REDWOOD CITY, Calif. – US Army veteran Drew Viola served two combat tours: one in Iraq and one in Afghanistan.
He says it was difficult to go from living in two war zones to living a quiet life back home.
“Even strangers, family I would snap but it took a lot of time and thinking to really tell myself that you’re out of that element now,” said Viola.
Viola says friends and his new family helped him to adjust to civilian life but he knows that his experience will stay with him forever.
“Whatever you saw, experienced, or went through – whether it was good or bad, traumatized you or made you stronger — you’ll never forget it,” said Viola.
He also found help from the US Department of Veteran Affairs (VA).
Viola receives a monthly monetary check based on his disability rating for his time in service which he says helps a lot with his new family.
This is given to a veteran based on a health and psychological evaluation.
“I got two kids and they’re growing up pretty fast and they’re needing a lot of stuff and without the VA’s help that money comes and it just saves me.”
Viola’s two children also qualify for the college tuition fee waiver at any state of California community college, California State University, or University of California campus.
“College wasn’t for me. The military was my calling,” said Viola. “Hopefully my son and daughter go to school and take advantage of the benefits I earned for them.”
US Marine Corps veteran John Paul Arde served two combat tours in Iraq.
He too faced difficulty upon leaving the service.
“I really miss being in the Marines,” said Arde. “It was difficult to just come back home and not have that same camaraderie that I had before.”
While the transition proved difficult for Arde and his family, they worked it out together.
Arde initially did not utilize all of the VA’s resources upon return from combat, something he wishes he took advantage of sooner.
“It wasn’t until I got some help with the VA that I started to internalize and think about all the ways I was a better person for what I’ve been through,” said Arde.
Arde now puts his energy towards education which is all paid for by the VA.
“Now that I’m in grad school, I’ve transitioned to vocational rehab which is specifically for disabled vets and it’s been a really good program,” said Arde.
These Fil-Am veterans say that this holiday will always be bittersweet for them.
“It’s about the heroes who sacrificed their lives for us to have this day,” said Viola. “I mean freedom isn’t really free.”
“Generally on Veteran’s Day and Memorial’s Day when people say thank you for your service, it’s difficult for me because it’s something I wanted to do and I feel I didn’t really do too much especially when I consider how badly my friends were hurt in combat. So it’s difficult for me. I have mixed emotions about it because most people think it’s just three days, go have a barbeque, get drunk. But for me it’s a day that’s really dear to my heart,” Arde said.
There is camaraderie between all generations of veterans because at one point each of them accepted the fact that they were going to put their life on the line and fight.
And they didn’t just fight for freedom or for this country.
They fought for the person next to them.
And for that, they will be remembered.