Growing up on a Jersey dairy cattle farm in east Mesa where her father has worked for nearly a quarter-century, the violent Kunar Province of Afghanistan seemed an unlikely place for a mother of a young daughter to be.
But those who knew Army Pfc. Barbara Vieyra said she was generous with her time, very patriotic and ultimately gave the ultimate sacrifice she could give to her country.
Vieyra, 22, an expert marksman with the 720th Military Police Battalion, 89th Military Police Brigade, and the mother of a young daughter, died Sept. 18 of wounds suffered when insurgents attacked her unit using an improvised explosive device and rocket-propelled grenades in during Operation Enduring Freedom, according to information from the Department of Defense. Vieyra is believed to be the first woman from the south East Valley to be killed in the Middle East conflicts.
Visitation for Vieyra will be from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. today at Bunker’s Garden Chapel, 33 N. Centennial Way in Mesa.
Her funeral services will be 11 a.m. Saturday at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints Lehi Ward building, 830 E. Lehi Road, Mesa. Burial will follow in the Mesa City Cemetery, 1212 N. Center St.
Vieyra is survived by her 3-year-old daughter, Evelyn; parents Raul and Elizabeth Vieyra, who immigrated from Mexico; sister Lupe; brother Roberto; and grandparents Roberto and Leovigilda Vieyra.
The Vieyra family has not commented beyond Barbara’s sister, Lupe, telling the Tribune the tragedy has caused her father a loss beyond words. Raul Vieyra has worked at the Feenstra Dairy for 24 years, where he is an assistant herder.
Barbara Vieyra is named after Barbara Feenstra, who co-owns the dairy with her husband, Chuck, Lupe Vieyra said.
“The family is devastated,” said Angela Grice, who has known Vieyra for nine years, soon after she moved into the east Mesa neighborhood where a row of dairies line East Elliot Road near the Santan Freeway stretch of the Loop 202. “She was very kind and generous. She was a sweet person and giving of her time and often would help me around my house. She sacrificed the most anyone can sacrifice for their country and gave her life defending our freedoms. We all love her, and we will miss her. None of us will ever be the same.”
Ellie Rael, a liaison at Skyline High School who works with staff and students, said she remembered Vieyra as “just a nice person” who was quiet and respectable.
“She was a patriotic person and just an average person who really didn’t stand out, but loved her country and stood up for the American flag,” Rael said. “She was an artistic person who loved to paint and played on the JV softball team. She was focused on graduating and was a happy person.”
On her Facebook profile, Vieyra had 171 friends and listed Laser Tag, competitive swimming and dancing among her interests.
Vieyra had been in the Army for about 2 1/2 years and was deployed from Fort Hood, Texas, to Afghanistan in April, according to Grice.
Vieyra’s awards and decorations include the Bronze Star, Purple Heart, Army Commendation Medal, Army Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Korean Defense Service Medal and Afghanistan Campaign Medal with combat service star, according to information from Fort Hood. She also received the Global War of Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, Global War of Terrorism Service Medal, Army Service Ribbon, NATO Medal, Overseas Service Ribbon and Combat Action Badge, according to Fort Hood.
Vieyra joined the Army to have a means of helping support her daughter, Grice said.
“She was a good mother and loved her daughter very much,” Grice said.
Grice said that she never recalled Vieyra going out and shooting or anything like that when she was younger, and that she learned honed her marksmanship skills in the military.
Dr. Paul Richardson of Mesa, who served in the 720th Military Police Battalion as an operations officer from 1963 to 1965, also said he was shaken to hear about the news of Vieyra’s death.
Richardson, 74, was quick to mention that the 720th Military Police Battalion is a “very legendary and storied” battalion and said it includes the finest of soldiers.
During the Vietnam War, the 720th was the lone military police battalion remaining in the United States and had seven officers doing the job of 35, Richardson said.
The 720th gained notoriety as the military police battalion which helped to provide protection to marchers during Martin Luther King Jr.’s civil rights march from Selma, Ala. to the state capital in Montgomery, Ala. in March 1965. The 720th also provided protection during a crisis that became known as the “American Insurrection” triggered by James Meredith, escalating into the Battle of Oxford, Miss.
In 1961, Meredith, a black veteran, applied for admission to the University of Mississippi — and launched a legal revolt against white supremacy in the most segregated state in the U.S. Meredith’s challenge ultimately triggered what TIME magazine called “the gravest conflict between federal and state authority since the Civil War,” which on Sept. 30, 1962, exploded into a chaotic battle between thousands of white civilians and a small corps of federal marshals.
The 720th also was the battalion assigned to President Lyndon B. Johnson’s ranch, now a national state park near Stonewall, Texas.
“Soldier Vieyra’s family has a lot to be proud of, but hearing the news of a 22-year-old mother of a little girl being killed in Afghanistan breaks my heart,” Richardson said.
An account has been set up for Evelyn Vieyra. Anyone interested in making contributions in her name can do so at any branch of Wells Fargo Bank.