The trips can take from 20 minutes to two hours each way, especially when he has to drive to the San Juan-based VA hospital, the only facility with a traumatic brain injury clinic.
"This experience was so hard and yet so enriching," Luz says. "We have learned that as human beings we are exposed to lots of risks in life, some we can't even begin to imagine. The fact that we survive shows us that God places a lot of value on our lives."
"We have a rather high incidence of divorce among our soldiers," says Army Chaplain Alejandro Sánches. In 2003, when the United States invaded Iraq, there were 14,222 divorces in Puerto Rico. The number jumped to 16,061 in 2004, and by 2005, the number was 18,376, according to the CDC's National Vital Statistics Reports.
Deployment is often an excuse for a marriage already in trouble, he says: "The deployment pushes them off the edge and they decide to separate." The National Guard's Strong Bonds program offers couples a weekend retreat where they learn strategies to cope with the transition when a spouse returns from duty.
But despite the attempts, marriages sometimes crumble. Alba Iglesias Rosario says her son's wife, like many others she's known, found new independence and freedom during his deployment. The traditional Puerto Rican family structure, where the male is the decision-maker, is dying, she says. After taking over all the household duties and decisions, women aren't ready to give them all back. "Of the six men I know who have gone to Iraq, almost all have gotten divorced," she says.
A Family Tradition
"Come in, sit down. We're washing clothes, making food, and Carlos is helping Yarlos with his homework," Alba Iglesias Rosario says as she rushes around the kitchen of her home in Cabo Rojo, a town known for its fresh seafood and located near Puerto Rico's southeastern coast. A typical family on a typical Saturday afternoon?
Not really. Alba, 55, and her husband, Carlos Ferrer Rodríguez, 59, have opened their home to their battle-worn and recently divorced son, Carlos Ferrer Iglesias, 37, and his four children, ages 5 to 15. They've been raising the two oldest, from Carlos' first marriage, for many years. But just two weeks earlier, the youngest children's mother moved to New York, and left them with Carlos.
The younger Carlos was among the first National Guardsmen sent to Iraq in 2003. He was part of a group known as "The Lost Platoon," because no one knew to where they had been sent until weeks after they left Puerto Rico. Cryptic phone messages—an Iraqi with a satellite phone charged him $2 per minute—let his family know where he was.
His second tour of duty as an infantryman—from January 2007 until February 2008—took him to Egypt and the Sinai Peninsula. He's already been told to expect a tour in Somalia, Iraq, or Afghanistan in 2009 or 2010, despite a partial hearing loss and a back injury that has yet to be treated.
Carlos is one in a long line of family members who have served and continue to serve in the U.S. military, Alba says. At one point, her son and three nephews were all in Iraq. The tradition was welded fast when her 22-year-old brother, Julio Antonio Iglesias Rosario III, a U.S. Marine, was killed in Vietnam. A photograph of him in dress blues, including cape, motivated all of her nephews to join the military. "He was a hero for my nephews," she says.