|It was a calm spring day last week when Lily Barrios sat down for an interview outside her View Street home, keeping an eye on her 3-year-old grandson as he played in the front yard.
The scene was worlds away from Iraq, where her daughter is leading a platoon of Marines at age 25, and where her son, 27, recently earned a Purple Heart.
Few Mountain View families have been affected by the war in Iraq as much as the Barrios household. In 2004 their youngest son, Michael, returned from a seven-month tour in Fallujah with ringing ears and a serious case of post traumatic stress disorder.
He was manning a checkpoint when a car bomb exploded, taking the lives of three close friends. "One of them was standing shoulder to shoulder with him and passed away in the helicopter" that was evacuating them for treatment, Lily said.
Her son is now being treated for PTSD, putting him in the company of 300,000 troops, according to a recent report from the RAND Corporation, who have returned home from Iraq with either depression or PTSD. He also took some shrapnel and "probably has permanent ringing in one of his ears," his mother said.
As an amphibious assault vehicle operator, Michael also drove troops in and out of Fallujah, where some of the bloodiest battles in the Iraq war took place in 2004. Michael, who is recovering with the help of the Veterans Affairs office in Menlo Park, chose not to speak with the Voice for this story.
The family's youngest daughter, Elisa, left last month on a seven-month tour in the Al Anbar province of Iraq, where she leads a platoon of 50 men who guard military shipments. Part of her daily routine is to make sure her platoon is mentally and physically prepared. She believes Marines like her brother made it possible for her to do what she does in relative safety.
"So far life in Iraq isn't too bad." Elisa wrote in an e-mail.
"It is definitely an honor," she wrote, to work with Marines who are "hardworking people, who don't complain when they work 16 to 20 hour shifts, just to get a few hours of sleep and do it all again the next day. I get to see Marines who are 20 years old in charge of about $2 million worth of equipment."
Regarding how proud she is of her colleagues: "These Marines have the biggest responsibility anyone can ask of a 20-year-old: They have to bring sons, daughters, husbands, fathers and wives back home safely."
Last year, just before finishing her degree in justice administration at San Jose State University, Elisa decided to join the Marines instead, surprising family members who had been rocked by Michael's experience.
These days, Lily waits for a phone call or e-mail from her daughter, which comes every few days thanks to satellite technology and wireless Internet access.
"She was always going to be a police officer, since she was 5," her mother said. "The military doesn't run in our family so we don't know where it came from. When your children are in college, you don't expect them to want be in the Marines."
Lily says Elisa wants to coach a softball team at the community college level when she returns home. She was a top player while attending Graham Middle School, Mountain View High School and SJSU.
As a mother of five, Lily shared some wisdom: You may not always like what your kids choose to do, but you always have to be supportive.
"I'm proud of her," she said of her daughter. "She is one of the lucky ones who got to do what she wanted. But I worry 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I need to watch the news every morning."
When Michael returned from Iraq he moved back in with his parents. He is now training to become an electrician through the Montgomery GI bill and a program called "Helmets to Hardhats." It isn't easy however, because with PTSD, daily life can be interrupted by flashbacks, which are set off by loud noises, accidents or news reports.
Thankfully, Lily said, the local Veterans Administration has been very helpful.
"I can't even imagine what they go through on a daily basis," Lily said. "It's really tough. I know someone has to do it. Why it's my children I don't know. I still struggle with that."
Lily says her Mountain View neighbors, even the ones who strongly oppose the war in Iraq, have been very supportive.
Michael's friends are being called back for another tour in Iraq, and Michael now faces the possibility of being called back as well. His mother says Michael is very proud of having been a Marine, but has mixed feelings about another tour.
But for Elisa, "it's her dream job," Lily said. It's quite an accomplishment too, she said: Becoming a leader in the Marines as a young female is no easy feat.
But Elisa said the thanks and congratulations should be for her brother.
"We drive by cities where the children proudly wave at our convoys and it makes us grateful for the sacrifices Marines have made in Operation Iraqi Freedom," she said. "They are the ones, like my brother, who made the ultimate sacrifices to get where we are now."
Are you receiving Express, our free daily e-mail edition? See a sample and sign-up for Express.