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Homeward bound

"Homeward bound" Continued...

Issue: "Cellblock campaign," Dec. 23, 2006

Tellison's face grows rigid when he talks about coping with horrifying missions. "It's best to wait until after the flight to grieve," he says. "But it's hard to separate your emotions like that. . . . You never realize the value of your life until you transport someone else's."

Rodriguez and Tellison break the tension of grim memories by stepping outside the lounge to smoke. Stepping outside to smoke is one of the things they'll have to get used to at home. "You can smoke anywhere over there except for the Starbucks in Kuwait," says Tellison.

Rodriguez, who helps build security walls around U.S. bases in Iraq, says he'll also have to get used to letting his guard down with strangers while he's at home: "It's hard to go from trusting no one, to all of a sudden everyone's your friend."

By the time the soldiers adjust to life at home, it will be time to return to Iraq. Tellison has a 2-year-old daughter and says that "hard ain't the word" to describe the thought of leaving Alabama later this month. But he says thoughts of his family will keep him motivated when he returns: "If you go over there with the idea of keeping everybody in America safe, you'll never succeed. . . . But if everybody says, 'Today I'm going to keep my family safe,' then you can get somewhere."

And both men say that returning to their units will be like returning to family. "You don't really have a bond with them before you go," Rodriguez says of his fellow soldiers. "But once you're there, you'd do anything for them."

For now, the two soldiers say they'll enjoy their families here while they can. "I really don't want any gifts for Christmas," says Tellison. "I just want to be home."

Jamie Dean
Jamie Dean

Jamie lives and works in North Carolina, where she covers the national political beat and other topics as news editor for WORLD. Follow Jamie on Twitter @deanworldmag.

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