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Peoria native misses sun rise, chubby dog, taste of home

Name: Lance Cpl. John Alvarado

Age: 20

Hometown: Peoria, Ill.

Branch: Marines

Role: Combat engineer


SOUTHERN IRAQ—Lance Cpl. John Alvarado misses French fries, phone calls, and drinking beer and tequila. He also misses ordering pizza.

"And I don't even like pizza," Alvarado says. "I just wish I had the chance to order some."

Alvarado, a combat engineer in Charlie Company, 6th Engineer Support Battalion, which has set up a camp in southern Iraq, also misses drinking coffee on his porch at home in Peoria, Ill.

Out in the desert, he drinks coffee warmed on a makeshift stove—an empty ammunition case filled with diesel fuel and sand. The top is covered with wire. He drinks the coffee out of an aluminum canteen cup, sitting in the sand.

He misses seeing the sun rise over the Illinois River. Alvarado is a maintenance worker at the Illinois Valley Yacht and Canoe Club, and he used to get there an hour early every morning to watch the sunrise. Some of his co-workers just sent him a care package with cookies and cards. "It's a tight little family there," Alvarado says.

He misses the smell of a woman's perfume. Alvarado dated a girl named Nicole for about three weeks before he left for Kuwait, but a few weeks ago he got a Dear John letter.

"She was so hot, awesome, smoking," he says. "I knew it wasn't going to last. She had an ex-boyfriend, and it was only a matter of time before she went back to him. I got a letter from her that said she really liked me, but she wanted to go back to him. I knew it was coming. I knew she wasn't the one. She was just fun to hang out with for a while."

He misses smoking cigarettes. His stash ran out four days ago, but the people in his squad try to hook him up. They smoke one down and then let him finish it. He normally smokes a pack a day.

"I don't know if it's the habit or the nicotine," he says. "In the Marine Corps, you have a lot of down time, and it's something to do."

This might sound strange, but he misses traveling. His mom, Roberta Alvarado, works as a flight attendant for United Airlines, and he gets to fly for free. He's been to Hong Kong, Germany, London and Hawaii.

When a Marine recruiter tried to use a sales pitch promoting the travel and a chance to see the world, Alvarado laughed, "Nah, I get to travel already."

But he doesn't feel like he's really seen Kuwait or Iraq.

"It's different traveling with the Marine Corps because you don't get to see anything," he says. "You just see it through the back of a truck."

He made a spur-of-the-moment decision to join the Marine Reserves. "I didn't know what I wanted, and I figured I might as well join the Marines," Alvarado says.

He misses his spare time.

"Here, the only time off you have is at night. I'd like some time during the day to read a magazine and not read it under a red lens," he says.

He misses his dog, a fat Dalmatian named Cupid.

"She used to have a heart on her nose but grew more spots so now people can't see the heart," he says, smiling. "They think it's stupid that her name is Cupid now."

He misses eating a meal, usually once a week, with his mother. "She's always traveling so she doesn't have normal meals," he says. "She'll throw a bunch of leftovers together, some of it from her travels, and make a crazy casserole."

He already knows what he'll miss about Iraq.

He'll miss sitting on post, late at night, and looking at the sky on a cloudless night. "They have some of the best stars here," he says. "The sky is so bright. There are no trees so you see the whole sky."

He'll miss the sunsets, too, and his comrades.

"I'm so close to these people," he says. "It's like having 13 best friends."


(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

ILLUSTRATION (from KRT Illustration Bank, 202-383-6064): IRAQFACES-ALVARADO