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Army couple's duty in Iraq weighs heavily on family

By Ron Jackson Modified: August 3, 2007 at 4:52 pm •  Published: July 4, 2007
STAFF Sgt. Eleanor Brooks kissed her boys goodbye and never looked back. She didn't want them to see her cry.

Brooks will spend the next 15 months serving a tour of duty in Iraq, but she's not the only one in her family fulfilling that commitment.

Her husband, Sgt. 1st Class Kenric Brooks, also is bound for Iraq.

The couple are among about 300 soldiers in the 168th Brigade Support Battalion scheduled to deploy from Fort Sill in the next few weeks, post spokeswoman Emily Kelley said. They leave behind two energetic and wide-eyed boys — Joshua, 7; and Kenric, Jr., 5 — at a great-grandmother's house in a sleepy, countryside community outside Atlanta.

In mid-June, the family of four parted ways in Monticello, Ga.

"As we drove away, I didn't look back,” said Eleanor, 28. "I didn't want them to see Mommy upset and think, ‘Mommy's upset, so maybe we should be upset.' It was sad.”

Eleanor and her husband spent the next 15 hours on the road back to Lawton in reflective silence.

"We probably didn't talk more than a total of 30 minutes the entire trip back,” said Kenric Brooks, 29. "We were just alone with our thoughts.”

Their thoughts included their chosen careers in the military, the Iraq war, renting their Lawton home, household items that remained unpacked, the storage of their vehicles, and each other.

But mostly they thought about their two boys.

"I just put my headset on, turned on my music and zoned out,” Eleanor Brooks said. "I thought about what I could have said, and what I did say. And was it enough?”

A family's roots
War was the furthest thing from the couple's minds when they met in Fried-berg, Germany, nine years ago.

For her, it was the first time she felt a strong urge to settle down and begin a family. The feeling came to her on the eve of a 30-day training excursion into the field.

"I prayed to God to send me the man that I was going to marry in 30 days after I came back from the field,” Eleanor Brooks recalled. "When I returned, our church was going on a trip. As I walked up the annex, he (Kenric) was holding the door open for me. He just smiled and said, ‘Hi.' He's always had this great smile. Well, we got on the bus and ended up sitting next to each other. We just started talking. I looked at him, and I knew he was the one.”

A whirlwind courtship ensued, and within five months the two young soldiers were driving to Denmark to get married. Thirteen months later, Eleanor Brooks gave birth to the couple's first child, Joshua.

Kenric Jr., affectionately called "TJ” by his family, arrived less than two years later.

The addition of two boys only reinforced the couple's commitment to each other and their careers. Eleanor Brooks even left the Army for a time for reserve status while Kenric Brooks was stationed at Fort Gordon near Augusta, Ga. She returned after an 18-month hiatus.

The military offered security and a regular paycheck for a job she performed with expertise.

She gambled on a military career after graduating from high school in Cherry Point, N.C., a tiny coastal town with one main road, a gas station, and no apparent future. As the third born of four sisters, Eleanor looked beyond the confines of her childhood home for a fresh start.

"With two older sisters, there was no money for college,” Eleanor laughed. "So, I joined the Army. It was the only way out of that small community.”

Kenric found himself on a similar path after graduating from Benjamin E. Mays High School in Atlanta in 1995. A thirst to travel and some indecision about his future led him to join the U.S. Army. He ended up finding the love of his life and starting a family.

"Here we are now, going to Iraq,” said Kenric Brooks. "When you're 17 and joining the Army, you're not thinking of such things.”

The chosen life
Neither Kenric nor Eleanor Brooks views their sacrifice as any greater than those of their fellow soldiers abroad.

"What about single parents who have to deploy?” Eleanor Brooks said. "I think about what they sacrifice when they deploy. Everyone has trials, and there is always someone worse off.”

The dangers they will encounter in Iraq are unknown. Kenric specializes in electrical engineering, although his skills are far-reaching.

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