By Carolyn Barbre
Eddie "Bryan" Rojas decided in 1990 that the Army could offer him a job, security, and a bright future that otherwise might not be available.
Three weeks after graduating Lindsay High School he joined up. Fourteen years later, the 32-year-old staff sergeant said he hasn't changed his mind, even though he's heading back to Iraq.
Rojas has already spent 13 consecutive months in Iraq, in the Tikrit and Folusa areas. USA Today described Tikrit as "Dodge City" located about 125 miles north of Baghdad. While Rojas was serving there it was called "an area of resistance to coalition forces dominated by the Sunnis, an Iraqi minority sect."
"I think that there's a lot more terrorist organizations involved and now [the war] actually helps to educate those against us in Iraq, and gives them the means to do more harm so we have to be on our toes even more," Rojas said in a phone interview from Ft. Lewis in Washington state. The USA Today article shows a picture of a former monument near the split in the road to Samarra and Tikrit leading north from Baghdad, which had a painted and titled Saddam Hussein mural on it before being destroyed following the ouster of the Saddam regime. In November 2003 a new hand painted message read, "All you Americans, Samarra will be your graveyard for your rotten buddies."
"They started with like Pepsi can little explosives because that's all they had, and now they're coming up with more stuff. We can't let our guard down. Everybody has to be a team. We have to look out for each other, to come home to our families," Rojas said.
He said he turned down a mid-tour opportunity to return home for a little R&R. "I gave up my slot to one of my privates, to allow him to see his family." Rojas is in charge of 21 soldiers in his unit. He said divorce was another casualty for many soldiers. "I couldn't believe how many came back, and their wives decided to give them a Dear John letter in Iraq." Rojas said another problem for some was finances. "Some did not know how to budget and came home to $3,000 in bills they never had before."
Despite giving up his slot, he said his wife was very understanding. "I didn't want to come home and just say 'Hi,' and have the kids think I'm staying and I'm not. I didn't want them to have to go through the departure feelings all over again." So he stayed out in the desert, "A long time in the desert, yes Ma'am." Rojas' wife Lisa is an Exeter native. "When I was in Iraq my lovely wife took awesome care of my whole family." The couple has three girls, 10-year-old Shaianne, 5-year-old Chelsea and 3-year-old Maria.
Rojas returned to the states in March. He said it took a couple of months processing back into American life and the family took some vacation time. But when stationed in non-combat zones, the family sometimes gets to go along. He was deployed to Korea and Germany. The whole family got to go to Germany.
Rojas considers himself very fortunate, not only for a supportive wife, but for what he believes the military has allowed him to do. In August he will be reporting to Ft. Irwin in Barstow. His family will stay in Barstow because Lisa has managed to save enough money for the Rojas' to buy their first home. "When I was in Lindsay we weren't middle class, we had to struggle," Eddie said. He said his mom worked hard. His mother is Rick Ann Martin of Lindsay. His father is Ed Rojas of Tulare and he has a sister, Stacy Reeves, who also lives in Lindsay.
The 1990 Cardinals' yearbook has Rojas appearing on seven pages. He was voted best personality. He was in the Block L athletic club for guys who have lettered in a varsity sport. Rojas played varsity football and baseball.
But he said, "The way I grew up was rough, I never thought I could succeed to buy my own house and a new car and take my kids to Disneyland. The military has actually paved the way for me to succeed. I don't think I would have ended up any better . . . so I owe the military a lot.
He will only get to spend about four weeks in his new house in Barstow. Rojas said the unit he is supposed to go with has already left. He said one thing the Army "does real good is to get you processed and make sure you're ready so there's no hardship, unless I get lucky and get a different unit."
Rojas admits he has occasionally had second thoughts about going for the full 20 years particularly when it's time to re-up. "Each time my contract was up I was ready to get out, but so many times people would come up and say 'Thank you,' and give you a hug, and you just feel that patriotism and want to do more."
He has six years to go before he can retire from the military, enough time he believes to provide for his girls' college educations. "I think it would be the best thing for my kids. I think they understand my being gone. They don't like it, but understand the goals for my country. Hopefully when my kids grow up they won't have to make the same decisions like we did after 9/11."