By Kathleen Campbell
A yellow ribbon flutters on the front door of Apartment 11.
Inside, Kordel and Heather Braley nestle on the couch, trying to soak up enough of each other to get them through the next six months.
Kordel Braley, a BYU student and corporal in the Marine Reserves, has returned from Iraq for a two-week leave.
Two brothers, Grant and Jared Jensen, cram into Jared”s office in the Clyde Building, searching the Internet for the street value of Iraqi currency.
Only a few hours earlier, Cpl. Grant Jensen, a BYU student, checked in his night vision binoculars, M-16 and bayonet at Camp Williams.
The Sebresos family gathers for Sunday dinner to celebrate the return of one who has been the focus of countless prayers.
Cpl. Hunter Sebresos, a BYU student, and his wife Yolanda, join their family after spending a few days alone – allowing Sebresos time to readjust to civilian life.
All over the nation Marines are returning from Iraq. The Fourth Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, Company “C,” otherwise known as the Charlie Company, was one of the first to return home.
After only five weeks in Iraq, the Charlie Company, consisting of Marine Reserves from Utah, received orders to redeploy to Okinawa, Japan on June 1. A two-week leave was granted to the soldiers before starting their new six-month assignment.
The Marines have spent the last two weeks with family and friends, reminiscing about their experiences in Iraq and making plans for the future.
Though their stay was brief, they say their experiences are worth remembering.
When the reserves got notice of activation on March 1, they felt anxious for their loved ones. Sebresos made his wife of less than a year promise to never spend the night alone; a promise she kept faithfully, even when it meant packing a bag late at night to go stay with a family member.
Grant Jensen”s girlfriend, Lia Ciccotti, a BYU senior, chose to study abroad in Africa while he was away.
Braley missed his wife, Heather”s, graduation in April.
The Marines withdrew from school; receiving full-tuition refunds, Braley said.
It was a time of serious reflection for all the men. As time for his departure drew near, the Sebresos” family went to the temple together. Later that night, Sebresos received a blessing that said, “”This would be another mission for him and that he would be an influence for good … and that angels would protect him,”” said Sobresos” mother, Diona Wilson. “After that, we all had a lot of hope that he would be okay.”
The arduous task of transporting the 160-member Charlie Company to Kuwait began the first week of April. It took several days and 19 planeloads to get the unit and all its equipment there, Braley said.
The company operates 25 Light Armored Vehicles. The LAVs resemble a small tank but have eight wheels instead of treads, Braley said. The Iraqi”s called it “The Destroyer.”
While waiting in Kuwait for the entire unit to arrive, the Marines had to learn to cope with the heat, wind and sand. Jensen wryly recalled the oven-like temperatures inside the big, green army tents.
When everything was assembled, the company received orders to occupy AlKut. Baghdad had fallen by that time, but battles for other cities were still raging.
“I was really nervous,” Braley said. A lot of people had lost their lives taking Anazaria.
The Marine”s objective was to show the people of AlKut the U.S. government was in charge and they would protect them, he said.
The Marines expected heavy resistance, but before they entered the city, AlKut”s mayor turned the city over to U.S. officials.
“They were prepared to fight,” Braley said, “but realized the U.S. would eventually take over; so they figured, why bother?”
When the LAVs rolled down the streets of AlKut, the Marines received a warm welcome from the Iraqis who crowded the streets. They smiled, waved and gave the thumbs-up.
“I don”t care what people say or what you read … those people were happy to see us,” Braley said. “I think they don”t necessarily want us to stay very long, but they were glad that we came and did what we did.”
In the days that followed, Iraqi citizens pointed to locations of weapon caches. Braley”s unit even found anti-aircraft guns, which were loaded and ready to fire.
The Marines developed friendly relations with the Iraqis, playing soccer, buying souvenirs and conversing, Sebresos said.
The Iraqis asked a lot of questions and were very open about sharing their feelings. Sebresos said their behavior reminded him of the Filipino people he met on his mission.
“I felt that these people are really starting to be ready for something new; something like the gospel,” Sebresos said.
Iraqis pestered the soldiers with souvenirs, waving handfuls of Iraqi currency with Saddam”s face plastered on every bill. Their currency is basically worthless, Braley said. A couple of American dollars could feed an Iraqi family for several days.
The extreme poverty in some areas was troubling. The Marines saw a mud-hut village with open sewers and garbage in the streets.
Sebresos had seen similar poverty in some areas of his mission, but when he compared it to the wealth of Kuwait and Iran, he “realized these people could have been a lot more wealthy if they didn”t have this tyrant as their leader,” he said.
After several days, the unit was sent to the Iran/Iraq border to stop weapons from entering the country and to stop “crazy Iranian groups” who wanted to come in and take over, Braley said.
The unit had to remain mobile at all times so they slept in two-man tents and ate almost nothing but Meals Ready to Eat – MREs. Water was always warm and became hot by mid-afternoon, Jensen said.
Some soldiers brought Walkmans and MP3 players. Many brought books, which they pooled into a mobile library, Braley said.
Because of the mobile nature of the unit, they had no contact with the outside world – no e-mail, no phones, not even a letter from home, though their families were writing constantly.
“It”s sad because we were pouring our hearts out to him,” Wilson said.
A few letters started to arrive just before the unit left Iraq.
The Marines arrived at Camp Williams early May 14 and are making the most of their two-week leave.
Jensen hung out with his brother for a few days, eating out and catching a movie or two. He then flew to Texas to spend time with his parents and little sister.
Sebresos may take Yolanda camping for her first time. The couple is looking into the possibility of moving Yolanda to Okinawa.
Braley savors Heather”s home-cooking; it”s got to last him for the next six months. When Braley returns, it will be Christmastime and Charlie Company should be home to stay.
But until that day, the yellow ribbon will remain on the door of Apartment 11.