 

“I think that’s what helped me end up in the military,” said Ramos. “I liked the structure (found in the show), and we had a lot of structure at home.”

After drawing the parallels between the show and his own life, he believed the military would be the right decision for him.  He joined the Air Force ROTC in high school, which gave him the basics in drill, physical fitness and uniform upkeep, among other things, to give him a head start in the military.

“I knew I didn’t want to stay in my hometown. It was small and there was nothing there for me except family,” Ramos said. “I needed independence and self-reliance. I always believed a man has to provide for his family and I didn’t want to stay at home living with mom.”

Initially he approached the Army, but after talking with the San Antonio Marine Corps recruiter, he realized there was no other option for him.  The Army promised him many different things. However, he felt the Marine Corps could give him everything he wanted, even though they promised not to give him anything.

The Measure of a Man

“I will never forget his face.  Sgt. Stewart.  After getting off the bus, after the yellow footprints and indoctrination stuff, we went to our squad bay. I don’t remember a whole lot of those first days, but I remember his face. (The drill instructors) had us at attention in front of our racks.  He came in from the side. The epitome of a Marine.  He was squared away and scary.”

The Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego is where Ramos attended recruit training in 1987 and is where he experienced one of his most vivid memories of the Corps. 

Ramos said Sgt. Stewart was the meanest looking Marine he had seen. That image held even after Stewart began to speak.  What stood out to Ramos was this Marine’s stutter.  Although this stutter had the potential to detract from his demeanor, it didn’t. Ramos said Stewart was the meanest-looking, most physically fit, squared-away Marine there was. 

Even after graduating recruit training, Ramos kept in contact with Stewart. Ramos had the utmost respect for him and hoped to be just as good of a Marine as Stewart. Two years after earning the title of Marine and graduating basic training, Ramos received the devastating news that Stewart had died in a hunting accident. 

“’How is that possible?’ I thought to myself,” Ramos said reflecting on the fragility of life. “You can be the leanest, meanest, toughest person, but it can all be over in the next second.”

That was Stewart’s final lesson for Ramos.  Don’t take life for granted and enjoy the moments you have.

The First Duty

“I guess you could say it was like driving a car on the freeway for the first time. You know nothing about the car you have to navigate or its history or anything about the other drivers on the road. There are a lot of hazards and you could lose your life at any moment. It was nerve-wracking.”

Ramos scored very high in the mechanical section of the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test, a prerequisite that evaluates an individual’s skill set for job placement.  He qualified to join the Combat Engineer job field.  Combat engineers are responsible for demolition, construction, and bridgework among other things.  It was a job that kept Ramos frequently on deployment. 

“My background was mechanics and construction. (Combat Engineering) was right up my alley.  My father was a master mechanic on autos,” said Ramos.

His journey began when on his first ship deployment he visited Hawaii, Philippines, Hong Kong, and Austalia. It was scheduled to last six months.

Then another six months was added as his ship was diverted to the Persian Gulf for the beginning of the Gulf War.

As things began to wind down for Ramos, he then deployed to do humanitarian missions in Honduras and Somalia.

Ramos said he was later selected to conduct minefield maintenance in Cuba. The job entailed finding old mines, removing the old mines, and replacing and arming new mines along the base fence line.

Ramos also did six deployments to various locations in Iraq.  He remembers well a deployment to Al-Taqqadum, Iraq while he was part of 7th Engineer Support Battalion, 1St Marine Logistics Group.

It was there that Ramos met another influential leadership figure in his military career.

Lt. Col. Joseph Tamminen, a major at that time, was the operations officer, and Ramos was his operations chief.  Ramos said that deployment was so memorable because it was different than all the other deployments.  It was smooth, and they accomplished all of their missions without difficulties experienced in many of the other deployments.  He said he believed that was in great part thanks to the efforts of Tamminen.  Ramos looked up to Tamminen as a leader and his ability to manage any situation by empowering not micromanaging his staff.

The Best of Both Worlds

“I said, ‘Why don’t you join one of the service academies?’ So he asked me which one, and I recommended the U.S. Naval Academy because going there you have the choice of joining the Navy or Marine Corps.”

The Marine Corps did not leave Ramos when he left work for the day.  It carried through to his home life.  Maria, his wife, has been through it all with him, beginning at Ramos’ involvement in their high school ROTC program, where she attended  ROTC dances with him. 

As often as Ramos deployed, he was fortunate to be able to call Fallbrook, Calif. his home throughout his 22 years in the Marine Corps.  It was very important to Ramos to maintain a sense of stability and community for his family.  Both of his children were born in Fallbrook. His daughter Terri was born in 1990, and his son Daniel in 1992. 

Ramos ran a strict home.  He had high expectations of his children, and they lived up to the challenges.  Ramos did however ensure that even though the expectations were high, their hard work was rewarded.

“I gave (my children) a reward for good grades and (grade point averages).  For a 3.5 or higher, I would give $350.  For 4.0 they would get $400,” said Ramos. “I was always broke with my son.  He always had a 4.0.”

Responsibility was taught every day in the Ramos household.  They never received an allowance or money for doing chores.  They were taught to pull their own weight, just as Marines do.

Ramos believes the values he instilled in his children from birth is what ultimately led to his son’s success.

His son worked very hard at school and after school activities.  Ramos said his son was always motivated to do the best at everything he did. 

 “I guess that’s why he ended up at the Naval Academy.”

Daniel did not have the same ROTC program available to him that Ramos had.  But growing up Daniel was constantly playing Marine and dressing in his father’s uniforms.  It wasn’t a stretch for Daniel to follow in his father’s footsteps and join the military.

When Daniel was a sophomore in high school, he had a conversation with his father via a satellite phone while Ramos was deployed to Iraq.  Daniel was seeking guidance on what he should do after high school, what college he should attend. So Ramos suggested the Naval Acadamy.

Daniel’s military career is taking him through the Navy.  His first assignment is on the guided-missile destroyer USS Sterett (DD6104). He will undergo training in the Nuclear Surface Warfare Program. Interesting enough, the USS Sterett is named after Andrew Sterett, a naval officer from the late 1700s. He commanded a ship during the infancy of our nation.

The name of the ship?

USS Enterprise.

You might recognize the name from a TV show…