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Some time with family, then it's off to war

If Colin Glavan is worried about going to Iraq, he doesn't show it.

He's a newly minted Marine. So it's his job, he says.


Posted: March 8, 2008
Jim Stingl

But his mother, Trish Johnson, is just trying to keep it together.

"Sometimes I get so scared I forget to breathe," she says.

It's similar to what the Brookfield woman was feeling in October 2006, when I wrote about Colin joining the Marine Corps and heading off to basic training while our country is at war.

Soldiers and their families make huge sacrifices at a time that many of us try to shut the war out of our minds, especially after five long years of the fighting and dying.

Colin says that what his family is experiencing is no different from what millions of others have weathered in the past, and millions more will live through in future wars.

Home from Camp Pendleton, Calif., where he's stationed, Colin did one last lap around civilian life this past week before he flies out today to somewhere in Iraq. He expects to remain there about seven months.

"I'm not looking forward to it. I'm not dreading it. It's just one of those things I have to do," he says.

Colin turned 20 on Tuesday. A party to celebrate his birthday and mark his deployment was set for Saturday at the family's home.

A classroom of third-graders quizzed him when he stopped to visit his sister Kailee, 9, at her school in Brookfield last week. She wore a camouflage vest over a pink shirt. Colin said he worked in intelligence. "We figure stuff out about the enemy, and we use that against them," he said.

The children stared at him, trying to grasp what that could mean. Then they wanted to know if he ever uses a bazooka or grenades or tanks, where he would sleep, if there are terrorists over there, and if he gives out autographs.

"What are you there for?" one boy asked.

"To help the Iraqis so they can be their own country and we don't have to be there," Colin replied.

Kailee has struggled with questions, too. As the youngest and oldest in the family, she and Colin have a special bond. She wrote in her journal at school about getting a stomachache when he left for the Marines, but she also tries to be strong: "Who cares if my brother is leaving for California. He is saving the world," she wrote.

Colin also stopped at Brookfield East High School, where he graduated in 2006. He sat down for a little while with his football coach, Joe Sciortino, and a favorite biology teacher, Susan Miller.

Joe said he remembered the day an FBI agent came to the school to ask questions about Colin for a background check. Susan said she always thought Colin was "built" for the Marine experience.

"You never hesitated. It's what you wanted," she told him.

The tough Marine gently cradled a chinchilla from the biology room in his arms. The conversation stayed upbeat and focused on happy memories, but Susan told me as we were leaving, "You can't help but worry."

Trish is unable to conceal her fear, even as she says how proud she is of her son and how impressed she's been with the Marines. She plans to buy a map of Iraq to track the news.

Curt, her husband, said he pushes his fears away and thinks about the positives. The family has been playing a lot of cribbage and just being together. Friday was "can't say the D-word day."

Trish stressed that they are proud of all their children. Colin's brother, Arie, 17, abandoned his own plans to join the military after seeing his mother hurting.

"When Colin left, it tore my mom's heart into pieces so small even a microscope couldn't find them," he wrote in an essay. Now he plans to go to college to study nursing.

Another sister, Breeanne, 16, said she brags about her brother to her friends. She and Colin avoided the subject of Iraq last week.

"I know he'll be OK," she said. "But I'm nervous that he's going."

"They tell you it's a roller coaster to have your child go off to boot camp," Trish said. "Then you get off for a while. But all you do is you get back into another line for another roller coaster ride, and they just get higher and twistier than the last one."

She knows the odds are against anything bad happening to her son. "But what I was telling one of my friends is that it happens to somebody's child," she said.

Trish also thinks about the awesome responsibilities placed upon the heavily armed young soldiers, who don't always know where the next threat is coming from.

"I hit a deer on my way to take Breeanne to school today. Didn't do damage to us or the car, but it damaged the deer. I couldn't believe I started crying and I'm thinking to myself, oh, my God, this is an animal that I hit. I can't imagine what it's like for those guys to have to do it to a person," she said.

Arie said his brother is smart, and he offered this bit of advice: "As long as he doesn't do anything stupid, he should be fine."

Colin exudes quiet intensity. The boy he was and the man he's become are both visible in his eyes. Even as he plays it cool, he seems to vibrate with anticipation of what comes next.

"It's like any other job," he said. "There's going to be days when it sucks and days when it's awesome."

Saving the world doesn't always come easy.