Category Archives: Veterans Transition

In the Arena

Romy & Gaby

My dear friend Romy and his team at SIS recently celebrated their one year anniversary at the end of June of opening the doors to their spinal cord rehab center.  I couldn’t be more proud of the hard work and dedication that he and the whole crew have put into this place.  Truly an example of what it means to be In the Arena. Congrats, Romy!

 

“Chief” as he is often called has a clothed covered hole in his throat-from the emergency tracheotomy performed by his teammate in 2008 during an ambush while serving in Afghanistan.

The scar will forever remain on his neck where the bullet entered shattering his cervical spine and rendering him a quadriplegic.

One may think that after spending almost two years in the VA hospital in critical condition  with a spinal cord injury  that it would prevent or deter him from serving others and bettering himself. They’d be wrong.

Romy 4

My  dear friend Romy is defying the odds- He was told he would never breathe on his own; however with intensive  respiratory therapy, he now is able to breathe on his own for most of the day.  He was told he would never be able to move any of his limbs below the shoulder.  Romy has now been able to move his left arm a handful of times. Progress…

 

“They told me I wouldn’t be able to do anything, so I showed them I could.”

When I first met Romy in early 2009, he was still an inpatient at the hospital.   I was so deeply moved by his strength and that of his wife Gaby in remaining so positive despite the overwhelming, and unfathomable challenges that they were facing and would continue to endure.

In the Arena 1

As was the case many times before, I had invited veterans to come into the schools where I taught to share their personal stories with our students. It is a lesson of a lifetime that no teacher could possibly convey better than a veteran- a lesson in sacrifice, and service above self.  A moment to connect a child, a teen with someone who has given them the ultimate gift- one of freedom and the opportunity to chase their dreams.

On the day  I met Romy, I knew he would be the next veteran I would bring to the school.  And so, just before Veterans Day in 2009 while still an inpatient, Romy along with his amazing wife and medical team, drove three hours to give his first public talk since his accident.  He spoke to over a thousand students, faculty, and community members who were there to honor him and his service to our country.  His message was clear:

“You can all keep fighting”

Romy  continues to speak to students, and organizations throughout the country.

Inspiring others.

Upon his discharge from the VA hospital, he began another difficult challenge; that of intense physical therapy.  If/when the time comes that Romy  regains use of his arms and legs, he is going to be darn sure that his body is as healthy as he can get it.  While traveling great distances for ongoing therapy not available in his hometown, he and his wife began to create a new dream of opening a spinal cord injury rehabilitation center for veterans and civilians alike.

In June of 2015 after more than a year of hard work , with loyal supporters and tremendous Faith,  Romy defied the odds once again.  He and Gaby opened the doors to Stay In Step Spinal Cord Injury Recovery Center to assist other SCI patients in receiving the best quality care possible.

“Go home and tell your children that dreams do come true”

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Chief Warrant Officer 3 Romy Camargo retired last year from active duty after serving his country for twenty years in the United States Army. He served with the 75th Ranger Regiment and 7th Special Forces Group as a Green Beret.  He was awarded the Bronze Star with two Oak Leaf Clusters,  and Purple Heart along with numerous other well earned badges, medals and tabs.

His story “Live to Tell” will be featured on the History Channel in November on or before Veterans Day.

What I know to be true of this soldier, husband, father , business owner and community leader is that he continues to live and breathe the Core Values of the United States Army:

Loyalty – Duty  -Respect-  Selfless Service-  Honor-  Integrity-  Personal Courage.

He epitomizes  Courage, Leadership and Purpose and what it means to be In the Arena.  This blog site is for him and every other individual who dares greatly  in overcoming their fears, grief and obstacles to live their best life.

Chief Romy

DOL

 

 

 

 

When the Curtain Closes


ACT ONE:

After fours years  of memorizing  lines, countless costume changes, and friendships formed, Pat took to the stage of Pamlico HS for the last time.  He often took on roles that would envoke barreling laughter and cheers from the audience. As we have all come to experience, laughter brings great cures for what ails us. “Good times” he recalls in playing a precarious kid named Thor in the play The Nerd written by playwright Larry
Shue.  Certainly, what’s not to love playing a terror of a kid  stomping about a bowl full of potato salad atop the dinner table? Good times, indeed.

The Nerd Pat

As the curtain drew closed on his high school acting days, another one opened in the form of a full acting scholarship to UNC. He had raw talent and  others took notice.  This was the Golden ticket for a kid who grew up in a modest rural community along the coast of Carolina.

Pat’s future path of sell out crowds and standing under the lights of stardom quickly dissipated as his father, a Vietnam Army veteran began to plant the seeds of service. Visions of a new kind of costume filled his green eyes- that of United States Marine.  “I liked the uniform” he proclaimed.  Albeit the true reason for signing his name on the line wouldn’t be revealed for years to come.

ACT TWO:

At seventeen as with most–  all young recruits hoping to earn their Eagle, Globe and Anchor, they stand upon the yellow footprints with great certainty that life is about to change hoping they don’t crap their pants before the day is done.


At the age of twenty-four, Pat was deployed to Iraq and found he now stood on a different kind of stage in the war torn cities of Fallujah and Ramadi. A far cry and worlds away from the quaint coastal town where the smell of bonfires and fishin’ filled his nights and days.  There are no words of comfort nor empathy that can be expressed to one who is exposed to such carnage, hatred and  injustice unless you are among the quietly brave souls who pledge their lives for their brothers to their left and to their right and for the country they have vowed to defend.

Yet in this place far removed from all Pat had ever known, his sense of purpose and belonging was revealed. As is the case with all men, they are born to provide, protect and die if they must for their family. It is how all societies judge and determine their worth. It is the scale by which they measure themselves as worthy Men- their legacy written.

There is no distinction as a sheepdog  between those whose blood runs through their veins and that of Brother who runs the miles and  stands shoulder to shoulder with them in the fight.  Sgt. McQueary affectionately known as Mac Dougle made the nights in the sandbox bearable. Many twisted jokes and shuffling of the cards were shared.  On the day Mac was killed by an IED, the stage lights of which Pat stood under,  began to dim.

ACT THREE:

Once stateside,  Pat  became a proud father to a healthy boy in a rocky marriage- survivor’s guilt still ever present by his side. He pressed on and immersed himself into his new role as a Recruiter.  It was a challenging role but one he had committed to play. On top of his game professionally, his personal life began to crumble.  He and his wife made the decision to legally separate and she moved back north with their son.   The loneliness- filled with booze and other transgressions. The pinnacle of despair came in 2011 when his Dad in stoic fashion passed away after a lengthy illness.

Honor, Courage and Commitmentthe core values by which all Marines are defined and most importantly it was the lens in which Pat’s father saw him. He died with his soul at ease knowing  that his son had become a better man than he.

Never look down on someone unless you’re helping them up. 

ACT FOUR:

Pat’s career with the Marines came to an “other than honorable” end amongst allegations of adultery; demoted to Lance Corporal and discharged before his 30th birthday.  The pivotal moment came knocking when it was time to turn in his uniform.

“It was the hardest day of my life and is my burden to bear.”

Pat now has a second young son with his girlfriend. The laughter he once shared on stage is all but gone. His days are filled with social isolation, taking odd jobs to make ends meet and pay child support for his first born son he rarely sees. Therapy up to this point has not been  effective. While well intentioned, the counselors can’t relate.  He is “going through the motions” as he proclaims while heading off to school.

On rare occasions, he will meet up with an Army buddy of his which offers a brief respite from the challenges he faces on a daily basis. His girlfriend bears much of the financial burden of the daily living expenses as he often shells out what money he has for a cupboard full of anti- anxiety and depression medications. With the exception of the local university where he attends classes, he feels there is little support for veterans transitioning back into civilian life.

He dreams and strives to  provide  a good life for his family, of belonging and serving a purpose higher than himself.  His scars run deep but carries on.

There is a disconnect among those in the community of which these young veterans live and work.  Their service to our communities and country must continue.  They possess unique skills  as Leaders that must be utilized in keeping this nation and our neighborhoods strong. They must hear from all of us that they are valued in spite of their flaws.

We must educate our children of their sacrifices to this country. We must call upon our business leaders to offer jobs and  opportunities to become entrepreneurs. We must call out corrupt organizations and politicians who wish to use veterans for their own personal gains.

When asked about his relationship with his young son Gavin, his face lit up for the first time in our conversation.  “I hope that one day, my children will read this and be proud of me.”

And when the  curtain closes at the end of his days, his soul will  be at ease, knowing his boys have become better men than he.

Pat with his boys