Sgt. First Class Arturo Bautista, of the Alaska Army National Guard, is hoping to return home to Juneau in the next two weeks, but there are no guarantees when your living in Iraq.
"It's tough and heart-breaking," Bautisa said. "I'm here in a war zone. If the war is over, we can enjoy peace and be together with families back home."
For the last nine months, Bautista has lived and worked at Joint Base Balad (JBB), the largest U.S. airbase in Iraq located 68 kilometers north of Baghdad. Home to 25,000 troops, JBB is a busy airport with fighter jets, helicopters and cargo planes coming and going.
Bautista, a platoon leader who supervises eight other flight engineers, is deployed with the ½07th Aviation Regiment of Alaska Army National Guard. He is a flight engineer who provides logistical support for cargo planes. He is responsible for pre-flight inspections, fuel, passengers, weight and other details related to flight safety.
"We are flying seven days a week," Bautista said.
Bautista said life at JBB includes daily warnings signals for incoming mortar attacks. The ceilings have double layer roofs, and the soldiers have bunkers to protect them. There is a radar based defense system that can shoot incoming mortars out of the sky. Aside from the mortar attacks, there are plenty of comforts on base including fast food restaurants, a swim pool, theater and religious services.
"Around here you don't want to go outside the perimeter, because it's dangerous outside of the green zone," Bautista said.
Bautista is close to finishing his second tour of duty in Iraq and will be home soon, depending upon flight schedules and other factors. There is no firm date for returning home - only a window of opportunity.
His previous deployments include Balad, Iraq, from March to November 2007; Kosovo, from 2003 to 2004; Guatemala in 2001; and Haiti in 2005.
In his civilian life, Bautista is a computer network technician with the state of Alaska. He expects to return to his job when he gets back stateside. His twin sons, Mathew and Mark, 18, just completed their senior year of high school. Mark is currently a freshman at the University of Alaska Anchorage, where his tuition is covered by his father's GI bill money. Bautista transferred all of his GI bill money to his kids.
For Bautista, being away from his family members is difficult.
"It's hard, especially with family members waiting for you back there," he said. "If you have emergencies to be taken care of locally, if you're not there it's kind of hard to deal with."
Halfway across the world, his son Mathew is learning to grow up fast in Juneau.
"It's kind of challenging, because your pretty much by yourself," Mathew said. "My brother went to college. I'm home alone pretty much. You just have to grow up."
The boys have other family members in Juneau, and each guard unit has a family support group. But still, missing the holidays is painful.
"It is the holidays," Mathew said. "It would be nice to have families around. I'm pretty much on my own. We still have other family around here. Just push it through. He will be home soon."
In Iraq, his father also is thinking about the holidays.
"Everyone here wanted to go back as soon as possible for Christmas and the holidays," Bautista said. "But it depends on what needs to be done here. I wish you guys a Merry Christmas and happy new year back in the stateside. Hopefully I will see you guys soon."