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Hero burial for Pleitez
In a somber ceremony Wednesday, family, friends, fellow soldiers and the community paid their final respects to Spc. Benjamin Carlos Pleitez, the 25-year-old Turlock soldier who died July 27 while serving in Afghanistan.

Pleitez's service was held Wednesday afternoon at the Seventh-day Adventist Church, followed by a military funeral at the San Joaquin National Cemetery in Santa Nella.

A cause of death for Pleitez, a former student of Modesto Adventist Academy in Ceres, has not been released.

Among his family and friends, Pleitez will be remembered as a man of steadfast character with an easy laugh, a quick smile, and a bit of a daredevil streak.

"He was definitely the first one to try some crazy stunt," said older brother Jon Pleitez. "He never turned down a challenge."

The drive to challenge himself both mentally and physically, kept Pleitez bustling with activity. Pleitez, who was an avid reader, enjoyed exploring and running, especially if it was in the company of his two rescue dogs, Jon Pleitez said.

The need to challenge himself was also what inspired Pleitez to join the military. He enlisted with the California Army National Guard on Sept. 26, 2006 as a heavy vehicle driver. His enlistment ended on Oct. 3, 2007, but Pleitez still felt that call to duty, so he on Dec. 1, 2009, he reenlisted in the California Army National Guard as a health care specialist.

"He enjoyed his work as an EMT (emergency medical technician) and the opportunity to help people," Jon Pleitez said.

On March 15, Pleitez was ordered to active duty in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.

Pleitez' awards and decorations include the Army Commendation Medal, Army Achievement Medal, Army Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal (w/Bronze Service Star), Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Armed Forces Reserve Medal, Army Service Ribbon, Overseas Service Bar, NATO Medal, and California Enlisted Trainer's Excellence Ribbon.

While serving in Afghanistan, Pleitez was struck by the lack of education available to the populace and got involved with the Central Asia Institute, a nonprofit organization that promotes literacy and education, especially among girls, in Central Asia communities.

"He had a conversation with our mother about how no matter what they did in Afghanistan the people would still be reliant on the Taliban if they didn't get educated," Jon Pleitez said. "He felt a real difference could be made if the people could be educated."

Donations in honor of Pleitez can be made to the Central Asia Institute, P.O. Box 7209, Bozeman MT 59771.