Family Mourns Death of Fernley Soldier

The father of a Fernley soldier killed in Iraq said his son was eager to come home.

An emotional Roger Varela said he last spoke with his son, Army Pfc. Alejandro Varela, on Thursday. The next day, the 19-year-old and five others from his unit were killed when a makeshift bomb exploded near their vehicle south of Baghdad.

"I'm not ready for this. I thought I was, but I'm not," a tearful Roger Varela said while talking with reporters Monday at Fernley City Hall.

"It's hard to lose a son. He was my baby."

The Pentagon on Tuesday confirmed Varela's death. He and five others killed in the explosion were assigned to the 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, based at Ford Hood, Texas.

Known to his friends as Alex, Varela went to basic training last May as part of a three-year enlistment.

His girlfriend, Alexandria Avant, a private in the Nevada Army National Guard, said Varela wanted to serve three years and then leave the military, but he had no regrets about enlisting.

"He wanted to come home," Avant said.

Varela lived in Fernley the past seven years. His mother and other family members live in the Sacramento, Calif., area.

Before joining the Army, Alejandro Varela helped his father out in construction work in the Fernley area.

"He wanted to come back home and go back to work for me," Roger Varela said.

"I'm not going to get any calls from him. I'm not going to be able to touch him anymore."

Friends say he loved exploring the Nevada desert on all-terrain vehicles, and shooting trap and skeet.

"He always liked those rides to Winnemucca Lake," about halfway between Fernley and Gerlach, said his buddy, James Palmer said.

Palmer said riding quads will be the best way to remember Varela.

"We'll get all of his friends together," Palmer said. "We'll gas up the quads, and we'll head out into the desert. That's what he'd want us to do."

Fernley Mayor Todd Cutler asked that flags in Fernley fly at half staff Tuesday in honor of the young soldier.

Gov. Jim Gibbons also ordered flags be flown at half staff for the day at the Nevada State Capitol.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)