When 24-year-old Audrey Iriberri wakes up this Christmas morning, she can expect to receive a 2007 Holiday Barbie Doll as a gift from her parents - a present she has been getting every year since she was a little girl.
However, this year Audrey will not be in her parents’ home in Hollis when she wakes up; instead, she will be nearly 6,000 miles away in Baghdad, Iraq as she is in the midst of her first tour of duty as a First Lieutenant in the Army.
Iriberri, who grew up in Manhattan, moved to Queens with her parents Al and Teresita, and younger brother AJ while she was in high school and graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 2005. After spending time in Fort Hood, Texas, Iriberri left with the 297th Transportation Company for a 15-month deployment in October of this year - right before the start of the holiday season.
“I believe that deployments are much more difficult for the family at home than it is for the service member overseas,” Audrey wrote recently from Iraq. “The military has its own culture, and our lifestyle and training prepare the soldier for what their mission is and what they are asked to do.”
Audrey’s father Al said that Christmas has always been a special time for his family and recalled memories of him playing Santa Claus and the family going to midnight mass together as joyous occasions. He said that this year’s Thanksgiving, which was the first major holiday Audrey was away for, felt eerie without his daughter helping in the kitchen and sitting with the rest of the family during dinner.
Although Audrey could not be with her real family for Thanksgiving, she met up with some classmates that she had not seen since West Point’s 2005 graduation, and they had dinner together.
“We had all worked during the day, but having dinner together made the holiday really feel like a day to celebrate,” she wrote. “We have our own makeshift family over here, and I’m very lucky for it.”
Audrey’s father said that his family communicates with Audrey primarily by e-mail and instant messenger, but he hopes to hear her voice and speak with her on the phone Christmas day.
“Any parent has some apprehension because of the things happening over there,” Al said. “There really isn’t a safe haven in the zone.”
Meanwhile, Audrey acknowledged that spending Christmas away from her Queens family would be difficult, but not for the reasons one might expect from a person in a country where violence and death are common.
“I think the most difficult thing for me, really, will be knowing that my family is missing me,” Audrey wrote.