Family, friends and citizens were devastated in November 2006 by the news of the death of 24-year-old Misael Martinez, the first Latino solider from Orange County to be killed in Iraq. But even as he was being honored at a Carrboro Town Hall memorial, his younger brother was preparing to ship out.

Shortly after Misael’s death, Israel Martinez received his orders; he departed for Iraq in January 2007. Now nearing the end of his tour, Martinez is expected to arrive home the first week in May.

“I am very happy because it’s almost over,” says his mother, Rosalia Martinez. She has had only intermittent contact with her younger son.

“When he has a chance, he calls. Sometimes it’s 3 or 4 in the morning, sometimes [for] 10 minutes or less,” she said. “I told him a lot of people are praying for him, and some of his friends stop by the house and ask how he’s doing.”

Once he arrives back in the United States, Israel plans to briefly return home to Carrboro before heading back to his base in Savannah, Ga.

Martinez hopes her son can return safely home in time to enjoy his 24th birthday with family and friends.

And while the ordeal has been trying for both mother and son, Rosalia Martinez has maintained her confidence in the decision her son made to follow in his brother’s footsteps.

“There’s nothing wrong going into the military. You’re educated there, and [there’s] a lot of benefits,” she said. “I’m proud of my kids anyway.”

See related stories “Más Latinos, más muertes” and “Honoring the fallen” for more information.