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.

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.

Her headache faded. "That's what we're going to think for the next nine months," she told herself. "He's going to be one of the ones that comes back."

Brown's mother, Lilly, takes comfort from the nature of Brown's mission. "I know Anthony is going there to help and not destroy," she says. "And that makes me feel a little more secure."

This week, Brown will visit his parents' home in Huntington, N.Y., where Arzuaga and their children, Rebecca, 9, and Jonathan, 4, will join him for a few days off. Saturday, he reports to Fort Bragg, N.C., to await his travel to Iraq.

A 'Nonpartisan Politician'

From the days of his childhood, Brown knew he wanted to lead. Elected president of Huntington High School, he won admission to several Ivy League colleges but opted for the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. He spent a summer there before deciding that boot polishing and menu memorization got in the way of academics. He switched to Harvard.

The child of a Jamaican father and a Swiss mother, Brown initially practiced what he calls a colorblind approach to race. He answered the inevitable question -- "Are you black or white?" -- by saying, "My father's black; my mother's white," and no more. At Harvard, a fellow student told him to get off the fence. He did and became more self-consciously African American. "I knew I couldn't get off the fence and identify myself as white."

As a sophomore, Brown registered for the Army ROTC, in part because he knew that military service would probably help him in politics. After graduation in 1984, his active-duty ROTC commitment took him to Germany, where his unit helped keep the Soviets at bay during the waning days of the Cold War. He returned to the United States in 1989 to attend law school, and he joined the Army Reserve.

Brown came to Washington after graduation in 1992, spent two years as a law clerk and then joined the firm then known as Wilmer Cutler Pickering. He and his wife settled in Bowie. His twin brother, Andrew, says Anthony chose Prince George's "as a place to start a grass-roots political career."

In 1994, Brown sought the advice of Sachs, then a Wilmer partner, who sent him to Timothy F. Maloney, then a member of the House of Delegates, who sent him to Ulysses Currie, a Prince George's delegate running for the Maryland Senate. It was July, two months before the primary, and Currie's campaign was moribund. Brown, with no experience, became campaign manager. "He did a hell of a job," Currie says. "I won overwhelmingly, and it was a tight match."

Currie put up Brown's name for an appointment to the board of Prince George's Community College, which he received, and later became chairman. "From there out," Brown says, "it was like, okay, now I'm in the game."

In 1996, he asked Currie to give him a spot as a candidate for delegate on Currie's ticket. The only problem: Brown's home in Bowie wasn't in Currie's 25th Legislative District. In three months, Brown moved his family out of their townhouse and into a much smaller apartment.

Arzuaga was not pleased, Brown recalls. "I said, 'Patty, you've got to do this,' " he says. " 'I'm going to run for office here. I've got to be in the district.' "

Brown barely made it through the 1998 primary, edging out a competitor by just 155 votes for the third slot on a "pick three" ballot. During his first term, says Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel), "there was no doubt he was one of the most talented members of the General Assembly." Brown was reelected in 2002. And this June, Busch named Brown majority whip, making him the fourth-ranking House Democrat.

Brown is seen by fellow politicians and analysts as a pragmatic worker of the system, not a politician with fixed ideas. "He is not bound by any ideology or dogma," says Albert "Buzz" Winchester, a former Annapolis lobbyist. Brown calls himself a "nonpartisan politician" and cherishes praise from Republicans.

Political columnist Blair Lee, a Democrat who frequently embraces conservative positions, calls Brown "typically Prince George's liberal." Nonetheless, he adds, "when I see him on TV saying it is a privilege to serve, it makes me want to vote for the guy."

'I Will . . . Return Safely'

At the end of June, Brown held his annual breakfast fundraiser in the banquet room of a hotel in Greenbelt. Blossoms floated in glass globes on tables set for eight. A podium stood in front of the flags of Maryland and the United States.

The room filled up with colleagues and supporters. Many were there to say goodbye.

Wearing a tan suit, his shoulders squared and back straight, Brown stepped to the lectern, faced the flags and led the room in the Pledge of Allegiance. A few minutes later he offered a pledge of his own: "I will focus on the mission, abide by the laws governing our conduct, communicate as often as possible via Internet and e-mail and return safely next year."

The ovation began. Brown felt his emotions welling up. He is a tough guy, fit and self-disciplined, and he kept himself together. "I look forward to coming back," he said from the podium.

He walked to his table and stood next to Arzuaga. By then, everyone was clapping, nearly 75 people, and they were all standing. He hugged Arzuaga and kissed her.

Prince George's Del. Anthony G. Brown helps son Jonathan with glove as Iraq assignment nears.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.