"There was no doubt in my mind that I wanted to volunteer for this," said 21-year-old Airman 1st Class Yesenia Bray of her deployment to Baghdad.
As a clerk in the Joint Area Support Group-Central's Badging Section, she's responsible for helping to review, process and manage thousands of badge applications each month, while also dealing with the day-to-day issues of her job.
As one half of an Air Force couple currently serving in Iraq, her married life that began this past March had to be put on hold before it even had a chance to truly begin.
And considering both her age and newlywed status, she has neither the life experience that brings perspective to a deployment and makes it easier to cope with, nor a lengthy marital foundation upon which to lean during tough times. She has to learn both how to be a spouse and how to do it long-distance, while relying on newly wedded bliss rather than years of nuptial commitment to see herself through the difficult days.
But all that's okay with Bray; she wouldn't want it any other way.
"We both knew that it was our calling," said Bray, a California native stationed with her husband, 25-year-old Senior Airman Matthew Bray, at Nellis Air Force Base, Calif., when not deployed.
"I think that while we're both in theater, it really helps us out because even though we're not together, we're near each other."
The pair is separated by about 150 miles - he's been stationed in Kirkuk since January, while she's called Baghdad home since December 2008. Though vast tracts of desert keep the couple apart, modern technology has helped bring them together, albeit sporadically.
"We try to communicate every day, but it's really hard," Yesenia explained. "Where I'm at is paradise to where he's at. I have Internet whenever I want it, and it's really hard for him to get access."
"We try to tell each other, 'You've got to make it through, you've got to stay strong for me,'" she said. "Just hearing his voice makes a huge difference."
Hearing her husband's voice is more than just a comforting reminder of her true love; it also lets her know he's safe and unharmed.
"He gets hit more than we do, and that really worries me," she said about the rocket attacks her husband endures on a consistant basis. "It gets hard sometimes. It gets rough. We have to just stay strong."
Yesenia draws strength from the the knowledge that she and her husband will soon be reunited.
"We missed our first Christmas together. We're missing our first anniversary, but the fact is that we're getting to experience this together," she added.
Both Yesenia and her husband are scheduled to arrive home by June, but she knows this will not be the final deployment for either of them.
"There are many more to come, and when our number's called, we'll be right there," she promised. "We're really proud to serve our country."