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Wednesday, April 16, 2003



[ WAR IN IRAQ ]



art
COURTESY PHOTO
Pfc. Christopher Desierto and his wife Ann Marie, were expecting their first child when he was sent to Iraq. Desierto is now back on Maui after their baby was stillborn.




Soldier home,
but for heartbreak

He rejoins his wife on Maui
to bury their stillborn daughter
and must return to Iraq


By Leila Fujimori
lfujimori@starbulletin.com

Pfc. Christopher Desierto has nightmares of the war in Iraq.

"All the guys I killed, in the middle of the night, they would just pop up," said the 23-year-old infantryman, who has returned to Maui.

"I killed some. I don't want to tell you how much," said Desierto, with the 101st Airborne Air Assault Division based in Fort Campbell, Ky.

"Death on the streets -- it's crazy. I seen the worst."

He returned to his Wailuku home because his first child was stillborn March 31. He went in to see the commander smiling, thinking he would hear his wife had given birth, but instead he received the heartbreaking news in Najab on April 4.

His emotions ranged from hurt to anger. "I was like, I didn't want to be here in this war. ... I just wanted to go out there and kill more Iraqis," he said.

Tomorrow, Desierto and his wife, Ann Marie, will bury their daughter, Aysia, which means "life."

But at the viewing of the body today, Desierto will see for the first time the baby whose ultrasound image he carried in Iraq.

"He deserves to see his daughter in the flesh; he deserves to be allowed to say good-bye to her in person," said Ann Marie Desierto, who had remained in Maui with family after her husband left for basic training in September.

She said enduring the past nine months and delivery without her husband was difficult. "I just needed him for the grieving part of my life," she said. "I just needed him to help me stand up again."

Christopher Desierto is to return Tuesday to the 101st Airborne in Iraq.

While in Najab he took part in clearing the city, going house to house, building to building, looking for weapons.

"You don't know what to expect once you enter a room," he said. "If they hear you outside, once you open the room, they can just start firing on you."

Although he was with an infantry platoon, he sometimes served with a scout platoon, doing advance reconnaissance of an area. He would rappel from helicopters and enter a city on foot, or sometimes ride in on trucks or Humvees.

Two Humvees in his company ran over a land mine that detonated and seriously injured five.

"Bullets were going over your head," he said. "You can hear the whizzing sound."

War has changed the 23-year-old, who feels much older than his years. Physically, he has lost 15 pounds, dropping to 130 pounds.

But the emotional toll has been far greater.

He has witnessed deaths of civilians caught in the firefight.

"The Iraqi military used civilians as shields. "We can't do anything. Of course, we have to shoot back. I've seen kids blown up -- arms, legs, head."

Desierto was especially struck by the extreme poverty.

"When we were patrolling the city, kids just come up to you, starving kids," he said. "They're asking you for food, money. They say, 'Thank you.' ... It's sad. Everyone should at least give a dollar (for the poor) around the world, not just Iraq."

Desierto also witnessed the jubilation of the Iraqi people as he traveled from city to city, from Basra in the south to Nasiriyah, Najab and Baghdad.

"They're saying, 'I love Mr. Bush,' showing thumbs up," he said. "Some say, 'I hate Saddam.' Wherever you go, they'll follow you. It's like a parade."

On his trip home, Desierto stopped in Paris and found a photo in a French magazine of himself and members of his squad. A photo of other squad members ran in Time magazine, he said.

Desierto, born in the Philippines, came to Hawaii when he was 10. He left high school after his junior year, and had been employed as a cook at the Grand Wailea Resort & Spa and the Fairmont Kea Lani Hotel.

But his goal was always to join the Army. He completed basic training in December and was scheduled for training to be part of the elite Army Rangers in June, but that was canceled once war broke out.

"I always wanted to be one of the elite forces, the best soldier," he said. He said he looks forward to attending sniper school and has aspirations to be a Green Beret and, upon retiring from the military, to join either the FBI, CIA or Secret Service.

"I don't want to go back (to Iraq), but I have no choice," he said, though he said it will be easier this time now that the major battles are over.

"Now when I go back, she'll be watching over me," Desierto said of the baby. "She's my angel."



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