How the world outside Pennsylvania changed me

Larksville, PA

Growing up in a small town in Pennsylvania, you learn early on that freedom is not free. Being part of a family that has served their country with distinction all the way back to the Spanish-American War, leaving my mark was very hard to do. So I decided when I was 17 that I would join the Army Reserves, and after two years of doing this I decided the fast lane was where I needed to be and went on active duty. I served with pride, in stateside assignments as well as two overseas assignments. But I decided after I got back from Korea in early 2001 that I was going to leave it all behind and have a family. Who knew that 9/11 would happen then? I didn't. So after having my daughter and the fallout of my first marriage I came back to active duty with the Army and was sent off to school for a year. In the summer of 2007 I was sent to Fort Carson, Colo., and the home of the 2nd Brigade, 4th infantry Division. In the summer of 2008 I was sent to Iraq. This was my first real deployment and it left a very big mark on my life. Coming back after a year, I was very confused, angry and depressed. Not the things most men would ever admit to, but things I needed to work through. After being home for 18 months I was sent back into combat, this time to Afghanistan. This time I played a different role, one that did not put me in harm's way the same way I was in Iraq. Nevertheless, I served with honor by training the Afghan police in communications and counter-IED. This marked the end of a long road I traveled. I came home and still felt that same anger, confusion and depression. But with the help of my second wife, we are traveling down a better road and cherish the days we have ahead of us. Without her, I would still be that same miserable person with horrible memories from combat. I hope that each and every one of us who has seen hell in its many forms finds the peace and happiness we so rightly deserve.

Michael D. Gronkowski
Fifth Generation Combat Veteran

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