Jauneth Calim told her mother, Diane, she was getting her an early birthday present. But because the gift was too big to wrap, Jauneth told Diane to wait in the back of the house while she brought the gift inside.
Jauneth had brought to Diane her son, Greg, from Iraq after four months of military service.
"He was my early birthday present," Diane said.
Diane had not heard from Greg, 21, an Army mechanic, during the three months before his return to Craig on New Year's Eve. But the gift wasn't a total surprise, Diane said. She'd dreamed the night before that Greg was coming home.
She had a similar premonition when Greg was wounded by a homemade bomb one month after he had begun serving in Iraq.
Greg, who is in Craig on two weeks leave, joined the Army about two years ago because, he said, he liked the job security the Army provided. At Fort Knox, the Army trained him to maintain Bradley vehicles, small tank-like vehicles equipped with 25-mm cannons. His is stationed at Junction City, a base 15 miles outside Baghdad.
"What we are trying to do is weed out the bad apples," Greg said, wearing a black T-shirt with the words, "Who's your Baghdaddy?" spelled in Arabic across his chest.
"But there are good people. A lot of Iraqis appreciate us."
While fighting insurgents, the military also has been providing communities with water and other supplies, Greg said.
When Greg was wounded, he was providing mechanical support for a vehicle that had broken down.
A bomb that Iraqi insurgents had buried under the asphalt in the road exploded in front of his vehicle.
Shrapnel hit Greg and a gunner. A chunk of asphalt had to be removed from Greg's forehead, and he bears the scars of the wound just below his crewcut hairline.
The Army awarded him a Purple Heart for the wound he sustained. The wound still gives him migraines when bright sun hits his eyes.
Greg was back at work the next day.
The accident occurred on a Monday, and Jauneth and Diane didn't find out about it until two days later.
But Diane said she knew something had happened; she could feel it.
Diane admits she worries about Greg less than Jauneth does.
"If I don't have any weird feelings, I think everything is OK," Diane said.
The siblings always have been close, and Diane describes Jauneth as a mother hen. Jauneth wore a shirt with the American flag emblazoned across the front, and her mother wore an Army sweatshirt to an interview, demonstrating their support for Greg.
"Since he's been home, everybody has been thanking him and giving him hugs," Diane said.
The soldiers at the motor pool receive care packages regularly, and they have huge amounts of hygiene products and junk food, Greg said.
But because there is no television, the men appreciate DVDs and board games.
Greg has advanced through the ranks quickly, and he is an E4 Specialist. When he returns to Iraq, he'll be considered for advancement to sergeant.
Whether Greg re-enlists in two years depends upon the situation in Iraq and how he progresses through the ranks, he said. He's considering taking advantage of the $50,000 the GI Bill provides soldiers who want to attend college.
Rob Gebhart can be reached at 824-7031 or firstname.lastname@example.org.