Brothers have reunion in Camarillo after serving in military
Nov 21, 2012 (Ventura County Star - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
Thumping mortars in Iraq seemed so far away from the treehouse in Port Hueneme where Albert Galindo spent so many hours with his little brother, David.
Albert was serving in the Army, half a world away from his brother, a Marine corporal stationed in Japan.
"The hardest thing I've experienced was not having my family around," Albert, 27, said of his time in Iraq.
"So many friends have gone to the fight and not come back," said David, his voice breaking. "I was lucky he came back. I knew he was going into harm's way."
This Thanksgiving week, their single mom, Janie Garcia, of Camarillo, is grateful to have her sons home again, grateful the wars are winding down and grateful her sons had the skills, courage and luck to survive.
"I'm feeling the way a lot of mothers are feeling," she said, tears welling in her eyes. "You get their little wings strong and let 'em fly."
Both sons have entered civilian life after serving four years in the military. Albert, who lives in Kansas, had gone a year without seeing David, a San Diego resident.
Albert and David, 24, were reunited this week. Their mom surprised them with a party and a grassroots effort she created called Project Hometown Welcome, which she hopes catches on with other military families.
"In the spirit of the season, this is very dear to my heart, and I want to give thanks that they are here to spend Thanksgiving with me and the rest of their family," Garcia said.
Garcia, 54, said the two eldest of her five children were very different but devoted to each other.
Albert's nose was usually in front of a computer screen or buried in a book, while younger brother David loved to scale trees and hang out with friends. Albert was on the honor roll; David struggled with academics.
Always good with computers, Albert had wired up a monitor in the treehouse so he and David could play video games.
Albert -- mom calls him the "handsome nerd" -- went on to study computer science at Ventura College after high school, but money was tight and he had to drop out.
"I couldn't afford school anymore. I didn't even have enough money for gas," he said.
Albert's father was never around, he said, so his primary male role model was an uncle in the military. Albert decided to join the Army in 2008, the same year David joined the Marines. Both graduated from Hueneme High School.
Albert was trained at Fort Riley, Kan., before being shipped out to Iraq in 2010. He was sent to Kirkuk, to one of the last bases to remain open as American troops continued to draw down.
"We were all scared. Most of our unit were people who had never deployed before," he said this week while sitting on the porch of his mom's Camarillo home. In fact, there was a night Albert didn't think he would see his family again.
That evening in 2010, Albert and some of his buddies had just finished dinner when a sound split the desert night.
"We came out of the dining hall and I heard a pop. Then it went 'fzzzzzzzz," he said. "It was the whizzing of the fins on a mortar."
Two of his buddies dove into a nearby concrete bunker, just as the Army had trained them to do. But a third soldier crouched by the wall, paralyzed.
"My buddy kind of froze," Albert said. "I grabbed him and shoved him in (to the bunker) and I hit my shin. I cried out. The other guys are like, 'They got Galindo!' "Albert's lip quivered at the memory and the tears slipped down his face. His hands shook as he removed his glasses. His grandmother moved over to where he sat and spoke to him softly in Spanish.
David joined the Marines because "my life wasn't going so great," he said. "I was trying to figure out what I needed to do."
He wanted structure and knew a steppingstone to a good job and leadership skills was the military. While stationed in Japan, he had the opportunity to command more than 50 other Marines, he said.
"I was lucky I didn't go into combat, though I tried many times," he said.
He wanted to go into combat, he said, because his buddies were fighting and he wanted to protect them.
He felt relief and joy at the prospect of seeing his brother again, safe. He also was reunited with their sister, Shelby Franco, 14; and their twin brothers, Nicholas and Vincent Franco, 19.
David was also going to meet Albert's son, Jack, born 18 months ago to Albert's fiancee, Alie Aguirre, 24, a National Guard specialist in Kansas.
"It was just me and my brother," David said. "We share the same dad. Now we have a little nephew to carry on the family name."
The brothers knew their mom was throwing a party for them Sunday in Camarillo. But they didn't expect the yellow ribbons Shelby and her cousin tied up and down the street, and what happened after David walked into the backyard where about 20 people were eating Mexican food under white tents and listening to mariachi music.
When David stepped onto the porch, Albert's eyes filled with tears and he walked up to David. The soldier and the Marine who had been little boys in a treehouse together locked in a fierce embrace.
When they broke apart, David rubbed his eyes with the heels of his hands. Just then, some of his younger family members marched into the yard with large photos of each of them in uniform, their names and dates of service.
"I just want to say 'thank you,' " Albert finally said after both men gathered their composure. "It's been a year since we've all been together. That's not going to happen again."
At this point, it's hardly more than an idea and an email account, but Garcia wants the community to get involved in developing the idea further. For each returning Ventura County service member, she wants to organize a welcome-home party, including yellow banners with each service member's photo and a row of yellow ribbons along the street near the veteran's home.
Garcia approached American Legion Post 741 in Camarillo to see if it could help. Past commander Dennis Fercho said the post is waiting for more information from Garcia but is always interested in supporting returning veterans.
Simi Valley and Moorpark have a welcome-home project that involves yellow ribbons along the streets, Fercho said, and there are many efforts under the Wounded Warrior Project umbrella.
"It is a mother who is definitely trying to do something for all of them," Fercho said.
Albert is attending Kansas State University, majoring in computer information systems. In four months, he plans to transfer to CSU Channel Islands in Camarillo or UC Santa Barbara. He also plans to marry Aguirre this year. She is attending Iowa State University, majoring in animal ecology.
Both Albert and David say they are proud and glad to have served in the armed services. Albert often contemplated his reason for being in Iraq when he was working the night shift in the middle of the desert under a field of stars.
"Sometimes I would take a moment and look up and remember why I'm there -- for the greater good," he said, "so someone else could have that moment, too ... to stop and look up."
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