This week KCBD would like to honor Sergeant Monica DeLeon as our "Hometown Hero". A 1994 Lubbock High School graduate, Monica enlisted in the United States Army in 2004 as a single mother of two.
"I thought…what better way to get my education, and make my children proud than to join the Army," said Monica.
In 2005 Monica said goodbye to her 10-year-old son Dave, and 8-year-old daughter Nessa. As part of a rapid deployment unit, she was headed to Iraq where she would be stationed at the infamous Abu Graib prison.
"It was a base that was mortared daily. We lived in the prison cells; we had just moved all the prisoners into tents because they were going to destroy that prison. It was Saddam Hussein's prison and no one liked it, so it was constantly attacked," said Monica.
At home in Lubbock, Monica's mother Benita Charles could do nothing but worry about her daughter's safety.
"You're always dreading a soldier coming to your door, and telling you your child is not coming back," said Benita. "That was always on my mind - always."
Monica made it home safely, but would soon deploy a second time. This one would be much harder than the first.
"After my first tour I had a baby so when I left for my second tour she was a tiny, tiny baby," she said. "When I came back she was running around and all that. She didn't recognize me... the pains of being a mother, having to deploy and leave two and come back deploy again and leave three."
Then, a 15 month deployment to Iraq, Monica named this one the "no sleep mission." She would feed 1,300 soldiers during each day, and carry out missions at night, getting little sleep and constantly on edge.
"They hit us with mortar rounds, rockets, and whatever they felt like doing. You were kind of always walking on egg shells. You were never fully relaxed," said Monica.
It was this "no sleep mission" that would change Monica forever. While there she lost four friends - four soldiers she looked over.
"It was hard getting back on the plane coming back. There was a feeling of leaving them behind," she said tearing up.
The first death was PFC George Howell. Just 30 days into the tour his vehicle was hit by an IED blast.
"Just the loss - I couldn't speak. I couldn't speak for three days. He made the ultimate sacrifice," cried Monica, barely audible while she choked back tears. "He's one of my heroes. He is always going to be in my mind...in my heart."
The other three - Sgt. Legg, Sgt. Duffy, and SPC Emard all died in a later mission. All were hit by grenades.
"Losing three in one day," paused Monica. "That was even harder."
Monica returned home from her second deployment in 2008. The baby she had left at only 4-months-old was now 18-months. Just as she was getting to know her, Monica was deployed a third time to Afghanistan.
In 2011, Monica's duty was done, and she returned home to her family. She also returned to pay tribute to the fallen soldiers she had called friends.
"I visited the Arlington Cemetery in 2005 as a tourist, but when I went back in 2011… I went back for purpose," she said thinking back on her visit to PFC Howell's grave.
Although her enlistment was up, Monica joined the reserves - a hero to her three children, a hero to her mother, and a hero to her fellow soldiers.
"To me it was not just an obligation that I signed on a contract, it was a duty. I swore to uphold that duty and then as a non-commission officer you swear also for your soldiers," said Monica proudly.
Copyright 2012 KCBD NewsChannel 11