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Return safely, little sis

Bedtime was at 8 p.m. for the little girls in Michigan's Upper Peninsula who wanted to grow up much faster than their parents would allow.

It was the 1980s. And it was, like, totally unfair that their parents wouldn't let them stay up to watch "Knots Landing," "Dallas" and "Moonlighting."

So the two sisters put aside their nasty daytime fights and negotiated a scheme to keep up on the love lives of their favorite characters. It usually involved one sister bravely tip-toeing down the hall to catch a glimpse of the TV in the living room.

During commercials, she ran back into the bedroom with the light-green painted walls and dark-green shag carpet to announce the developments to her sister.

Years passed. JR was shot. Julianne and I grew up.

On Friday, my little sister heads to Iraq with others from Hill Air Force Base's 419th Fighter Wing. She will be gone for at least 45 days.

Her departure couldn't escape us on Thanksgiving while our family and friends celebrated together in Bountiful.

Nor will it tonight when we celebrate Christmas early, with church services, a gift exchange and dinner at a Chinese restaurant.

During Thanksgiving dinner, we asked Julie about the details of her deployment: How much luggage did she plan to take? Will she pack civilian clothes? How many airplanes will she ride between Utah and Iraq?

I've learned from watching my sister that a tremendous amount of planning goes into war. It's fascinating.

Cut through the details, however, and the obvious glares back: Thorough planning is required to avert danger. She will, after all, wage war in a country where she is not necessarily welcomed by all its citizens.

In the Iraqi desert, Julie will have e-mail access and, hopefully, we will stay in touch on a regular basis.

But if there is any break in the pace of e-mails, I will worry the worst has happened to her.

Hundreds of thousands of soldiers have fought in Iraq and have returned alive and uninjured.

Yet, those numbers fade into the background of the minds of those of us with loved ones serving in the military overseas.

We are more consciously aware that despite such counting, it only takes one death. . . .

In Iraq, Julie will do electrical work on aircraft. She does not know how often she will leave the air base; however, she swears if she gets the opportunity to visit local communities, she will go.

"When in my life will I ever return to Iraq?" she says.

For years, Julie had talked about joining the military. The Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks were the catalyst. She signed up for the Air Force reserves shortly after.

Since, I've had the privilege of watching her grow. Her speech is full of military acronyms. And her personal definition of family has expanded to include airmen she does not even know. She is emotionally brave and physically strong.

One of the reasons she volunteered for the Iraq war is because she loves adventure.

"I didn't train this hard not to go to war," she has said.

Maybe she's seeking a thrill similar to the one we got sneaking peeks at the taboo nighttime soap operas when we were younger. Back then, the suspense was whether we could return to the bedroom between commercial breaks without getting caught.

Now, to be sure, the reward for returning safe means so much more.