When Lisa Janacua, an office manager and assistant music librarian for Walt Disney Pictures in Burbank, volunteered for the California Army National Guard in 2003, she knew Iraq might be in her future.
Janacua, the daughter of a Marine, was bitten by an urge to serve, but she would have preferred to do so on U.S. soil.
"Most of us don't want to go," she said.
Janacua's three daughters — who range in age from 12 to 18 — didn't want their mother to leave their Hermosa Avenue home in Montrose for the place they know only as a distant land of improvised explosive devices.
Sure enough, when Janacua got the call for a two-month training stint at Ft. Bliss, Texas, in preparation for a 12 1/2 -month deployment to Iraq with the 1114th Transportation Company — Kysstina Janacua, 18, was not happy.
"I was pissed," she said.
Her sisters, Jacqueline Janacua, 16, and Madelynn Janacua, 12, said they were more afraid than angry.
"I was scared," Madelynn said. "She told me she was going to be safe, and I trust my mom, but …"
For the most part, Lisa Janacua did manage to keep safe in Iraq, where she drove trucks delivering food supplies and equipment to military bases.
Her vehicle, which always traveled as part of a convoy, was never hit by enemy fire, but many bullets and explosives were meant for it, she said.
Each trip through the mostly desert landscape was led and tailed by an armed "shooter" vehicle, she said, which scouts for explosives and disarms what they find.
That support, coupled with her truck's thick, bulletproof windows, allowed Janacua to feel safe while behind the wheel, she said.
"The fear is right before you go outside the wire. That's when the anxiety hits," Janacua said. "But once you get outside the wire, you just drive. There's really no fear — until you get shot at."
Late one night, the dark desert sky seen through Janacua's windshield was suddenly peppered with trails of light from enemy fire, she said.
"At that moment, your heart starts pumping," she said. "I just put my foot to the pedal and got out of there as quickly as possible."
But now, after more than a year in Iraq, Janacua's heart is more at ease.
She returned to her Hermosa Avenue home Tuesday night to the delight of family friends who had tied a "Welcome Home" banner to her front porch.
Much has changed since she left, she said.
Madelynn grew taller than one of her older sisters, her mom said.
Jacqueline is no longer afraid for her mom's life, and even says she rejected a suggestion from her mother — communicated via telephone when she was in Iraq — that she return home early.
"I told her, 'You got to do it, Mom,'" Jacqueline said.
And Kysstina Janacua's anger evolved into admiration for her mother's decision.
"It took a lot of guts," she said.