Local marine gets break from Iraq | VailDaily.com

Local marine gets break from Iraq

Matt Terrell
Vail, CO Colorado
Shane Macomber/Vail DailyLocal Marine Ibrahim Garcia plays with his daughter Zoe, whose birth he missed, during a visit home to Edwards. He is in the middle of a four-year tour in Iraq.

EDWARDS ” Thoughts of clean laundry keep Ibrahim Garcia alive in the deserts of Iraq.

So do showers, hot meals, and Gatorade sent from home” anything that makes him feel clean and refined in a place where dust storms last hours and gunfire erupts and disappears in seconds.

He thinks of his baby daughter Zoe, who was born in the United States nearly 11 months ago while he was trolling for roadside bombs in Iraq. He thinks of his wife Luz, who’s spent their first two anniversaries alone without him.

He thinks of Iraqi smiles, which remind him daily why he’s glad to be there. When he and his crew pass through a city, they’re offered whole legs of lamb as “thank yous.” And as his band of Marines leave, Iraqis like to give big thumbs up and flash peace signs

Now back home, visiting his family in Edwards before going back to Iraq in September, it’s strange and a little upsetting to hear Garcia speak about leaving a Burger King in California where he’s stationed, where someone spotted his military stickers and flashed a different kind of hand gesture.

It was hard to comprehend” a bit surreal knowing what we know about the war, about the sacrifices troops make. If you want to tell Marines they’re No. 1, “That’s the wrong finger,” Garcia says.

Garcia actually wanted to join the Marines twice. He didn’t the first time.

He graduated from Battle Mountain High School in 2000. Maybe you remember him as a wrestler and running back for the football team. Most of his friends have moved to Denver by now, he says.

His parents, Jose and Clara Garcia, talked him out of joining that first time. He instead took classes at Colorado Mountain Colleges and even did some mission work in Mexico. When he told his parents he still wanted to join in 2004, when the war was in full swing, they couldn’t argue. He had done the soul searching they had asked him to.

“I was proud but scared,” Jose Garcia said. “I’ll stay away from watching TV.”

Ibrahim wanted to join for simple reasons ” he wanted to serve his country and be a part of history, he says.

Marines are a competitive bunch.

Finding a road bomb, aside from saving lives, gives a platoon bragging rights. And, when you find one, you get to blow it up ” which, in case you’ve never dabbled in pyrotechnics, is a pretty good incentive.

Ibrahim says his days as a soldier are pretty much like you see on TV. Their missions are to patrol streets, help Iraqis needing food and water, and check roads for bombs, which can be made to look like rock and blend in the bushes. It’s unnerving process where one wrong step could mean the end.

And then there are the gun battles, which last anywhere from seconds to just a few minutes. Insurgents attack without much warning, aren’t easy to see, then run away sometimes before you realize what hit you.

Garcia was actually shot in the leg just above his knee by friendly fire ” something that’s unfortunately common in those kinds of situations, he said. That wound took him out of combat for a few months.

Other than that, he hasn’t seen too much carnage. He does remember a night when one of their armored cars feel through a weak bridge and was hanging off the sides.

No one died, but some of the guys he helped were pretty banged up, he said.

Everyone got along in Ibrahim’s group. With most of the soldiers the same age, they talk about TV shows they watched while they were kids to pass the time. Garcia, now a corporal, has been a driver and a gunner on a light armored vehicle, and when he returns for another seven months, he’ll actually be in charge of a crew.

He says it’s going to be tough to figure out how to be “the bully” and still be a friend.

“Now it’s my job to bring them back home,” Garcia said.

Ibrahim almost escapes the interview without mentioning it. It’s his parents, actually, who tell a different side of that night on the broken bridge.

Clara brings out a box with a medal ” the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Award ” and a certificate detailing exactly how he helped those Marines hanging off the bridge.

Ibrahim actually pulled three marines out of the vehicle, risking his own life. He also helped medical officers treat a man with a severed ear, stabilized an injured hip, put a splint on a leg and created an improvised sling for someone’s arm.

When he thinks about a risk like that, risks like everyone in the military takes, Ibrahim doesn’t know why that guy at the Burger King in California would flip him off.

Well, he knows why, but he doesn’t know why people still take their frustrations out on the troops. It happens quite a bit to soldiers in California, he says.

“We’re just doing our job,” he says, just like someone at a restaurant.

He’s pushed away political feelings on the war ” he just wants to get out alive and finish his job. After the military, he wants to go back to school or maybe become a police officer. His wife won’t let him stay on the front lines, he says.

“Now that I’m a father, I’ll take care of myself a little more,” he says.

Staff writer Matt Terrell can be reached at 748-2955 or mterrell@vaildaily.com.

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