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War In Iraq Is Like Sandstorm: It's Everywhere

By Maria Padilla

March 12, 2003
Copyright © 2003
THE ORLANDO SENTINEL. All rights reserved. 

The impending war against Iraq has become personal. This past weekend our family said goodbye to my brother-in-law, Jose Louis, who soon will be en route to Kuwait. We had a grand time, because whenever you get a large family together -- plus spouses, children and other family members -- a party erupts. But there was a somberness as well, knowing that Jose Louis may be going off to war, and all the dangers it implies. Jose Louis is scheduled to return to the United States at the end of the year.

My family is not unique. Many others are experiencing the same goodbye ritual. But our family does seem to have an oversupply of military men.

My father served in the Army during World War II; my stepfather was an Air Force man in the Korean War; my brother, who spent 13 years in the Army, was in the first Persian Gulf War; another brother-in-law spent 23 years in the Navy; and Jose Louis is in his eighth year in the Navy.

And that's not including cousins. The Puerto Rico government estimates that 200,000 Puerto Ricans have fought since World War I.

With so many military folks in the family, I have a healthy respect for the U.S. military -- and a healthy disdain for what I call armchair hawks.

They do not understand a damn thing about war, and probably dodged the last several U.S. military engagements while in a haze of marijuana smoke. But from the safe distance of middle age, these folks are "pro military" today.

Here's my two cents on the Iraq question: President Bush could use better diplomatic tactics, and he's flailed about trying to explain to the nation his reason for going to war against Iraq. But he's essentially right about this mission, which seems more dangerous than the first Persian Gulf War, given its sweeping goal to redefine the Arab region.

But that is a journalist talking. Jose Louis has a different, and more practical, point of view. He's going to Kuwait because he re-enlisted for the third time in 2001. Otherwise, he would be doing something else.

On this weekend, however, he is showing me his "Ready to Eat Individual Meal #17, Beef Teriyaki," the kind of food he's been munching on for the past several weeks, which already has generated a loss of several pounds. It is a carbohydrate and sugar lover's dream: crackers, noodles, bread, blackberry jam, Tootsie Rolls and M&Ms. In the last week, we've also heard about something else he can look forward to: sandstorms. One kicked up in Kuwait last week, knocking down several military tents. Sandstorms are a lot like snowstorms, only worse because the sand is everywhere; it stings, stays on your skin and gets in your hair and nostrils.

The twin topics of Iraq and war are a lot like that sandstorm: Everywhere you look, there it is. On my way to the going-away party, I encountered a carload of Army soldiers, all Hispanics, at a Florida rest stop.

They were upbeat, laughing and telling jokes. We chatted briefly, and I learned they, too, were being deployed. I wished them a safe return. To Jose Louis our family raised this toast: ¡Que viva Jose Louis!

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