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‘I just want my son home,’ U.S. Marine Veteran from El Paso injured fighting for Ukranian Army, needing help to get home

EL PASO, Texas -- With a dog tag around her neck, Sara Hernandez sat in her kitchen and talked about her son, Alex Ortiz. She laughed as she shared fond memories and stories from his childhood, and she became frustrated as she talked about the struggles of getting her injured son home.

Ortiz, a 25-year-old U.S. Marine veteran, decided to buy a one-way ticket to Ukraine in March after seeing Russia invade the country. Ortiz was severely wounded, losing an eye and part of his skull while on the frontline. He currently sits in the ICU unit of a German hospital, and his pathway home to the United States is a long and winding road.

After being told her son was healthy and stable enough to travel on a plane, Hernandez says she reached out to the U.S. government to help get her son home. He would need a special plane equipped with an ICU to travel back.

But the answer the family got in return was not what they were hoping for. The U.S. government said they could not provide the transportation to get Ortiz home.

A State Department spokesperson told ABC-7 they were aware of a U.S. citizen injured in Ukraine, but because of privacy issues, they could not provide any further comment. The Department does say U.S. citizens in Ukraine should depart immediately and avoid travel into the country.

The U.S. government is providing a loan to Hernandez to pay for the expensive flight to get her son home. A loan Hernandez will have to pay back in full. She says she has been told the flight will cost north of $300,000.

The family has set up a GoFundMe page to raise funds for Alex's return trip. Their goal is $350,000.

"He is selfless."

Nicholas Ramirez said ever since he met Ortiz in middle school, he has always looked up to him. Ramirez spoke to ABC-7 via Zoom from Washington state. He described Ortiz as selfless, brave, and confident.

“Whenever he has the opportunity to give you -- no matter what it is -- time, food, money, you name it, he has always been willing," Ramirez explained.

As Ramirez described one of his best friends, he was reminded of a story that encapsulated how beneficial it was to have Ortiz as a friend growing up.

Nicholas Ramirez (left) and Alex Ortiz (right) were childhood friends.

The two were in high school and Ramirez had a science project due that he no idea how to complete. Ramirez says after Ortiz got off his shift at McDonald's, he drove to Ramirez's home and helped him finish the project, going as far as driving Ramirez to Walmart to buy supplies, and even buying him breakfast as the two worked into the early morning hours. Ortiz did not sleep at his home that night.

“He knew he was going to get in trouble for not going home, but did it anyway to just help me out," Ramirez said.

Ramirez knew that when he got the call from Ortiz saying he was going to fight in Ukraine, he was not going to be able to change his mind. Ramirez told him to be safe and the two said they loved each other.

"He wasn’t timid at the fact that he was about to step into a war zone," Ramirez recalled.

That was the last call between the two friends before Ortiz was injured.

Article Topic Follows: News

Dylan McKim

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