My brother Emmet, an Army sniper stationed in Mosul, Iraq, has to be having his best Memorial Day ever. To begin with, the Santa Barbara News-Press has a front-page article today about the risky dive he took into the Tigris River a few months ago to recover insurgent weapons caches. On top of that, if you pick up the San Francisco Chronicle today, you’ll find several pictures of my brother, and the first part of a personal essay I wrote about his visit back to California on 15 days’ leave last February:

” My brother’s job is to kill people. He’s a sniper with the U.S. Army, an occupation that fills me with a mix of unease and admiration. But never have I felt more intensely conflicted than when he returned to California on 15 days’ leave from Mosul, Iraq.

He was the same Emmet, only buffed. He zipped up the street on his tricked-out mountain bike, dismounting with unruly grace. He’d grown his hair well past Army-regulation length — it was fuzzy on the sides, like a puppy’s. Frayed cut-off corduroys stopped short of chiseled calves; a green T- shirt stretched across his muscled chest. He grinned with that brand of wry mischief that has always made my mother and me do whatever he pleased.

He hugged my mother, and she rubbed his head and said, “Your hair’s getting awfully long.” She was smiling — with pride, and probably with relief that Emmet had raced over to see us.

Mom and I had already lost two days of his leave. Emmet chose to land in Santa Barbara, where he was staying with friends. My mother, Aleta, a night nurse in Merced, couldn’t get out of work and I was living in San Francisco. The moment her shift ended, we’d hurried south together to my in-laws’ house, our agenda simple: to fulfill Emmet’s every whim, and hope that he would make time for us before heading back to a country where insurgents shot at him every day. ”

When my editor Leba Hertz first asked if I’d like to write about Emmet’s leave, I wasn’t sure I could do it: It was too raw and overwhelming, and my emotions were too conflicted. I didn’t want to write anything that would damage my brother’s morale. But I had to be as honest about my unease as I was about my pride. It was a difficult piece to write. I was able to Instant Message with my brother this morning. He read the piece online over in Mosul and likes it.

To read the full essay, click here. Part two will run in the Chronicle’s Datebook section tomorrow.

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