"Wow! He's a hero!"
I guess.
"You mean he actually can shoot a gun?"
I'd hope so!
"Did he kill anyone?"
I'm not about to ask but I suppose he did.
"Is he a general?"
No, he's a corporal.
"Does he wear a dog tag? What are they for anyhow?"

These are the comments I get when someone finds out I have a brother in the army who spent a year in Iraq. I've heard them so often I can answer before they even ask…

"He actually wears that uniform? I think I might have seen him in the airport last week!"

"Can he throw a grenade?"
"Weren't your parents freaked out?"
"That's totally awesome!"
Call it what you want.
"He actually wears that uniform? I think I might have seen him in the airport last week!"
No, you saw an MP. He's Infantry.

And then I laugh at the dumbness of the question and the absurdity of the conversation. My brother Ron (short for Aharon), joined the US Infantry a few years ago. He completed Basic Training in Georgia, and is now stationed in a base close to San Diego (where my family lives). After Basic Training, he spent most of his time training for his year overseas. In August 2005 he flew to Iraq for his tour of duty, and returned a year later. He's been in the US since.

Most girls, especially my age, are enthralled by anything that has to do with the "army". However, it's usually the Israeli army. It's a novelty to them to shoot a gun, throw a grenade, jump off a plane, (spend a week with no showers), that awesome thing called a 'uniform' and the beret that goes along with it... You get my point. And so it's not unusual to see girls wearing a "Tzahal" sweatshirt, a bullet around their neck, camouflaged t-shirt, IDF hat, and the like. It's the closest they can get to it. However, no matter how full their closet is with camouflaged colored cloths, no matter how many movies they'll watch which star soldiers, nothing excites them more than to see a live walk and talk soldier.

I pity the soldiers who have to go through the grilling interrogation they get when spotted by a person such as I have just described. Because the questions are endless, and they are never satisfied with the answers. Therefore when someone finds out I have a brother whose shot a gun, who wears a uniform, who spent a year in Iraq, etc., I know I'm in for a session of non-stop questions. I don't know all the answers, but I answer what I can. For example, I'll sometimes get questions such as: What's the order of the ranks? Is he going back to Iraq? Why didn't he join the Israeli army?

Ron wants to go to college and then to law school

I hate to break it to you, but I don't know the order of the ranks. All I could tell you are the ranks he's gone through. Private, Private First Class, Specialist, Corporal, and he's going on Sergeant. No, I don't know if he's going back to Iraq. I sure hope not. And I can only guess why he joined the American Army. For the simple reason most people join. School. Ron wants to go to college and then to law school. He knows good and well that college, and law school especially, is really beyond my parent's scope. While the American Army will pay for his schooling, the Israeli Army won't.

Now I know you're thinking, and logically so, that I must find it really cool and awesome to know a soldier, who's no less my brother, who's doing the coolest thing anyone can ever do, right? Wrong! Wrong, wrong, wrong!

How can I say such a ridiculous thing? I'll tell you. Before I found out that my brother joined the army, ask any one of my friends, I was mad crazy about the army. Firstly, I wanted to go to college. I knew that the army was probably the only way I could get it. Additionally, there were all the side points of the army which grabbed my heart. I wanted the challenge, I wanted the discipline, I wanted the feeling that I'm doing something beyond the scope of the average citizen, and so much more.

But ever notice that when you're doing something wrong, dangerous or not what you're supposed to doing, it's okay as long as it's you? We have a knack called 'self love,' and we could justify even the most outragous thing. Only as long as we're the ones doing it. I was fine with staying up for more than a week, not taking a shower for days at a time, being exposed to tear gas, being ridiculed and treated harshly by drill sergeants, and everything else the army consists of. (I'm not sure most people think about those details when they think of how "glamorous" the army is.)

It means something which nobody, not even I, thought about as I fantasized about the army

But as soon as my brother joined the army, all those things fell away. Because it means something which nobody, not even I, though about as I fantasized about the army: the fact that you might return home in a box. That you might lose that which you hold most dear, and then all the reasons you may have joined the army are gone forever. Be it the academic degree, the challenge, the honor, you name it. Once you're dead, the degree doesn't matter much. And this is what haunted me the moment I found out my brother joined the army. All I saw were dead people, guns shooting, tanks turning into a ball of fire, tents burning, and lots of blood. It was so horrible. I hate thinking back to it.

When Ron went to Iraq, our only mode of communication for the first ten months was email. I freaked out whenever I didn't hear from him for more than a week. I kept up with the news, reading the latest and listening to the hourly reports. And every time I heard that an American soldier was killed, I prayed it wasn't Ron. The last two months he phoned me from Iraq at least 4 times. Those two months were the scariest of his stint. He made it through ten months already, who knows what could happen in the last two?

Thank G‑d, he came back to the States alive and whole, with no injuries whatsoever. (Aside for a sprained wrist, but that was from a dumb fight he had with a buddy.) His jacket is now adorned with many new medals and badges of honor, one I learned was for "bravery under direct enemy fire". I didn't ask any further.

I'm proud of my brother for serving our country, and his willingness to give his life for something he found important. It's great to see how disciplined and mature he's gotten, and I'm glad he has his college paid for. But as proud as I am, I would gladly give up the "coolness" and "totally awesomeness" of having a brother in the army. I would be perfectly alright if I had never seen that uniform on him, and he was just a plain old "boring" brother (though he never was boring) that everyone else can boast about.

I love my brother, and I'm proud of him, but I want him back home!