CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan -- A two-year-old little girl with dark eyes and dark, curly hair appears on the Marine’s computer screen and screams with joy. After she runs around excitedly, the young girl runs back to the computer, blows her mom kisses and shows off her toys.
She may not say it, but her actions prove seeing her mom who is more than 9,000 miles away on a deployment to Afghanistan, is her favorite part of the day.
For Staff Sgt. Mariajose Borja, a linguist manger with Regimental Combat Team 7, the smiling face of her daughter, Isabella Smith Borja, is her motivation to work hard.
Borja, whose office is covered with pictures of her daughter, “Bella,” deployed in October for a yearlong tour and is responsible for the assignments, accountability and lodging of all Afghan interpreters in the RCT-7 area of operations in Helmand province. Her job entails long hours and a lot of responsibility, but she has exceeded expectations, said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Phillip Moss, the RCT-7 personnel officer.
“Like any mom, her daughter is her drive,” said Moss. “Her desire is to do the best she can for her and her daughter’s future.”
Borja said she stays busy because she wants to make a difference in the lives of the Afghan linguists and the busyness helps get her through the days, but Isabella is who gets Borja through the tough times.
“She’s the reason I get up in the morning,’ said Borja, 32. “When I don’t want to, she is the reason I keep doing this.”
Borja was born in Ecuador, but moved to Newark, N.J., with her family when she was a child. When her family moved back to Ecuador after Borja graduated high school, she chose to stay and eventually joined the Marine Corps.
“My family wanted to go back to Ecuador because they loved it there,” Borja said. “I loved America and chose to stay.”
The Marine Corps has taken her from Parris Island, S.C., where she earned the title Marine, to the 1st Marine Corps Recruiting District in New York, and now to Afghanistan. While assigned to Headquarters Battalion, 1st Marine Division, in Camp Pendleton, Calif., she gave birth to what she calls the greatest gift of her life.
“She’s my world,” Borja said. “She’s my life.”
Isabella turned two in March and has her own way of dealing with her mom being away.
“She has a ‘Mommy doll,’” Borja said. “She sleeps with it, eats with it, talks to it and takes it to school with her.”
What little Isabella doesn’t know about taking her doll to school is that in a little over a week, her mom will be at school with her. Borja is using her 15 days of “rest and recuperation” leave to visit Bella in Quito, Ecuador, and plans to surprise her at school. The timing couldn’t be better as Bella’s school is hosting a Mother’s Day party on the day Borja anticipates arriving.
“I’m so excited,” Borja said with a big smile. “She’s going to be so happy because it will be the first time she gets to have her mom at school.”
Borja’s strength through the deployment has impressed many, Moss said, but Bella impresses, too. She is in school and is learning three languages.
“She speaks Spanish and English already,” Borja said. “Now she can count in French.”
Borja said she plans to take Isabella to the beach, zoo and pool during their visit, but mostly she just can’t wait to hold her daughter’s hand again.
After seven months of being apart and many teary moments, that day is coming and Borja is grateful for everything her family has done to support and love Bella. They will spend two weeks together before Borja returns to Afghanistan to finish the last few months of her deployment. She understands she can never make up the lost time with her daughter, but said her sacrifice is for the best.
“This deployment has helped me mature,” Borja said. “I think it has set both of us up for the future.”
Borja hopes the experience she has gained will help her become a warrant officer like her mentor, Moss. Until then, Borja is counting down the days until she’s with Bella.