by Andy Symonds
Veteran’s Day is a markedly emotional day for Robin Andersen, and it has nothing to do with the 30 years she spent in the Navy.
November 11th is the five-year anniversary of when her son, Navy SEAL and Iraq War veteran Rob Guzzo, took his own life. Strong, good-looking and a fierce warrior, Rob also suffered from severe PTSD and TBI. While he was far from the battlefields of Ramadi when he turned his gun on himself, the effects of fighting in that war never left him. And now, it will never leave his family.
In addition to his mother, who is a tireless advocate for veterans with PTSD, Rob left behind his father, also a Navy SEAL, and three young children, all of whom will never know the father who sacrificed so much for his country.
In the end, it wasn’t only Rob who made those sacrifices when he decided to fight for our country, it was his family too. All too often, it’s the family too.
When Veteran’s Day was created by Congress out of Armistice Day in 1954, the intention was to honor all Americans who have served in our Armed Forces. A noble cause, to be sure. And in the country’s current climate, an important one: 2.5 million of our citizens have fought in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001.
Try to attend a ball game that doesn’t recognize an attending veteran, or read a celebrity’s twitter feed without finding a shout-out to the soldiers. Now even big advertising has taken to championing our war heroes as they hawk pickup trucks and beer. But ask those veterans who often suffers the most, and they’ll reveal that it’s their families back home.
One of those veterans, a Major in the Army’s elite Special Forces who recently returned from another deployment in the Middle East, worries about the impact his absences have on his family.
“Leaving is never easy. Especially when my youngest might not be old enough to remember who I am when I return. Technology helps ease that burden, but a five-minute video chat doesn’t make up for not being there for night-time feedings, changing the fourth blown-out diaper in two hours, or dealing with a 102.5 degree temperature – by the way, the dog just threw up while you were cleaning a pee stain she left while you were at work,” he says.
Society falls over itself to recognize our veterans; rightly so, even if sometimes it seems like the imbalance stems from us patting ourselves on the back for the effort. And to be clear, these fighters don’t do it for our recognition.
Ask any warfighter who has been downrange, and they’ll tell you that they fight for the man to their left and to their right. For their families: So each and every one of them can get back to their families, and do so in the same condition as they left them. The effectiveness of our nation’s fighters runs a parallel line to the condition of those they left stateside. How ironic is it that those who we depend on to defend our way of life rely on us to maximize those values for inspiration and motivation while they are in harm’s way?
For them, it’s about their families waiting at home. Who still need to grocery shop and take the kids to baseball practice, who have to get good grades while their father fights in a foreign country. All while hoping upon hope that their doorbell doesn’t ring with a stone-faced officer and chaplain on the front porch telling them that their world has collapsed.
Luckily for me, my father, who served in the Navy for 33 years, came back from his only deployment to Iraq with only minor hearing loss. His worst war-scar is from when he was on other end of that door, informing a father that his 19-year old son had been killed in the USS Cole bombing. And even that experience has never left him.
So for those six, or nine, or 12 months, there is a collective breath-holding on the home front. You want to watch the news, but are terrified to do so. Every new email is a reprieve. Each day, that much closer to having him or her back safe and sound.
When that soldier, sailor, airman or Marine does come home, a whole new set of issues foreign to most civilian families can take shape. Do their children recognize them? When will they be deployed again? What will the household dynamic be like now that mom or dad is home?
And that acclimation can be especially hard for someone whose head has been on a swivel for nine months, alert for IED’s and snipers, and now has to deal with rush hour traffic and pay bills. No one comes back from war exactly the same as they left, and that change does not escape their dependents.
The wife of the SF Major explains:
“Roles have changed, people have changed. Everyone has to work together to relearn how to be a complete family under the same roof again… until the news inevitably comes that your soldier is leaving again.”
So keep that in mind this Veteran’s Day. When you thank a vet, thank their family too. They have an important job as well, and take pride in meeting that duty bravely.
Andy Symonds is the author of two novels about the military elite and their families: “My Father’s Son” – This is the story of one boy, of one family, who has their world ripped apart by war – and “Enemy in Wire”- Written with Navy SEAL Chris McKinley, this action-packed SpecOps thriller will leave you gasping for air.
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