Marine Cpl. Rachel Brady has been deployed to Okinawa for nearly a year. She soon will rejoin her husband, J.B., and 17-month-old daughter Mallori, pictured on her computer, at their new home in California.

Marine Cpl. Rachel Brady has been deployed to Okinawa for nearly a year. She soon will rejoin her husband, J.B., and 17-month-old daughter Mallori, pictured on her computer, at their new home in California. (Mark Oliva / S&S)

FUTENMA MARINE CORPS AIR STATION, Okinawa — Marine Cpl. Rachel Brady is ready to believe in rumors.

The 21-year-old mother of one heard the best rumor the other day. She might be going home after spending the past year away from her husband and young daughter.

Brady, assigned to Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 367, was one of the thousands of Marines affected by stop loss-stop move.

The policy, enacted in January, effectively froze Marines in place, canceled retirements and kept units such as Brady’s deployed six months longer than expected. Military leaders said it was a measure to ensure unit stability as U.S. forces ramped up for Operation Iraqi Freedom.

But it’s all over now. The Corps lifted stop loss-stop move on Monday.

“The commanding officer told us a couple weeks ago that we’d be going home around the end of June or beginning of July,” Brady said. “I’m still skeptical, but I can’t help but get excited.”

Part of that excitement is not just because she’ll have been deployed nearly a year, but because she’ll finally be going home to her daughter, Mallori, now 17 months old. Mallori was just 6 months old when Brady packed for Okinawa.

“It’s been really tough,” Brady said. “It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I just want to see my husband and my kid and give them a hug.”

The last time she hugged Mallori and her husband, J.B., was in January when she took leave. By then, she had missed first steps and first words. Brady shared the story with Stars and Stripes in January when Marine Corps officials enacted the freeze. Then, she was visibly depressed; now, she’s all smiles.

“I’m not packing yet,” Brady said. “But it won’t take me too long … maybe a day.”

The conversations she has usually three times a week with her husband have noticeably changed in tone, too. Where once it was talk about “if,” now it’s “when.”

“Now, it’s, ‘I’ll be home soon,’” Brady said. “We talk about how things are going to be. We see the light at the end of the tunnel with all of this.”

Brady stayed as busy as she could during the yearlong deployment, where “days seemed to flow into weeks.” College courses and a second job passed the time. Of all the deployment alternatives, she said Okinawa was the easiest.

“I’d rather be here than in Iraq,” she said. “Is it fair I got stuck here? That’s what Marines do. That’s part of the job we’re in.”

Her husband understood. He’s a former Marine, medically discharged, now raising Mallori in San Marcos, Calif., on his own and going to college full time. He’s looking forward to having his wife home, but is more excited for Mallori to have Mom.

“It’s been a role reversal,” J.B. Brady said in a phone interview from his home. “My wife’s overseas defending the nation while I’m home raising our daughter. She’s living out my dream and I’m living out hers.

“Most of my excitement starts with Mallori getting her mom,” he added. “For the past year, it’s been nothing but Dad and that’s completely different. I just want to sit on the couch and read a book with them. Those are the things you really want and never had.”

J.B. Brady said he’s not worried about the bond of motherhood being interrupted, either. Rachel Brady sees her daughter in Internet chats with Web cameras.

“She talks her own baby language,” Rachel Brady said. “I want to take them to Disneyland and Sea World and just do family stuff.”

“The strongest person in all of this has been Mallori,” J.B. Brady added. “She is curious. She’s happy. We’ve got to be doing something right. She’s looking for someone to call ‘Mom,’ and once Rachel comes home I think it’s going to be a bond that picks up right where it left off.”

The time apart also has cemented their own bonds and plans for the future. J.B. said he never gave being a husband and father any special thought until his wife was deployed.

“The best part is we have accomplished something,” J.B. said. “We know what guides us morally and we have a better understanding of what makes us happy and what makes us sad. We’ve dealt with the hardest thing a marriage can be faced with at 22 years old. It’s all downhill from here.”

Brady, for her part, has made long-term decisions for her career and home. She knows she’ll hang up her uniform when her enlistment is over.

“I pretty much decided this wasn’t the life for me before all of this,” Brady said. “This just helped me make that decision.”

For now, though, she’s turning her attention to more-domestic concerns. J.B. moved into a new house since she deployed a year ago and she wants to “put a woman’s touch on the house.”

And once committed to raising a single child, Brady said she’s rethought that idea.

“I didn’t want any more children, having to go through pregnancy and childbirth again,” she said. “But I missed a lot of the fun stuff and I’ve decided I want another. My husband wants five more. He’s been a year by himself with a baby and he still wants them.”

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