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‘Soldiers are family’

Jake Brown understands what Memorial Day means.

It’s about respect — respect for the men and women who fight for their country and respect for those who die doing it.

Brown, who serves in military intelligence with the U.S. Army’s 1st Calvary Division, is “down range” — moving with assignments in Baghdad, Sadr City to Balad — in Iraq. This is his second tour to Iraq.

He has lost eight “close friends” and known countless others who died while serving their country.

To him, their sacrifice and the respect they and their families deserve epitomize Memorial Day.

“I joined the military for two reasons,” Brown said. “They offered great college benefits and also I wanted to do my part to help with maintaining our ability to enjoy the freedoms that our country has. A lot of soldiers will say they just joined for benefits, but every single one of us has some since of pride in what we do.”

Brown’s mother, Sandra, said she knew the moment her son decided to join the military.

“He was 13,” she said. “It was the day the World Trade Center was bombed. He looked at me and said, ‘I’m going to have to go to war for this.’ I told him he was silly. He was only 13. I guess I should have been prepared, but who is?”

Stationed at Ft. Hood, Texas, Brown — who is from Andalusia — now calls Iraq “home for the time being.”

“I go all over this country from Sadr City to Balad, so I move around a lot,” he said. “While deployed, I do a number of things. The majority of it is classified so I can’t speak of it, but I also do a lot of stuff with the improvement of Iraq, everything from giving the Iraqi kids toys to helping rebuild towns.”

It’s the experience he has gained throughout his deployment that has allowed him to understand the sacrifices other soldiers have made in the pursuit of freedom.

“Coming from a small town, your views on the world are a little closed,” he said. “Since being in, I’ve worked with every race, ethnic group, religion and creed. I have enjoyed making friends with tons of people.”

“It has taught me how to trust people when in a combat environment,” he said. “I never thought I would be able to trust anyone but myself in a life or death situation, but being out here in Iraq, I have tons of guys and girls that I would gladly put my life in their hands and feel safe.”

Brown said Memorial Day means a number of things to him and his fellow soldiers.

“We remember the soldiers before us and the ones beside us,” he said. “We love it when people give us the respect we have earned. It’s a rare thing out here to get respect. So when we receive it, especially from back home, we have a smile on our face that no one could erase.

“(Soldiers) are a family,” he said. “When you lose a member of your family it hurts, but we pay homage to our fallen brethren every day by finishing the job.”