How a Mother and Son Became Battle Buddies After the War

By Robin Herzog

I am a mother of a soldier who served more than two years on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan, with nearly seven years of total service. He was on the front lines with cavalry and infantry units, and he saw the worst of the worst.

When my son finally left the Army and returned home to Ohio in 2011, I didn’t recognize him. His beautiful blue eyes had turned black with rage. His demeanor toward me was short and disrespectful.

But I didn’t care. He made it home, right? Everything will just go back to the way it was before he left, I thought. I was wrong.

He had many sleepless nights and struggled regularly with nightmares. He lacked patience.

I started noticing the things that made him uncomfortable — — crowded places, noisy restaurants, TV shows and movies with violence. Just like when he was serving, I waited for that dreaded phone call every day. The one telling me I had lost my son. I lived in daily fear.

I quit my job and was determined to save my son. I would be damned if he would survive the war in Iraq and Afghanistan only to come home and wished he hadn’t. I educated myself on post-traumatic stress disorder, the signs, and what to look for, the do’s and don’ts. I read book after book, looked at countless websites, reviewed pamphlets from VA, spent hours in veteran chat rooms, and talked with other veterans I knew.

I would ask myself daily, “How can I save my son?” I can’t let him die on American soil now that he is home. No way in hell!

I turned my entire focus to getting my son the help he needed. Going to VA, making phone calls for him, doing the easy things that would relieve his stress and anger toward life so that he could focus on his counseling and treatment.

My son and I finally visited Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio. I knew it had a high student veteran population because of the Wright-Patterson Air Force base and the VA facility nearby. I walked behind him so he knew I had his back, just like his brothers in the war. I let him ask the questions he needed to make his decision and he finally liked what he saw.

He began his first semester and roomed with another veteran. Things started to change when his roommate introduced him to the Veteran and Military Center on campus, headed by Dr. Seth Gordon.

Dr. Gordon saw in my son what I had known in my heart all along: that underneath all that pain was an honest, caring, good-hearted young man who just needed a hand up, not a hand out.

My son was passionate about helping other veterans. Dr. Gordon asked my son to represent Wright State as a Fellow with The Mission Continues. A few weeks later he was on his way to Orlando, Florida for a weekend of service, training, and camaraderie.

Going to Columbus, Ohio airport was always a trip I dreaded while my son was in the military. I would pick him up and then two weeks later have to drop him off to go back to that hell, either in Iraq or Afghanistan. It was an awful ride home for a mother, knowing he was going back into harm’s way. But this time I was dropping him off on a Friday and picking him up on a Sunday! Oh, the relief in my heart. I still cried all the way home, just being a mother.

That weekend with The Mission Continues changed him, and I truly believe it saved his life. He united with 80 other veterans from all over the country — the newest recruits for The Mission Continues Fellowship Program.

They spent the weekend learning about The Mission Continues, building camaraderie and serving alongside one another at Quest, Inc., a local nonprofit that provides jobs for the mentally and physically disabled community. They painted in the indoor facilities and beautified the outside of the building with fresh landscaping and a community garden.

Tyler ( first row, fourth from left) alongside the veterans of The Mission Continues Alpha Class 2014

After the service project, they traveled to Disney World, where they were sworn in as Alpha Class 2014. They committed to return to their communities as leaders in service. They all wanted to continue to serve their country.

Throughout the weekend, these veterans exchanged e-mails, phone numbers and stories of service. They formed a new band of brothers and sisters during a weekend mission that would change their lives forever.

Sunday rolled around and I was so giddy about going to the airport to get my son. I saw him come out of the airport with a skip in his step, paint on his clothes, but most importantly I saw his beautiful blue eyes sparkling again.

He was on a new mission.

He went back to Wright State University and recently finished his six-month fellowship with The Mission Continues. He implemented a mentoring program that couples incoming student veterans with vets who have been in school longer. They talk about the school and its provisions, how to navigate education benefits and the local VA hospital. The mentoring program helps veterans get acclimated to campus life but also connects veterans with folks who understand their needs.

Tyler speaking at Wright State University

Today, my son is still going to school working on his degree in rehabilitation and human services. Wright State has gone above and beyond to help the more than 700 veterans on campus, and I think it is the benchmark that all colleges and universities should learn from. Any veteran on campus can go to the Veteran and Military Center and ask for help.

We know The Mission Continues is exactly what these veterans need. I have seen it firsthand. It saved my son’s life right before my eyes. It was truly a miracle. The bond between a mother and her son reconnected, but there were some limitations. I have to get to know my son after the war because he will never be the same. He knows I would do anything for him as any mother would. I’m so proud of the man he has become.

Without this experience, I am not sure where I else I could go to get help. With The Mission Continues guidance we were together, grateful and feeling alive again.

I know one thing: this is just the beginning for him.

He will continue to move into the forefront and help ease the transition for student veterans. No calling will ever be higher as our commitment to see The Mission Continues Fellowship Program succeed and our veterans emerge stronger with a passion to serve and commit to our making our country better.

Family and friends, please reunite with soldiers and veterans this holiday. Be thankful for their safe return from the war and take a moment to say a prayer for the ones who didn’t. I personally give my thanks to The Mission Continues this Thanksgiving for giving me my son back, along with his blue sparkling eyes and a focus to continue his mission, whatever and wherever his journey may take him.

Tyler and Robin on vacation in 2013

My son and our family are living proof that you can survive combat trauma physically and mentally from a war. My wish as a mother is to have my message be taken to heart in a way of providing hope and healing to all veterans and their families who are struggling.

Happy holidays, from our family to yours. A mother and son reunited as “Battle Buddies.” I love you, son.

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If you’re a veteran or family member in crisis and need to reach out, contact the Veterans Crisis Line at 1–800–273–8255, through text message at 838255, or online chat anytime day or night, 365 days a year. And visit VA’s National Center for PTSD to learn more about mental health injury symptoms and treatment options.