By Brandy Hernandez, Senior writer, 17, Hawthorne Academy
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Brandy says she’s thankful her brother came home safely from Iraq.

Next to my bed I have a picture of my big brother, Anthony Luna, in his combat uniform, sitting on rocks eating the dry food that you add water to. Anthony was in Iraq for 10 months. When I looked at his picture I would cry, thinking about how anything could happen to him. I would think back to how we would always joke around at home, like play fight, get into water balloon fights and how he let us play his Xbox. My mom has six kids and growing up everybody in my family loved my brother, who is the oldest.

He had just turned 18 when he decided to join the Army. He didn’t graduate from high school and was living with my mother. He never talked about what he wanted to be. I didn’t think about the war. I was proud that he was doing something for himself and his future.

But when I got the call from my mom saying my brother was going to Iraq, my heart sank into my stomach and stayed there for two days. I cried and prayed that the military would change its mind, but it was no use. He left for Iraq in February 2007.

I started watching the news constantly and reading the newspaper because I didn’t really know what was going on over there. I had to know more about why we were at war, what was happening and when it would end. When I would read that more soldiers had died, it made me think about my brother and that it could happen to him too. But I didn’t stop reading. I wanted to know what was going on and why he was sent to war. I thought maybe I’d see my brother in a news photo.

Brandy kept this photo of her brother on the wall next to her bed.

I missed my brother a lot. I would check my MySpace every day hoping he had left a message. I felt really, really happy when I got a message. I would ask him how he was doing but I didn’t ask specific questions about Iraq. What if it was sad to him? He didn’t share too much. He wrote that he was doing OK and couldn’t wait to come home. He would ask me how school and my life were going. I always told him about my grades and how I was doing. I would give him updates on our family, like when our cousin’s girlfriend got pregnant.

Why hadn’t I heard from him?

One time I sent him a message and he didn’t respond right away. It made me nervous. I sent him another one a couple days later saying, “You’d better be OK.” I called my mom but she said he hadn’t called her either. Could he be hurt? What’s going on? I tried to stay positive, like thinking his Internet went down.

When I heard from him again, after two weeks, I had a huge smile. He said he had been in another city doing training for a week and a half and didn’t have access to a computer.

I never knew that him being in Iraq would change things, but it did. Before, my mom and I were having major problems. We could not even be in the same house because we were fighting, so I had to move out and into a group home, which is a home where I live with five other girls and adult staff. But when I went home on weekends, I wouldn’t argue with my mom because she was really worried about my brother and didn’t need more stress. She was always saying, “I hope he’s all right.”

Oh my god, I was really happy when I found out that he was coming home. I thought about him all day and what we were going to do when he got here, like take family pictures (which we didn’t get to do before he returned to his base in Texas). I got frustrated and mad because the Army changed the date three times. Then one day I was at my mom’s house and we got a surprising call. It was Anthony. “Mom, they’re not going to let me come home.” “What?” “I’m just playing, I’m in Texas right now.” She started crying. We were so happy.

He came home two days before Christmas. Everybody in our family was at the airport. He was the last one off the plane. Everyone mobbed him, hugged him and kissed him. His friend Fernando started crying. I hugged him for five minutes.

We had rented a big ol’ black limo. We had fun on the way home, bumping to music and talking. We had a sign that said, “Welcome back from Iraq Private Luna” hanging from the porch. We had decorated the house with “welcome home” balloons and red, white and blue balloons. The whole block came by. Everyone was giving him hugs and telling him congratulations.

He was taller, was nothing but muscle and had a buzz cut. He’d say “please” and he had a softer, calm voice. He went from a boy to a grown man.

Later Anthony told us about Iraq. He would drive tanks and go on patrols. Sometimes he wouldn’t get any sleep because he’d have to stay up all day and patrol all night, or because there was shooting and yelling. They had to find shelter in abandoned houses. Sometimes he slept on the floor. One time there was a shootout and an innocent kid was almost caught in the crossfire. They thought they shot him so Anthony stopped shooting. When he saw the boy was alive he was so relieved.

He told us some good things. He made friends from all over the United States. Then somebody asked him what was the worst part. He said it was when one of his friends from his platoon was shot and died. He didn’t talk about it long. I don’t think he wanted to. I thought, “I could never go through what he went through.”

I wish no one had to die. I think the war is stupid and unnecessary. It’s not like Iraq bombed us on Sept. 11. We should have gone after just Osama bin Laden. People’s lives are on the line when they go to war. It’s tough for families to have to go through worrying about their loved ones dying.

Still, I’m proud my brother had the courage to fight in Iraq. He came through it and is fine. He’s tough, he’s strong.

Click here to read Chelsea’s story about how she felt disconnected from the war five years after it began.

Other stories by this writer …

You call this home? Brandy, 16, feels like the foster care system cares more about rules than the kids. (October 2007)

An unexpected friendship. Brandy, 16, has so much fun hanging out with her mentor, and she helps her with her problems, too. (May – June 2007)