Meet Corporal John Quinones, whose family I brought out to L.A. for a little vacation a few weeks ago. He was home on leave from nineteen months in Iraq after six months in Afghanistan. He's 25 years old. He was in the reserves, but he signed up for the Regular Army after 9/11. "I wanted to go to war against those people," he said.
With him came his wife, Yenncy, holding their one-year daughter Samantha. She doesn't really know her father because he's been away fighting in Iraq for the whole time she has been alive except for one week when she was born.
Yenncy also cares for their two year old, Chris, who also barely knows his father because his father has been fighting for our children, whom he does not even know.
Corporal Quinones is with the 2/7, the second battalion of the seventh brigade of the First Cavalry Division. His unit went right down the main street of Fallujah in Bradley fighting vehicles when that city was cleared of major terrorist bases a few months ago. He saw numbers of his close friends "lit up" or shot in the battle. He survived, although he has shrapnel in his neck and in his ankle from a mortar attack at about the same time.
His standard day involved working with a unit of the Iraqi National Guard to go out on patrols. He says the ones who believe in a free Iraq are among the bravest men he has ever worked with. "They don't even look for cover when the shooting starts," he says. "They just shoot it out until either they or the bad guys are dead." Out of the ten best ones in the unit, all ten have been murdered by the terrorists.
Tears came to his eyes when he told me that.
He goes out on patrol carrying a short barrel assault rifle called an M-4, a M-79 rocket launcher with high explosive rounds, a Glock pistol, and an AK-47 plated in silver he took from one of Saddam's palaces and which he will leave in Iraq. He wears almost 100 pounds of body armor in 140 degree heat. His unit is attacked with roadside bombs almost every day, hit with rocket-propelled grenades almost every day, often shelled with mortars. They go on raids in the middle of the night driving with lights out and night vision goggles, exchanging tracer fire with insurgents. His Bradley was hit with a RPG about two weeks ago. He only survived because his B-240 machine gun took the brunt of the explosion.
He says that when mortars hit or an IED goes off, "I don't think, I just do." He loves the Army and wants to stay in his whole career if he can.
His wife cries when she hears him talk about going back to Iraq after his leave, which he did on February 5.
For what he does, he gets paid $1,900 a month, which includes combat pay. He doesn't have any credit cards or a computer. He told me confidentially that when he gets up in a tree and spots terrorists laying a roadside bomb and lights them up with his B-240, he feels as if he's earning his pay. His wife cries at that, too.
What did you do today?