SAN ANTONIO – More than a year after Spc. Alejandro Albarran lost part of his right leg in an explosion in Iraq, he still hasn't decided whether he'll stay in the Army.
"Right now, I'm leaning against it," said the 20-year-old infantryman, looking ahead with distaste to a possible desk job.
Whatever he decides, he won't be leaving Army life behind — because his wife has enlisted to take his place in uniform.
"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."
While he underwent five-day-a-week rehabilitation to recover his balance and strength on a prosthetic leg at an Army rehabilitation facility in San Antonio, she was in boot camp at Fort Jackson, S.C., learning to shoot a rifle and stand in formation.
Janay Albarran graduated from basic training on Friday, gaining the rank of private. The couple's 2-year-old daughter is staying with a grandmother in Arizona.
Roughly 24,000 of the Army's soldiers, about 9 percent of the force, are married to other soldiers. The Army doesn't have any statistics on how many join after a spouse or family member is badly wounded in combat, but a spokeswoman, Maj. Anne Edgecomb, said she's heard of people joining after the injury or death of a sibling and at least one woman who joined after her husband was killed in combat.
"The courage of our soldiers and their families is remarkable," she 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, and learned later from his online profile that 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 was sent to Iraq six months later.
In November 2006, Alejandro Albarran was in a Humvee escorting a unit to the scene of a detonated bomb when a second bomb exploded. After that, he remembers only flashes: a medic over him, the helicopter.
Janay Albarran met him at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington several days later, and they went to Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, where some of the most severely wounded are treated.
Efforts to save Alejandro Albarran's lower right leg were unsuccessful. 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.
As he regained more mobility, the teen wife who had been afraid of guns decided to take her husband's place in the ranks.
Strictly speaking, Janay Albarran will not be replacing her husband. He was an infantryman, a position not open to women, although 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 here.
However, a safe assignment isn't guaranteed, and 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," she said. "If I do get deployed, I'm going to miss him so much. But it's nothing I can't handle."