Citizen-soldier Anthony G. Brown is taking refresher courses this summer: how to defend a building, what to do when your gun jams, how to administer battlefield first aid. "The focus is on what we need to do to make sure we come back," he reports from Fort McCoy, an Army post in Wisconsin.
As newly appointed majority whip in the Maryland House of Delegates, the Prince George's Democrat is a veteran of political battles, but his next war is the bomb-and-bullet kind. Lt. Col. Brown of the Army Reserve got his mobilization orders Friday. In September, he goes to Iraq, where he expects to serve until next summer.
Patricia Arzuaga gets a welcome home from son Jonathan, 4, and husband Del. Anthony G. Brown, who leaves for Fort Bragg, N.C., on Saturday.
(Michael Lutzky -- The Washington Post)
A lawyer in civilian and military life, Brown will be chief legal adviser for a civil affairs command based in Baghdad's Green Zone. He will help construct the rule of law in a land that has never known it as a modern state. And in the wake of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, he will help to ensure that U.S. troops obey the rules of war.
In someone else's life, a tour of duty in Iraq might seem a danger-filled derailment. Brown is 42, married, with two children younger than 10 and a dachshund named Bart. Everything is going well at work. But his career is politics, and this deployment presents him with an irresistible challenge.
"We have an obligation to assist in one way or another in the rebuilding of this country," Brown says about Iraq. "And that's what I'm coming in to do."
Brown has imagined himself in politics since childhood, and he knows that time in Iraq will serve his ambitions. "I believe I will be speaker of the House," he states. But that is just one option; he could try for attorney general or lieutenant governor in 2006, or Prince George's county executive in 2010. "I believe one day I could be the governor of the state of Maryland."
In some ways, Brown is a Maryland version of Barack Obama, the U.S. Senate candidate from Illinois who electrified the Democratic National Convention with his speech last month. The two were a year apart at Harvard Law School. Both have parents of different races and different national origins. One of Brown's political mentors, former Maryland attorney general Stephen H. Sachs, says Brown has similar crossover potential: "His appeal is more than racial."
He embarks for Iraq at a time of increasing national ambivalence about the war, and these uncertainties are reflected in his own family. An older brother, Christopher Brown, a chiropractor in Los Angeles, is against the deployment. "If Anthony wants to serve his country, let him serve it in Maryland, with his family, with peaceful values," he said. Christopher plans to protest the U.S. presence in Iraq at the Republican National Convention in New York this month.
But he recognizes the political value of military service. "I don't know how much John Kerry's service in Vietnam and his eagerness to go there was with the future in mind," Christopher says. "I put Anthony somewhat in the same light."
'To Help and Not Destroy'
In May, after two weeks of annual field training in Florida, Brown told his wife, Patricia Arzuaga, that he was on a short list for deployment to Iraq. A few days later, when his call-up was confirmed, Arzuaga developed a headache that lasted four days.
Her first reaction was anger. He had promised to retire from the military after 20 years, which would have been next year. "How many times had I told him, 'You need to get out,' and he didn't," she says in her Mitchellville kitchen.
She had told Brown not to volunteer for this war, but she knows he has a tendency to step forward for unpleasant duty. "I couldn't guarantee he didn't say, 'Pick me, pick me, pick me,' " she says.
They met and got engaged at Harvard Law School, and Arzuaga speaks carefully but with candor. A benefits-law specialist who lobbies federal agencies, she says she has no inclination toward public life. Still, she makes appearances and gives interviews in keeping with the role of a "political wife."
Her anger gave way to fear for Brown's safety; as an elected official, she thought, he would make an ideal target for kidnapping. Then she called a friend who is married to a Navy aviator and began to think of the families of the 135,000 soldiers already serving in Iraq. She thought about that number and how most of them were coming home. She prayed.