SAN ANTONIO, Texas — This Fourth of July, the Cardona family had more to celebrate than just America’s independence. Juan Cardona had just returned from his second deployment to Iraq and was enthusiastically greeted by friends and family at his parents’ home.
But Cardona wasn’t exactly comfortable with the sight of so many smiling faces. “I don’t like being around, like, large crowds. I always kind of have to keep my back to a wall. I never wanted to give my back to anybody,” said Cardona, 26.
Fresh from the war zone, Cardona said he automatically checked out everything that was happening around him to make sure that the room was secure. “I had to make sure what was going on around the room. It’s hard not to worry about someone wanting to kill you.”
Cardona said that his paranoia was only second in intensity to the feelings of aggression he felt even though he was now in his own hometown.
“The first time I came back, I was aggressive. I think I’m kind of aggressive now, still,” he said. “I don’t think I’m aggressive in a bad way. I just don’t let people, like, take advantage of me. I doubt this will change anytime soon since I have gotten used to it.”
At 5-feet 9-inches and 200 pounds, Cardona has served in the Army for seven years. His first deployment occurred in early 2005, just when the military occupation of Iraq was at its peak. He felt numb and apprehensive during this time, he said.
“When I first found out, I just stood there shocked. No words could come out of my mouth,” he recalled. “I just couldn’t believe that in a couple of months, I would be in the Middle East without my family or friends. I was scared I would never come home.”
Cardona stayed in Baghdad for the remainder of the year. Fortunately, he returned to the U.S. to the arms of his loved ones with no injuries. He attributed his survival to his keen, watchful eye and deep love for his country.
“You constantly had to be paying attention. You had to make sure you were attentive to your surroundings at all times,” he said. “It takes common sense [to survive]. No matter how much you train and know about your job, sometimes it is just pure love.”
He was called into duty yet again exactly one year ago. This time, though, he was released in July just in time to celebrate the real reason why he joined the army and went to war in the first place.
Cardona said he’s proud of what he accomplished in Iraq and would do it again if he had to. “I do this in the name of love… in the name of my country. I am proud to be an American.”