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Janet Erazo: 'Born Adventurer' Takes A Breather

Dennis Duggan

December 9, 2003
Copyright ©2003 Newsday. All rights reserved.

First lieutenant and platoon leader Janet Erazo is home in Manhattan for a two-week holiday leave from the war in Iraq, but she says that the big bedouin tent in the desert is also her home.

"I know it sounds ridiculous, but that's where I have been living for the past eight months with 40 other National Guard soldiers," Erazo, who ferries supplies from Kuwait to Iraq, said yesterday. "When one of us leaves the tent, they tell someone that they'll be back home at such and such a time."

Erazo's New York home is a West 83rd Street co-op overlooking Central Park that she shares with Marianne Fisher. "We met years ago when we were in the fourth grade at PS 98 in Douglaston," Erazo said during an interview yesterday.

Erazo, 36, salts her conversation with military jargon. "My mother says I have hardened," said Erazo, who joined the National Guard in 1999 at the suggestion of her father, Joseph, who enlisted during the Korean War.

The war in Iraq swirls shapelessly today. There are no boundaries, no front lines, no rear lines. Snipers fire at truck convoys or propel grenades into Army encampments or civilian targets.

"One of my men was hit in the chest by a sniper who was driving by one of our truck convoys in a pickup truck," she said, adding that the soldier was given the Purple Heart.

"This war is everywhere," said Erazo, who can't leave her tent home without an M-16. "Our convoys are a target for land mines, for snipers and for rocket-propelled grenades because the insurgents know we are bringing supplies into Army camps all over Iraq."

She is proud of the job she and her troop are doing, but she knows that the National Guard and Reserve troops are looked down upon by the regular Army. "They make this face when they see us," she said.

But as the war progresses, the guard and the reserves are playing an ever bigger role in this war, including having their stays lengthened.

Since the war on terrorism began two years ago, the federal government has called up about 300,000 of the 1.2 million guard and reserve members, a spokesman for the Department of Defense said. Most of these men and women had no idea they would be sent to the front lines, including Erazo, who was sent to Kuwait in April after three months of training at Fort Dix.

"I don't expect to leave until next May or April," she said. "I still have half of my original eight-year commitment to serve in the guard."

Erazo was a licensed broker with a banking firm when she enlisted in 1999. "After 9/11, I think most of us wanted to get into the war. We had been hit where we lived, and I wanted to be able to fight back in some way.

"I was also a born adventurer just like my mother, Estelle, who came to America from Puerto Rico and got a law degree at Pace University when she was in her 50s," she added.

Her mother married Joseph Erazo, once a trouble-shooter for former Mayors Beame, Lindsay, Koch and Giuliani. He was also once the executive director of Nassau University Medical Center.

"I am lucky to have these two as my parents," said Erazo, whose days in the city have been spent meeting with old friends and looking for things to help make Christmas memorable for her fellow members of the 719th Transportation Command.

"They are all New Yorkers," she said. "Many of them are married and with children and with regular jobs, which may or may not be there when they return to the city.

"I love my troops. They are all making big sacrifices, and they are willing to do it, and so am I," she said. "Whether or not you agree with this war, I consider what I am doing is my job. I want to keep my troops safe and bring them home."

But Erazo thinks that despite recent efforts to boost some benefits for the guard and the reserves, plenty more should be done.

"This is a dangerous place," she said, "because you never know who has a bomb strapped around their waist, and that includes children.

"When I was sent overseas, I thought the worst-case scenario was that we would be here until Christmas. Now, I have to be here until next May or June. There is no way you can make plans for the future not being told when you are going to be able to return home and find a job or an apartment," she said.

And what does this confident woman warrior see herself doing when she comes back home?

"I'm not sure," she said, "but I often think about getting a job teaching, so maybe that's what I'll do."

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