Grandma, guardsman, girl: War's toll felt at home

HAMLET, N.C. – When her son got his orders to head back to Iraq, Rosa Lamourt hatched her scheme to keep him stateside.

She didn't sleep much during the four months Spc. Jobel Barbosa spent in Iraq in 2004, driving a Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle with the North Carolina National Guard. The idea of her only son, born when she was just 15, spending an entire year overseas was too much.

So when Barbosa — a 29-year-old single father — asked his mother to care for his daughter Christian, as she'd done during his first deployment, she simply refused.

"I thought that if he didn't have anyone to watch (Christian), they wouldn't send him," Lamourt said recently. "Maybe they would say no."

Such wishful thinking often consumes the families of soldiers sent to war, whether they're full-time fighters or part-time warriors such as Barbosa and his fellow members of E Company, the engineer company of the 120th Combined Arms Battalion, 30th Heavy Brigade Combat Team. The unit from the tiny town of Hamlet, in southeastern North Carolina, left this weekend for four months of training ahead of a 12-month tour in Iraq.

As Lamourt's situation shows, reality inevitably sets in for the relatives. Her plan backfired when Barbosa's boss at the repair shop in Hamlet where he's a diesel mechanic volunteered to watch over Christian, a fourth-grader.

Lamourt quickly caved.

"There's no way I would let my baby live with a stranger," she said. "She's my first grandbaby."

And so, years after Jobel and his three sisters moved out, 9-year-old Christian moved in.

"It's like being a mom again," Lamourt said. "Imagine that."

Lamourt, 44, is up every day early to cook Christian breakfast, make sure she's dressed right and her hair is combed, before waiting outside with her for the 7:25 a.m. bus to her new school. She's there every afternoon as Christian gets home, ready to poke her granddaughter until the homework is done, the shower is taken and the girl has climbed into the bed that she doesn't always make in the morning.

"When Christian was little, I took her everywhere. And whatever I said, she listened," Lamourt said. "She was a good baby. Right now, she has her own way to think, and sometimes she tries to get away with things if she can. I have to be after her."

Four years ago, Lamourt was able to take care of Christian for a few months while still working at the post office in Hamlet. She's now out of work with an injury, which gives her the time she needs to raise her granddaughter. Most nights, it's just the two of them, baking cookies, reading, watching a little TV and talking.

Lamourt's husband, Ernesto Mendez, lives in Philadelphia, where he's an iron worker. He sends his wife money, and while it was enough when she was living solo, it's now a stretch with Christian in the house and her son's girlfriend stopping by often with the couple's 1-year-old daughter.

It all adds stress to what's a new situation for everyone involved.

"I'm used to having a clean kitchen," Lamourt said. "I'm used to when I put a plate down, it will be in the same place when I get back. It ain't happening anymore. So I'm teaching her: Don't touch my things."

Still, the grandmother knows what the granddaughter is going through.

"It's good to stay busy, so I don't think about Jobel. He needs to come back for his family," Lamourt said. "I try not to think about it, but what happens if he doesn't come back? What happens to his family?"


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