Tucson parents Anabelle and Jesús Valencia sat next to each other in the living room of their South Side home Friday afternoon, quietly sifting through the cards and letters sent to them by a son and daughter stationed in Iraq.
Until now the Valencias have depended on the letters - along with increasingly grim media reports - to learn about the war being fought by their children.
But on Sunday, Anabelle Valencia expects to arrive in Baghdad.
Anabelle Valencia, whose son, Chuveny, and daughter, Giselle, are serving in Iraq, will join nine others who have come to oppose the U.S. presence there. (Chris Richards-Photo)
Valencia will join others around the country who will leave their hometowns today, forming a small delegation with other relatives of servicemen to bring a message of friendship for the people of Baghdad. They also will bring doubts about the United States' involvement in Iraq and the Bush administration's handling of the war.
The group of 10 includes two wives of soldiers based at Fort Bragg, N.C., and four veterans of the Vietnam and Gulf wars, two of whom have children deployed in Iraq. Many sought donations to pay for the trip, and though no special government permission was needed, 25 members of Congress wrote letters of support.
"I want to go to see my kids," Anabelle Valencia said, crying softly and wearing a small stars and stripes lapel ribbon to show her support for the U.S. troops.
Valencia, a bilingual teaching assistant at Sunnyside High School, says while the trip has her too worried to sleep at night, she is excited for the chance to spread a message of peace from the United States to the Iraqi people.
"I want to talk with them and tell them that we here in the U.S. are their brothers," she said. "We do not want any more blood to be spilled."
Her journey begins at 1 p.m. today when she departs for Amsterdam to met with the rest of the delegation. They will board another plane to Jordan, before setting out on a dangerous, 12-hour drive to Baghdad, hoping to avoid detection by opposition forces by traveling in the dark.
We want this to end. They told us my children would be gone six months, but they lied to us.
Jesús Valencia will not accompany his wife to Iraq, where their children say they've had close calls during the war.
Their son, Sgt. Chuveny Valencia, 22, a paratrooper with the Army's 82nd Airborne, narrowly missed an explosion triggered by a land mine on the outskirts of Baghdad. Their daughter, Pvt. Giselle E. Valencia, 24, a U.S. Army Fourth Infantry Division truck driver in Tikrit, called home recently, telling her mom that she'd come under fire.
Both have asked their mother not to take the trip because they worry for her safety. Chuveny Valencia repeated his effort during a recent visit before heading back to Baghdad last week.
"He tried to convince me not to go. He said, 'I don't want you to look for me in Iraq.' Now that I have seen him, I will respect that," Anabelle Valencia said.
Her son's plea, however, has not weakened Valencia's desire to find her daughter, whom she has not seen in more than three years.
"I want to see how Baghdad is. How the people live, how they dress, how they talk," Valencia said. "I want to see American soldiers, to talk with their commanders and to see my daughter."
Valencia will pay half the travel expenses, about $1,000, for her five-day trip to Iraq. The rest of the trip will be paid for by a San Francisco-based human rights group, Global Exchange.
Valencia said she was inspired to take the trip after meeting Fernando Suarez del Solar, a small-business manager from San Diego County who has become an outspoken critic of the war after the death of his son, Marine Lance Cpl. Jesus Suarez del Solar. He was killed in March when he stepped on an undetonated U.S. cluster bomblet near Baghdad.
Suarez del Solar's efforts caught the attention of Medea Benjamin, director of Global Exchange. Over the past two months, they've linked other parents and family members willing to travel to Iraq.
The Valencias met Suarez del Solar in October during his talk at Sunnyside High School.
When she leaves this afternoon Valencia's luggage will be filled with a few clothes, toys and gifts for Iraqi children. She'll pack a flashlight to use in case the shaky Iraqi power gives out. And she'll take a tape recorder and journal with her to document all that she sees.
From Iraq, Valencia will head to Washington, D.C. where she hopes to be part of a news conference recounting what she will have learned during her trip to Iraq before meeting with members of Congress opposed to the war.
The Valencias supported the war when it began, but say they've lost faith as the conflict has dragged on and the chance of discovering weapons of mass destruction has waned.
"When the war came, we supported the war, but then the war ended but my children are still there," said Valencia, who has joined local anti-war marches.
"We want this to end," she said. "They told us my children would be gone six months, but they lied to us."
While Valencia says she is scared to make the trip, she is confident that it will help her to see for herself what is happening in Iraq and share it with people when she gets back.
"Many people will listen to us, primarily in Washington," she said.
"I am sure I will see my daughter and I am sure we will return home safe."
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