He doesn't allow himself to think about having to kill in battle, he said. He told me about one insurgent he'd killed in hand-to-hand combat in a house in Fallujah. The man had shot one of Arellano's Marines. "He threw a grenade at us and a miracle that the grenade didn't go off and then we ended up going into the room that was dusted from firing in there, from grenades going off, and we ended up getting in a hand-to-hand scuffle and I'm here today."
But on the day he was wounded, Arellano wasn't so lucky. He was standing on a rooftop being briefed by the lieutenant when insurgents opened fire on Marines who had just walked into a house looking for blankets and pillows to sleep on that night. By the time Arellano got to the fight, dead Marines were already being dragged out of the building. The lieutenant ordered Arellano to take his men and go in after the insurgents. "There's a million things going through your head, you've got a firefight here, you got Marines yelling," he said. "At that point I was just thinking, this is it you know, I could be dead right now in a few minutes or we can come out of this on top."
Once inside, Arellano and another Marine threw grenades into an upstairs bedroom where the insurgents were holed up. After the first blast, Marines began running up the stairs so Arellano had to break cover to stop them. He was shot by the insurgents and hit by shrapnel from the grenade he had thrown.
In Taos, Arellano showed me the laminated photographs of his girlfriend he carried with him in Fallujah. They're now covered in his blood. "I had 'em in my pocket and when I got hit," he said. "And I opted to leave them bloody just for sentimental reasons and just to kind of let my girlfriend know that I had her with me even in the worst of times." He showed them to his girlfriend and says he's not sure whether she was flattered or appalled.
Arellano is considering becoming a police officer. But told me he that if he recovers sufficiently from his wounds, he would like to rejoin his unit in Iraq.
"All my men are still there. I've received messages and e-mails that they're doing all right," he said.
"But again, I know how it was when I was there, and I said we were doing all right. It wasn't always that."