My Brother's War -- Off to Iraq Without the Yellow Ribbons

New America Media, Commentary, David Madrid, Mar 28, 2006

Editor's Note: What is it like to send a loved one off to an increasingly unpopular war? David Madrid, 28, is a writer for Silicon Valley De-Bug, a project of New America Media.

SAN JOSE, Calif.--Early this morning I watched my big brother, a staff sergeant in the Marines, kiss his wife and two young sons goodbye and board a bus leaving Camp Pendelton, beginning his journey to the Middle East.

The war in Iraq has been going on for more than a year now, and today it's just tragedy and scandal that make the headline news. Politicians who once supported the war now question our involvement in Iraq. My brother is stepping into a war that is now thought to be without glory or heroism.

To the average American civilian, the war in Iraq might feel played out by now. But for me and many other Americans with loved ones in the military, this war remains all too real.

I personally don't believe that the United States has any legitimate reason for its involvement in the Middle East, but at the same time I'm proud of my brother for serving our country. I support my brother (and the troops) even if I do not support the war.

My brother has been in the Corps for about 15 years now. He originally enlisted as a troublesome 17-year-old boy. Now he is a 32-year-old family man. His story is not the "The Few, The Proud, The Marines" commercial of optimistic patriotism, but rather a way to escape the violence of the streets and gain some kind of economic stability. He is also fulfilling a family tradition -- my family has had a member in every war since World War II.

Most of my brother's work in the military has involved bringing in new recruits, and working with new Marines in boot camp stateside. He's been overseas before on training missions and defending U.S interests, but he's never gone to war before. He finally got his orders late last year, and now he's off to do a seven-month tour.

As a youngster growing up on the east side of San Jose in the early 1990s, my brother found himself getting into trouble, being locked up for months in juvenile hall and falling deeper into the gang lifestyle. He had friends getting killed and catching cases for murder and other major crimes. But he was growing and changing as a person, and he wanted more out of life then what was before him. So he walked into the recruiting office over on McKee and Jackson. The Marines were his ticket to a new life, and a way to see the world.

For a lot of youths growing up in violent communities, most of whom can't afford college, the military seems like a way out, even during times of war. I recently had a conversation with a young man who is incarcerated and is interested in joining the Marines. When I asked him why, given the reports of violence, he said, "What the hell, it's just like trading in one war for another."

Standing out there early in the morning in a dirt field in Southern California, watching my big bro and all the young Marines say goodbye to their loved ones, it made me think about who is really out there fighting in Iraq. When I'm at home watching the 10 o'clock news, I always hear about "the troops" and see clips of faceless trained killing machines. I don't really think of them as individuals.

But here on the base, I can see that the troops are no different than any other young person I see at Eastridge Mall -- young guys looking out for chicks and joking around with their buddies. They roll up bumping Tupac from their cars, ready for deployment. I don't mean to take away from the training and discipline that these young men and women have, but at the end of the day, a lot of them are no different than twenty-somethings here at home, except they have a greater responsibility and a tougher job.

The vibe out here is a sea of mixed emotions as family members say goodbye to their loved ones with lumps in their throats, proud and yet scared that this may be the last time they see them. The young troops seem more anxious than nervous as they board the buses, beginning their journey to Iraq.

I walk over to my big brother. I can see in his eyes that it's hard for him to say goodbye to his family. He doesn't want to leave his wife and kids, but it is something he has to do. "Be safe" I tell him as I hug him and say goodbye.