Jaime Garza said his son wanted to be in the military since he was youngster growing up in Portales watching planes take off from Cannon Air Force Base.
Army Pfc. Damian Garza, 19, of Odessa, Texas, died Thursday in Afghanistan after his vehicle slid off the road into a river near Jalalabad. It was Garza’s second tour of duty in Afghanistan.
“He’d always tell us he’d be flying one of those or a helicopter — or jumping out of one,” said Jaime Garza of Odessa. “We thought he was crazy, but he just said he wanted to be the best of the best.”
Family members in Clovis and Portales are mourning the loss.
Lydia Pineda of Clovis is Damian Garza’s grandmother and Joe Garza of Portales is his uncle.
Joe Garza placed an American flag in front of his house with a white rose and a photo of Damian Garza in his military uniform in memory of his nephew.
He said his brother and his family moved from Portales to Odessa after Damian finished eighth grade, according to Joe Garza.
“Damian was the perfect son,” Joe Garza said. “He never got into any trouble in school. We’re all very proud of him. There’s always going to be an emptiness within ourselves, but we know he died for his country and nothing can take that away from him.
Garza enlisted in the Army in April 2004, one day after he graduated from Zion Christian School in Odessa.
His mother, Denise Garza of Odessa, said she wanted him to wait, but her son insisted.
“He said. ‘No, I think they need me right now,’” she recalled.
His family and friends remembered him Monday as an exceptional person with a contagious sense of humor who would dance to anything.
“He was always laughing and smiling,” his mother said. “If you had a bad day he had a way to cheer you up.”
She said she recalled her son was always caring for others, whether he was spending his lunch money to buy a homeless man food, bringing home stray animals or offering friends in need a place to stay.
One other Ranger, Pvt. John Henderson Jr., 21, of Columbus, Ga., died in the incident. Two other Rangers escaped from the vehicle and are in good condition. An investigation is under way, officials said.
Garza served as an ammunition bearer in the 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment based in Fort Benning, Ga.
He was posthumously awarded the Army Commendation Medal, the Army Good Conduct Medal and the Afghanistan Campaign Medal.
Tony Parra and Melanie Wong of Freedom Newspapers contributed to this report.