View Full Version : Safe at home, ready for war

09-26-05, 08:08 AM
Safe at home, ready for war
On leave from Iraq, an Indiana Marine enjoys the simple pleasures with family
By Josh Noel
Tribune staff reporter
Published September 26, 2005

LAKE STATION, Ind. -- Football was on the television Sunday, but no one paid attention because Marine Cpl. Jesus Cisneros Jr. was home from Iraq.

Most of Cisneros' nine siblings were at his feet, along with cousins, nieces and nephews, and they stared into the computer on his lap, where he clicked through photos from his seven months away.

He laughed while pointing at the sheet of cardboard he slept on for three weeks in an abandoned mansion. Later came photos of a wall of blowing sand, an enemy's homemade rocket launcher powered by bed springs, and then a man on his back, arms out, gun fallen at his side and one knee bent in the air.

"Is he sleeping?" a nephew asked.

Cisneros, 27, shook his head. He had killed the man. Then he took a picture of him.

He clicked to the next photo.

"I really don't like to talk about things like that," Cisneros said later. "But it was either him or me, and it surely wasn't going to be me."

Because it wasn't him, Sunday was a celebration at his family's three-bedroom home, which Jesus Cisneros Sr. bought more than 30 years ago on his steel mill salary and where he and his wife shared one bathroom with their 10 children for years.

Cisneros came back from the Iraq-Syria border last week, spent a week adjusting to life out of combat at Camp Lejeune, N.C., then came home just before midnight Saturday. He and his family stayed up much of the night talking. After a few hours of sleep, Cisneros and his brothers played paintball. His mom and sisters went to church. His dad got things ready for the party.

By the afternoon, everyone was back together again and their home was choked with people offering hugs, handshakes, back pats and a few tears amid red, white and blue balloons and streamers hanging from the ceiling. They ate Mexican food: two pans of carnitas with corn tortillas and a homemade pico de gallo garnish. Rain led them to cancel the mariachi band, but it was no matter. Every chair was occupied and couches overflowed.

Dressed in a short-sleeved blue polo shirt, black shorts and flip-flops, Cisneros slapped his hands together and barked, "I've been waiting seven months for this kind of food."

He also had been waiting for such unspectacular moments. In letters and phone calls, he found he most missed movies and dinners with his parents, siblings and girlfriend. Simple things.

Cisneros didn't even seem to mind when his sister Patty, also 27, who won a gold medal playing for the U.S. women's basketball team in the 2004 Paralympics in Athens, stated her opposition to the war.

"I'm antiwar, but I've got to support my brother," she said. "I'm anti-Bush too."

Cisneros graduated from the University of Minnesota at Morris with a math degree in 2002 but couldn't find a job teaching high school math. Raised Catholic, he tried the seminary in St. Paul but lasted only a semester.

"It didn't quite work out," he said. "I was too outgoing."

Back in Lake Station in late 2003, he was trying to figure out what to do next with his life. He was disturbed by the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 ("I was angry someone could do that to the U.S. when we try to help all the countries in need," he said.) and saw a commercial for the Marines that ended with their catchphrase: "The few, the proud, the Marines." It was like he had heard it for the first time.

When he told his mother he had enlisted, she thought he was joking. Then she thought he was crazy. He had a college degree, after all.

"I really don't care why he did it anymore," Maria Cisneros said. "I just support him and pray for his safety."

In February, he was shipped to Anbar province, where he worked as a field radio operator, allowing insurgent-hunting units to communicate with their base in the border town of Al Qaim. He was involved in one firefight, in which, he said, insurgents took the first shot. He emptied two magazines from his M-16, and at least one bullet found its target.

He's not sure why he took a photo of the dead man.

"Maybe it's like a trophy," he said.

He'll be back at Lejeune in two weeks and probably back in Iraq next summer. He wants to go. He believes Marine units have successfully rooted out insurgents, and he wants more action.

"I felt good taking out the enemy who was trying to take me out and has taken out my brothers in arms," he said.

When he goes back his dog tags will be joined by a cross from his girlfriend and an image of St. Christopher, the patron saint of travelers, from his brother.