By Holly Fesperman LeeSalisbury Post
Hollie and Michael Diaz got shot at every day, but the shots were more of a nuisance and a distraction.
The real danger were roadside bombs, but even those varied from easy to spot to well hidden.
Despite the danger and seeing two friends die, the Diazes say the situation in Iraq isn’t what TV portrays.
“I really wish somebody mainstream would go out and report all the good things we’re doing. Some parts are rough, but it’s not what TV makes it out,” Michael Diaz said.
The couple have both served two tours of duty oversees. He’s been to Afghanistan and Iraq and this was her second trip to Iraq.
But right now they’re not thinking about the military.
The Diazes came home about three weeks ago, picked up their 5-year-old daughter, Malena, and set out to make up for lost time.
They actually bought their Bringle Ferry Road home while still in Iraq , with lots of help from family, and they’re starting to get everything settled.
Hollie and her husband are in no rush to take up their civilian jobs just yet.
They’re planning day trips with Malena to the North Carolina Zoological Park, Carowinds and Chuck E. Cheese’s.
“Just trying to make up for lost time,” Hollie said.
The two left for Iraq in February 2006 and actually made it there around May.
While they were in Iraq, “we drove the humvees that were security for the civilian convoys,” Hollie said.
When the Diazes found out they were going to Iraq, they knew there was a shortage of spotlights for the convoy trucks.
They were stationed in Boone for a while, and Norman Cheek, a Boone auto dealer, donated 12 spotlights for troops to use.
Hollie said she thought this was an outstanding donation from a community member.
The Diazes said they couldn’t say much about the balance between working and off hours, but Hollie said soldiers usually learn details about a mission the day before they left.
Sometimes missions would take days, Hollie said.
Michael said some of his were rather quick.
“Well not everybody drove as fast as you did, honey,” Hollie replied.
Hollie summed up her work time saying, “you may have a couple days off, but when you were at work, you were at work.”
The Diazes were stationed at an air base in Tallil, in southern Iraq.
When they did have some off time they could watch movies, use computers and play pool and other games.
“For me, the hardest part was long hours and not knowing where he was,” Hollie said.
The couple was stationed together, but they didn’t ride in the same convoy.
They might pass each other on the road and wave.
They did talk to Iraqi citizens, and Hollie said Iraqis’ attitudes toward American depended on geography. She explained that many were happy to see them, but some Iraqi citizens are angry because they aren’t getting as many perks as they did when Sadaam was in power.
It depended on where they went and what Sadaam’s role was in each community, she said.
“Most of them are very happy that the United States is there,” Michael said.
No matter where they were, “getting shot at was pretty normal,” he said.
They only saw real tragedy on their last mission.
Two of their comrades, Sgt. Brandon Wallace, of St. Louis, Mo., and Sgt. Joshua Schmit, of Willmar, Minn., were killed by a roadside bomb.
“I remember how we were joking that Friday the 13 was cursed, and then it was the next day,” Hollie said.
“They were sweet guys. They always made you laugh,” she said.
The roadside bombs were out there every day. Some of them were nothing and some of them were heavier, Michael said.
“I personally never hit one,” Hollie said.
Both of the Diazes were among the fortunate who didn’t sustain any injuries.
“Nothing traumatic,” Hollie said. “We just got lucky.”
Hitting a bomb depends on the sharpness of the crew in the lead scout truck and how well the person planting the bomb hides it.
Hollie said some of them are well hidden, and others are literally dropped on the side of the road.
“Those guys don’t want to get caught,” she said.
The Diazes had some people in their group that they knew from their previous trips oversees. “We took some people we knew with us, which made everything not easier but more palatable,” she said.
The Diazes could go back again.
Despite the dangers, they both decided to re-enlist in the National Guard for six more years.
“We’re just going to take it day by day,” Hollie said.
The couple know they could go back, but they aren’t planning to volunteer this time.
Michael and Hollie said their decision to re-enlist was hard to explain. “The money, the sense of belonging. You don’t want to leave friends,” he said.
Soldiers bond, Hollie explained, and you can’t imagine them being over there without you.
Hollie enlisted in the National Guard right after she graduated from East Rowan High School in 2000.
Her mother, Renee Call, cautioned her, asking what she’d do if America went to war.
Hollie remembers telling her there wasn’t going to be any war, since we were living in peace times.
Even though Hollie never imagined going to war, she’s glad she enlisted.
“If I hadn’t enlisted, I would have never met Mike. I wouldn’t appreciate life as much. When you go through that, life is good because it’s there. It might not be perfect everyday, but it’s good,” she said.
Being home is great, according to the Diazes, who say they have a lot of work to do on their house.
Hollie is planning to go back to school and renew all her nursing certifications, which expired while she was in Iraq.
Her mom, Renee, is also looking forward to being “Nana” again after caring for Malena for a year.
“That was kind of challenging because I have a 20-year-old daughter, a 12-year-old son and a full-time job,” Renee said.
But Malena adjusted well to life without Hollie and Michael ó “better than the rest of us,” Renee said.
This isn’t the first time Malena has been without her parents. She stayed with Renee during Hollie’s and Michael’s first deployments.
Once, Hollie called home and heard that Malena had been misbehaving. When Malena got on the phone, she said Nana had threatened to put her in a box and mail her to mommy. Malena told Hollie she guessed her grandma would poke holes in the box.
“No, you can’t come over here. It’s too hot, and there are bad men,” Hollie said.
Malena replied, “But, mommy, I can get the bad men. I’ve been exercising.”
Hollie said Malena was glad to talk to them and never really got upset. She’d always say, “OK, mommy, I love you. Don’t get shot.”Contact Holly Lee at 704-797-7683 or email@example.com.
By Holly Fesperman LeeSalisbury Post