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Posted on Sep 25, 2006 in Front Page Features, Stuff We Like

Red Bulls in Iraq – Pt. 6: A Soldier on Leave

By Cpt. Fernando A Franco

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I returned from my leave on Labor Day. The time with my family seemed to go by fast, like in a dream. It felt as if I went to sleep, had a pleasant dream with my family, then woke up in Iraq. Only those who have been away from loved ones for long periods of time, facing the hardships of a deployment or war can fully understand the meaning of going on leave, of reconnecting with loved ones, of getting to know your wife and kids again. While you are deployed, you build your own little universe that revolves around your daily duties as a soldier, your unit and your fellow soldiers that are now your family.

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I spent all my leave time with my family, trying to live each day to its fullest and enjoy every second with them. Leave time is so short that you don’t want to waste even one second of it. And yet, I could not stop thinking of the soldiers in my unit who were back in Iraq and that while I was having a couple of beers, they were going on patrol, facing the daily challenges of the mission. I could not stop thinking of yet another soldier from the Brigade who we lost the first week I was on leave. I didn’t know him, but when I read the article in the newspaper, I felt as if I had known him a long time. It is a feeling of knowing what he was doing and what dangers he was facing when he went out on patrol that day, because I have faced the same dangers when I have been out on the road. I couldn’t stop thinking about his family and that somebody was knocking on their door to deliver the news. And then I looked at my wife and kids and could only be thankful that for a short period of time I could be with them and enjoy their presence.

A lot of my friends asked me what it’s like to be in Iraq and how can I cope with the stress of combat and the constant thought that today could be my last day. I really do not have a response for that. We are soldiers. We train hard so that when we actually go to war, it looks easier than all the training we had. I really do not have an answer because I am living another reality, a reality that only those who have been at war can understand. You live and act for your fellow soldiers. You do your part because you know that if you don’t, you might jeopardize the lives of your fellow soldiers.

I arrived on Labor Day, a long weekend back home where families and friends take the time to get together, go to a cabin, or just have a BBQ in the backyard to relax. Three days where you work on the “honey do” list or just chill out. I knew the soldiers on my unit didn’t have a Labor Day weekend. They went out on patrol as usual there were no BBQs, no chilling out. They went out to do what we have been doing for the last six months in Iraq. And two of those soldiers from my Brigade died over Labor Day weekend. One saving the life of two fellow soldiers in his team. Their families had planned to celebrate the long weekend, but then somebody knocked on their doors to deliver the news. All I could do was be grateful because I had enjoyed my wife and kids for part of that long weekend.

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I arrived on Labor Day and started to work right away. Just jumped on the seat and start riding.

The photos below are of medics in my BDE providing medical aid to some civilians. The man you see in the photo got burns in his arms and face trying to save his family from his car that got hit by an IED. All made it safely, but he suffered burns. The kids in the photo were burned likely by open hearth cooking, improper fuel storage, or scavenging for fuel with bowls from open pools. the 1/34 BCT RED BULLS go the extra mile to provide medical care to civilians.

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1 Comment

  1. Where’s the pictures of the dead or maimed children and women?

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