Operation Iraqi Freedom, Fallen Heroes, Iraq War 03/19/03

Jake R Velloza

Inverness, California

May 2, 2009

Age Military Rank Unit/Location
22 Army Spc

1st Battalion, 12th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division

Fort Hood, Texas

 Killed, when shot by enemy forces in Mosul, Iraq.

Yesterday, we received devastating news that Jarrid's cousin Jake Velloza was killed in Iraq. He had been in the Army for 2 years and this was his second mission to Iraq, his position was a 13F Forward Observer- Steel on Steel He was only was only 23 years old, far too young. He was recently engaged to Danielle and they were planning their wedding. He was due home in December. We will miss Jake so much and feel blessed to have shared many holidays with him. We last saw Jake on Thanksgiving in Pt. Reyes. He mentioned then that he would be deploying soon to a very dangerous part of Iraq where the causalities had been quite high, he said that he was nervous but there was not much you could do. He was a brave young man and sacrificed his life to protect ours. We thank him and will never forget him. We love you Jake! 
From The Martin Independent Journal marinij.com 05/11/09:

West Marin prepares for military funeral
Brent Ainsworth

To ready himself for his son's funeral, Bob Velloza on Sunday visited the cemetery where the body of 22-year-old Jake Velloza, a casualty of the war in Iraq, will be laid to rest Saturday in West Marin.

He found a weed patch. The Olema graveyard where Bob Velloza's grandfather once tended each headstone meticulously was so overgrown that many grave markers couldn't be seen. It was no place to bury a fallen soldier who will be buried there rather than a guaranteed plot at Arlington National Cemetery.

"It was a disgrace," said Bob's brother, Mike Velloza. "He knew he couldn't have people parking in grass that's 5 feet tall."

So Bob Velloza spent all day cutting the grass and straightening things up. He was planning on heading back 
Monday afternoon from his home in Inverness to continue the work.

"He's on a mission now. We have to honor Jake," Mike Velloza said.

Family, friends and complete strangers will pay respects over the next several days for Inverness resident Jake Velloza, a U.S. Army specialist who was killed May 2 in an ambush in Iraq. He is the second Marin County resident killed in the war.

The Velloza family announced Monday that a funeral Mass will be at 10 a.m. Saturday at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Olema, not far from the Velloza family's plot where his great-great-grandparents and great-grandparents are buried. The burial will be shortly after the Mass and feature an honor guard from the U.S. Army.

Visitation and viewing of the body is from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday at Parent-Sorensen Mortuary & Crematory in Petaluma, followed by a vigil and reciting of the rosary at 7 p.m. at St. James Catholic Church in Petaluma.

On Wednesday, the casket is to be flown from Dover Air Force Base in Delaware on a private jet to San Francisco International Airport where it will be met at noon by Bob and Susan Velloza, Jake's fiancŽe Danielle Erwin of Killeen, Texas and other family members.

From there, a procession led by the Patriot Guard, a group of motorcycle riders and military veterans, will ride through the city and up Highway 101 to the mortuary in Petaluma. Marin freeway overpasses are expected to be packed with well-wishers from law enforcement agencies, fire departments and the general public.

"We would love to see the public out there with their flags where they can be seen from the freeway," said Lynn Tross, a Patriot Guard organizer who lives in San Rafael. "It just means the world to these families to see that complete strangers are out there and they care, that this matters to them."

Overpasses were packed with flag-waving mourners in 2007 when the casket of Novato resident Nicholas Olson, also an Army specialist, was delivered home for burial. One of those paying respects that day was Susan Velloza, Jake's mother, who stopped on Manuel T. Freitas Parkway in Terra Linda.

"I just felt compelled to be there on my own," she said Monday. "I appreciated other people paying their respects. É (On Wednesday) I expect to see a lot of support from my friends who will be up there for Jake. A lot of my friends will be in the procession on their bikes."

Bob and Susan Velloza are members of the Rip City Riders, a social motorcycling club with a Marin chapter that raises funds for a number of charities.

Jake Velloza, a 2004 Tomales High School graduate and former College of Marin student, was killed along with his close friend, specialist Jeremiah Paul McCleery of Portola (Plumas County), when a lone Iraqi gunman opened fire on a group of five Americans in the city of Mosul. American military officials have not released other details of the incident, but the family was told May 3 that Velloza was shot in the neck and died quickly.

Velloza, 22, and McCleery, 24, were both fire support specialists assigned to the 1st Battalion, 12th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division based at Fort Hood, Texas. Both had been deployed to Iraq in December.

In his second tour of duty in Iraq, Velloza had been assigned to that unit since July 2006 when he first enlisted.

The Rev. Jack O'Neill is pastor at Sacred Heart in Olema, which can fit about 220 people in its pews. He visited the Velloza family the day the news was released as friends and neighbors congregated to support Jake's parents. That night, Bob and Susan Velloza departed for Dover Air Force Base to be present when the casket arrived from overseas.

"We are thankful that the Army now pays for families to fly back there for this kind of thing," Susan Velloza said. "The Obama administration made that policy change in early April, and I believe we were only the second family to benefit from it. It was amazing. We felt blessed to be able to do that."

O'Neill has presided over many military funerals. He is a veteran of the Navy and the Marines, serving 11 years with each, and served in such locations as Lebanon, Okinawa, Cuba, Antarctica and the Balkans. He said he understands why the Velloza family would turn down the opportunity to have Jake Velloza buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

"This is a West Marin kid and there is a West Marin spirit that makes them want to have it here," O'Neill said.

From The Mercury News MercuryNews.com 05/04/10:

Marin soldier killed in Iraq

By Brent Ainsworth, Bay Area News Group Posted: 05/04/2009 07:16:00 AM PDT
Updated: 05/04/2009 07:26:17 AM PDT
Jake Velloza, a 2004 Tomales High graduate, was was killed in Mosul, Iraq
Jake Robert Velloza, a lifelong Inverness resident and Tomales High graduate, was one of two U.S. Army soldiers killed Saturday when a lone gunman opened fire on a group of Americans in Mosul, Iraq, according to Velloza's grandfather.
Dozens of family, friends and neighbors congregated Sunday at the home of Bob and Susan Velloza in Inverness to mourn the couple's only child, who was 22 years old.
Richard Velloza, who lives in Point Reyes Station, said notification of his grandson's death was confirmed when an Army major from Travis Air Force Base showed up at Bob and Susan's home at 6 a.m. Sunday.
"Bob said he wanted to know exactly what happened, and the major said he'd been shot in the neck and died quickly," Richard Velloza said.
Jake Velloza's parents were on their way to San Francisco International Airport on Sunday night to catch a flight to Delaware, where they were to be present at Dover Air Force Base when their son's body was flown home.
The ominous knock on the door came two hours after a phone call from the girlfriend or wife of another soldier who was on the same patrol in Mosul, Richard Velloza said. That soldier and Jake Velloza had an agreement that they'd call her as soon as they returned from a patrol, but the call had not come by the expected time.
Richard Velloza said people flocked to the family home in Inverness on Sunday. "There must've been 50 to 100 people who came in," he said. "They were stopping by all day long. Everybody was teary. Everybody said, 'Let me know what I can do,' but that's really impossible. At a time like that, there's really nothing anybody can do."
Jake Velloza was a football and baseball standout at Tomales High, where Leon Feliciano served as his football coach. Feliciano remembers Velloza playing wingback, defensive back, kick returner and kicker on a team that won the 2002 North Coast Section Class B championship with an 8-4 record.
"I think he knew from the first day he got into high school that he was going into the military," Feliciano said. "We talked about college, but he said, 'No, Coach, I want to be a Ranger doing special ops.' He was set on his goals. He was one of those young men who knew what he wanted to do and did it. Service to his country is what appealed to him."
Jake Velloza worked briefly reading meters for the North Marin Water District in Novato - for which his grandfather worked for 21 years -ĂŠbefore he joined the Army in 2006, Richard Velloza said. He completed his first overseas tour, mostly in Baghdad, and then spent about six months training in Texas. Earlier this year, then re-upped for a second tour after a short break at home in Marin.
Caleb Davis, a neighbor who served three tours in the Army and finished his commitment in February, attended Tomales High with Jake Velloza and they often talked as teens about serving their country.
"Everybody found out within a few hours," Davis said of the Inverness response. "People found out almost immediately because the community is so small. Obviously it's shocking. Everybody wants to believe nothing like this would ever happen, but that's just not reality."
About 225 miles up the Tigris River from Baghdad, Mosul is one of the last bases for Sunni insurgents and could be among the lingering urban battlegrounds for U.S. forces as they prepare to move out of cities by June 30.
According to Associated Press reports, an Iraqi soldier opened fire on a U.S. military team Saturday, killing two American soldiers and wounding three, the U.S. military said, in an attack that has sharpened worries about the extent of militant infiltration in Iraq's security forces.
Iraqi officials described the attacker - who was killed in the gunbattle - as a soldier who also served as a Sunni Muslim preacher for his unit near Mosul, which is one of the last urban strongholds for Sunni insurgents.
Attackers in Iraq have sometimes disguised themselves in uniforms to bypass security checks. On April 20, a suicide bomber wearing an Iraqi army uniform attacked a U.S. military delegation visiting the mayor in Baqouba northeast of Baghdad, killing three Iraqi civilians and wounding at least eight American soldiers.

Jake Velloza, who grew up in Inverness, died near the entrance to a combat outpost 12 miles south of Mosul, Iraq on Saturday. He was 22.

“I went numb when I heard the news,” said Jake’s third- and fourth-grade teacher, Fred Gilardi.

Jake was born on June 21, 1986 in Santa Rosa to Susan and Bob Velloza. He was their only child. He attended West Marin School and Tomales High. Gilardi remembers a sweet-hearted, quiet, compassionate child. “Jake had a really caring attitude with all the other students,” he said. Friends remember an oft-rambunctious classmate who spent a lot of time banished to the hall. All recall that he excelled in athletics. 

At a track meet in middle school, he won the long jump, the high jump, the dash, and a couple sprints, breaking several school records. “Then later that night he pitched a no hitter,” said his teammate, Tristan Keady, “and it wasn’t even hard for him. I never saw him train. But he was really humble about it. Never bragged.”

Jake preferred technical to academic work. Like his father, he became a proficient mechanic. “He knew everything you could imagine about cars, woodworking, metal work,” his friend Jay Borodic said. He took shop classes all four years of high school. In auto shop, he repaired an entire stack of derelict 
motors sitting in the corner, getting them all running by the end of the term.

When he was 15, Jake welded together an aluminum motor scooter. He rode it out to Limantour Beach, wearing a giant ‘Where’s Waldo’ hat. Then he decided he was going to drive it all the way back to the Borodics’ place in Olema. He had no license, and the vehicle was illegal. As he passed the Farm House, a cop pulled out behind him. Jake continued on up the hill in his hat, making it all the way into his friend’s driveway before the cop caught up. He cited Jake 15 times. The judge dismissed all the charges, laughing.

While working on his senior project with Emil Kempf, Jake discovered an affinity for photography. The friends collaborated to produce a travel guide of Point Reyes’ natural attractions, spending long hours away from class hiking around the seashore with cameras. “He took amazing nature shots,” Keady said. 

“That was a side of him I hadn’t seen before,” said Ashley Williams, “an artsy side.”

Though Jake had wanted to join the Army since elementary school, his parents were unenthusiastic about the prospect. Susan was especially worried. She asked him to wait a year after he graduated before joining, to take time to mature and consider his decision. He obliged her, working as a water meter reader in Petaluma, helping to remodel a bakery in Fairfax, and taking photography classes at College of Marin. But the Army offered a pride of purpose that odd jobs around town could never equal. 

“The Army was his forte,” Jared Mendoza said, “he tried other things, but he always knew he was going to join, no matter what.”

“We all kind of hoped that by the end of the year he would be in a job, maybe have a girlfriend,” Keady said. But the year came and passed, and in early 2006, Jake started visiting recruiting centers and training events. 

“I just woke up one day and went to talk to a couple of old recruiters,” Jake told the Light from Fort Hood, Texas, in February of 2008, “by the end of that month, I was in the military.” 

“He just came home from work one day, two hours late,” said Kempf, his housemate at the time. “He said he’d just signed the papers to join the Army. He didn’t warn anyone. I don’t even think his parents were a big part of the decision process.”

“I think the real reason he joined was fear of the future,” Kempf added. 

Jake hoped the Army would teach him a job skill for which he already had an aptitude, maybe welding or electrical wiring. They taught him to sight targets for artillery raids.

“They kind of sold him on the idea that he could do what he wanted,” Mendoza said, “and they ended up having him do what they wanted.”

“They lie to get you to enlist,” Jake told the Light last February. “They lie big time.”

“We didn’t think it was the right decision, but we knew Jake would do a tremendous job at it,” Borodic said. “We all had that itching in the backs of our heads that this could be the worse situation imaginable. But those were the circumstances that Jake signed up for.”

When Jake finished basic training, he was gung-ho about the service, though he never agreed with the war. He spent his first tour as a spotter in Baghdad, riding around in the turrets of tanks and Humvees, enduring experiences that he said bonded him to his fellow soldiers like a brother. He didn’t talk about it much when he was home.

By January of last year, when he returned to Inverness from his first tour, he had become disillusioned, telling Kempf that he was sick of the military and sick of George Bush. Then he went back to Fort Hood for nine months of training. There, Jake discovered Danielle Erwin, a woman from Indiana who lived on base with her sister. Within months he fell madly in love. “When he fell in love with a girl he was the kind of guy who let everyone know,” Chelsea Simms said, “he didn’t keep any secrets.”

In November, Jake came back for another furlough, introducing Danielle to friends and family. Bob brought the couple to the top of the Golden Gate Bridge, courtesy of his position at Golden Gate Transit. It was a clear day. There, 750 feet above the bay, Jake proposed marriage. Danielle accepted. He placed a ring on her finger. “If you drop it,” he said, “it’s your fault.”

He looked around for potential future jobs in West Marin, because he always knew he’d return. But finding little opportunity, he re-enlisted for another three years. Jake shipped off to Iraq again in December, having regained confidence and enthusiasm. This time, the Army sent him to Mosul, the country’s most restive region.

Jake wrote on his Facebook page in March that he and Danielle had made wedding plans. Borodic expected to be his best man. “He expressed to me that she was the most wonderful girl he’d ever met,” he said.

Saturday, Jake and four fellow soldiers were resting in a house when a man dressed in American fatigues cracked the door slightly, stuck a rifle in and shot them. A bullet struck Jake in the neck, and he died quickly. One other soldier died, a further three sustained wounds, and a survivor immediately shot the attacker to death. The man was a Sunni preacher and war veteran, Iraqi officials said.

Sunday, Major Marlena DeCelle of the California National Guard drove from Travis Air Force Base to the Velloza household, arriving at 6 a.m. Point Reyes Presbyterian Church pastor Caroline Oswell met and accompanied her. A fellow soldier had already told the family that Jake had failed to call after his patrol, as he always did, and they’d heard rumors of an incident near Mosul. They were watching television anxiously when the pastor and the Major arrived.

“The officer conducted herself with great compassion,” Oswell said, “There’s nothing you can really do. We said a prayer.”

About 50 well-wishers stopped by the Velloza residence throughout the day. That night, Susan and Bob flew to Delaware to meet a flag-draped casket at Dover Air Force Base. 

The last time she talked to Jake, Simms said, was two weeks ago. The Army was considering promoting him to Sargent. “He obviously had leadership qualities,” she said, “the type of personality that everyone could get along with.”

“I’m not able to grasp the fact that he’s gone,” she said. “It’s like I was just watching a movie with him last night, and now he’s gone.”

“To have lost such an amazing and caring soul is devastating,” she said.

A vigil for Jake starts at 7 p.m. on May 15 at St. Vincent's Church, in Petaluma. There will be a mass for him on May 16 at 10 a.m. at Sacred Heart Church, in Olema.

California’s War Dead 
Jake R. Velloza, 22 
Army, Specialist 
Based: Ft. Hood, Texas 
1st Battalion, 12th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division 
Supporting: Operation Iraqi Freedom 
Died: May 2, 2009 
Mosul, Iraq 
Gender: Male 
Hometown: Inverness 
High School: Tomales High (Tomales) 
We talked about college, but he said, 'No, Coach, I want to be a Ranger doing special ops.' He was set on his goals. He was one of those young men who knew what he wanted to do and did it. Service to his country is what appealed to him. 
— Leon Feliciano , high school football coach to San Jose Mercury News
Velloza was one of two U.S. servicemen shot and killed by two Iraqi soldiers near the northern city of Mosul. The attack wounded three others, the latest in a series of incidents involving security forces firing on Americans in the troubled area. Velloza, an only child, had been a standout athlete in high school, according to the San Jose Mercury News. His uncle told the newspaper that people flocked to the family home after news of his death. Army Spc. Jeremiah P. McCleery, 24, of Portola, Calif. also died in the shooting. A full obituary on both men will follow. 
Point Reyes Light obituary on Velloza » 
San Jose Mercury News story on Velloza's death » 
Times story on attack that killed Velloza » 

5 memories of Jake 
I met Jake when he came to buy his letterman jacket. What a wonderful kid. He reminded me of his father and uncle who I went to school with. He was quite the football player and getting that Letterman jacket was a bid deal for him. And on the back, the school mascot -also a symbol of what he was-
— The Jacket Lady
May 6, 2009 at 11 a.m.

I was his team chief, his leader, his mentor. We talked about baseball and football on many occasions. He had told me he was a left hand pitcher, and I told him that I was also a pitcher in highschool. It was hard saying bye to Jake. Not only was he a great soldier he was a great friend. To his parents I am deeply sorry for your loss, I can't imagine what you are feeling right now.
— SSG Stockton
May 6, 2009 at 5:10 p.m.

Jake was hilarious. Just a funny guy who had a really hard time being in a bad mood. He was also obsessed with the concept of true love, and love at first sight. I'd like to think he finally found what he was looking for in Danielle, his fiancee. My heart goes out to her.
— Brenden Hickey
May 7, 2009 at 11:26 a.m.

Jake was engaged to my sister-in law. He was living with My wife, 3 yr old daughter, and sister-in-law before he deployed. I know people always say " He had a smile that lit up the whole room." With Jake it's true, look at any of his pictures. He had a great laugh, and we joked of opening a Bail Bonds/ or P.I. business together. Jake my family loves you very much and consider you family.
— Jarrod Nation
May 8, 2009 at 10:42 a.m.

I have traveled to Killeen, Texas several times. I do not know Jake, but the soldiers and families stationed in Ft. Hood are the most inspirational, competent young people I have ever had the honor to stand in the same room with. I'm so sorry, family and friends of this brave young man, for the loss.
— Norma Green
May 12, 2009 at 9:05 a.m. 

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