When my brother Corporal Derek Brunin told me he was joining the Marine Corp in October of 2005, I was devastated, scared, and angry, all at the same time. I had opposed and protested the Iraq War before it even began. I didn't understand how he could possibly volunteer to enter a war zone. There wasn't a draft and he had a choice. Why would he do this to us? I was angry and I told him exactly what I thought. I knew he was taken back at my reaction, but as an older sister, I wanted him to comprehend the weight of this decision. However, after I had a chance to think everything through, I realized that it was his choice and he had to make his own path in this life. I made up my mind to support him in his endeavor because I knew that if, God forbid, something happened, I couldn't stand to think that there was any doubt in his mind that I loved or supported him. Although he assured us that the field he had chosen was relatively low risk, we always knew that there was a chance that he would end up in Iraq. Eventually the Marine Corp changed his MOS for him and he was trained as an LVS truck driver. He was sent to Camp Lejeune, Jacksonville, North Carolina, and then deployed to Camp Fallujah, Al Anbar province, Iraq in February 2007.
For us, his family and friends, that first deployment was complete hell. Al Anbar province was very volatile when he first arrived and many Marines were being killed by IEDs on a daily basis. Every time I saw that a Marine had been killed, I would frantically try to think when he had called or e-mailed last to reassure myself that I had talked to him since then. My mother and I have both said that it felt as though we were holding our breath for all of the even months that he was gone. I don't think I relaxed until we were hugging him as he got off the bus in North Carolina.
He was redeployed again in February, this time to Haditha, Iraq, and a much quieter Iraq in general. I think we are starting to become accustomed to the reality of his deployment even though we still worry a lot! His beautiful wife Charlotte talks to him at least once a day and assures us that he is really quite safe in his current station. Maybe it's just the big sister in me, but until he is home, I won't be completely at ease.
Derek's deployments have been very stressful on all of us, particularly my mom. However, these deployments are also kind of a gift because as a family, we have never been stronger or closer. We don't take holidays together for granted, and really appreciate the luxury of being able to call one another whenever we feel like it. The good news is that Derek will be switching to a position that is non-deployable when he gets back from Iraq in September (god-willing) so he won't be deploying to Afghanistan come next February.
The 4th of July always makes me sentimental. I'm not really one of those patriotic, flag-waving type people; for me, patriotism is something that you find in yourself and those around you in actions and intention. Thus, the symbolism of the holiday is extremely meaningful to me. As Americans, our independence that is celebrated on the 4th has allowed us so many choices and opportunities. With Derek in Iraq again this 4th of July, I realize that although it is not easy, he had the freedom to join the military and fight for what he believes in. He was not conscripted or coerced; he took the
opportunity to volunteer for military service. I have the choice to not join the military and instead pursue a science career in a field that was largely closed to women until very recently. We have choices because of our independence and the type of nation in which it has resulted. I'm not sure I would have fully understood this fact had Derek not made his choice to join the military, a choice which I had originally opposed. We don't have to agree; we just have to agree to work together for the good of our nation, and remember that in the end, we just want the best for one another. Happy 4th of July!