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Wife Enlists To Replace Injured Husband

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SAN ANTONIO (AP) - More than a year after infantryman Alejandro Albarran lost part of his right leg to a blast in Iraq, he still hasn't decided whether he'll stay in the Army.

``Right now, I'm leaning against it,'' Alejandro Albarran said, looking ahead with distaste to a possible desk job.

But whatever he decides, Spc. Albarran, 20, won't be leaving Army life behind now that his wife enlisted to take his place among the ranks.

``After everything he's gone through - and he loves the Army - he kind of inspired me,'' said Janay Albarran. ``I made him a promise that I would finish what he started.''

So, while he underwent five-day-a-week rehab to recover his balance and strength on a prosthetic leg at an Army rehabilitation facility, she learned to shoot a rifle and stand in formation in boot camp at Fort Jackson, South Carolina Mrs. Albarran became Private Albarran on Friday. The couple's 2-year-old daughter is staying with a grandmother in Arizona.

Across the Army, roughly 24,000 soldiers, roughly 9% of the force, are married to other soldiers. There are no statistics on how many join after a spouse or family member is badly wounded in combat, but Major Anne Edgecomb, an Army spokeswoman, said she's heard of siblings joining after the injury or death of a soldier and at least one woman who joined after her husband was killed in combat.

``The courage of our soldiers and their families is remarkable,'' Anne Edgecomb said.

Janay Albarran, 19, wasn't always thrilled with the prospect of Army life. She met her husband at a high school football game in Yuma, Ariz., near where they grew up. She learned later from an online profile he had already signed up for the Army.

``I was like, 'Well, I met somebody and he's about to leave.' I was a little upset,'' said Janay Albarran. ``I knew he was joining the Army and we're at war.''

The couple married in February 2006, and he deployed to Iraq six months later.

He was in a Humvee escorting a unit that was sent to the scene of a detonated bomb in November of 2006 when a second blast hit. The vehicle reared and slammed to the ground. Alejandro Albarran only remembers flashes: a medic over him, the helicopter.

A 5 a.m. phone call told Janay Albarran her husband was hurt and she should have a bag packed. She met him at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington several days later, and they traveled to Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, where some of the most severely wounded are treated.

It quickly became clear that efforts to save Alejandro Albarran's lower right leg were failing. When the pain became too great, he told his wife to let the doctors amputate. At first, Janay Albarran had to help her husband dress and get out his wheelchair.

``She had to be my memory. My short term memory is bad,'' said Alejandro, who also suffered a head injury in the blast.

But as he got more mobile, the teen wife who was afraid of guns decided to take her husband's place in the ranks.

Janay Albarran will not, strictly speaking, be replacing her husband in the Army. He was an infantryman, a position not open to women. But he notes - with chagrin - that she outscored him on her basic training rifle test.

She expects to get a human resources assignment, one less likely to lead to deployment in Iraq.

``It's just another job,'' Alejandro Albarran said, taking a break between weight lifting sets at the large amputee rehab facility in San Antonio.

But a safe assignment isn't guaranteed.

Janay Albarran said she worries about possible deployment when she thinks about their daughter, Iliana.

``That's the only thing that scares me. He's already been hurt,'' Private Albarran said. ``If I do get deployed, I'm going to miss him so much. But it's nothing I can't handle.''
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