FORT CARSON, Colo. (CBS4) – Serving in the military is not only hard on serviceman or women, but also the whole family. CBS4′s Gloria Neal got to sit down with a soldier who prepared to leave Fort Carson and deploy to a war zone, and his wife who prepared for a life without him.
For many military spouses, letting their husband or wife go is the hard part. But not knowing if that’s the last time they will let them go can be unbearable.
“It’s just like the unknown; like you don’t know if it’s going to be the last time you hug him; or if it’s going to be the last time you go to sleep together,” Helen Santiago said. “You don’t know if it’s the last time he sees Hope. You just don’t know.”
Hope Santiago has only been on the planet four months and already she’s a daddy’s girl.
“I walk into the room it’s not a big deal. He walks into the room and she’s just like big eyes; always staring at him. She knows when he’s home,” Helen said.
Watch Part 1 of Gloria Neal’s video report in the video below:
But Pfc. Juan Santiago says he’s about to sacrifice a year of “firsts” with his daddy’s girl.
“I’m going to miss her first steps. I’m going to miss her first words. I’m going to miss just about everything that a baby does for the first year,” Juan said.
He says even though the war in Iraq is over, remember that men and women are still serving and sacrificing in places like Afghanistan.
“We are actually there to do more help than anything and that really doesn’t get portrayed,” Juan said.
And for those who have never put on the uniform, he says they can’t even begin to understand what men and women in the military go through.
“Expect contact as far as fire, gunfights; expect rounds to be shot at your base,” Juan said. “Don’t not expect anything, because if you do that it’s going to be a bad day for you. So expect it all.”
Although he’s proud to serve, the cost is high.
“A lot of people think we’re overpaid, whatever that may be … yeah, I get free health care. Yeah, I get free dental. I get all that stuff. But I have to be away from my family nine months out of year,” he said. “You give up a lot of stuff but your family in return doesn’t have to worry about anything.”
But worry is what a lot of spouses and children of military members do. After all, it is Fort Carson, and that post has lost a lot of military members in Afghanistan. Those members have made the ultimate sacrifice.
As for being afraid of being killed, Juan says he’s been trained just about as well as somebody can be trained.
“I’m going to be okay. I know how to shoot. I’ve been trained; I know how to throw a grenade or two. It’s going to be alright. I went to a class. I know how to call in for air support. Don’t worry; I’m not going over there not knowing anything. I know enough to stay alive.”
But that’s little comfort for Helen.
“It’s definitely not easy. It’s just not easy. It’s hard,” Helen said.
Juan understands how she feels more than she thinks. It’s what he does to her while she sleeps and he can’t.
“I just squeeze her … that’s about all you can do,” he said.
But as Juan leaves his family at home, he joins another one overseas.
There’s an old saying in the Army — if the military wanted you to have a family, they would have issued you one. Even though the soldier enlists, the entire family serves, and Juan now knows all too well what it feels like to leave a loved one and head into harms way.
“It’s not so much about dying, it’s about time away, how different things are going to be when you get back; what’s changed, what hasn’t changed,” he said.
A lot can change in a year, but the fear of knowing it might be your last roll call — that’s real as well.
“There’s always a fear, but I mean you can die crossing the street.”
Watch Part 2 of Gloria Neal’s video report in the video below:
Juan knows his job in the military will place him at higher risk in Afghanistan than just crossing the street.
“I’m a fueler … anything with a gas tanks, as far as trucks, tanks, planes, helicopters; you name it, that’s what we do,” he said. “It’s real … but if it happens, it happens; nothing you can do to control it.”
As an Army brat, CBS4′s Gloria Neal has a very special place in her heart for the men and women and the sacrifices they give to this country every day. But in this case it’s even more special. Pfc. Juan Santiago is Neal’s only nephew. She asked him how proud he is of himself for joining the Army.
“Very proud; could have ended up a bunch of different places,” Juan replied.
But he didn’t
“(I) didn’t want to be like that,” he said.
Being like “that” means making bad choices.
“I had a single parent. It was just me and my mom most of my life. Things were tough, you know, but I don’t make excuses. It’s not a crutch … my past is my past, it’s not where Im going.”
Now he’s going to a whole other world, which means his wife Helen has to step up and sacrifice.
“He’s my best friend. I won’t have that person to confide in … because when things get tough, and they do, he’s the person I can talk to,” Helen said.
Four-month-old Hope is giving up something too — her daddy.
“She’s more like him than she is like me. She has her little mischievous ways, just like him,” Helen said.
“She becomes mom and dad, you know. As far as bills and stuff go, I normally handle them — not anymore … she’s going to have the lead for a whole nine months. I’m going to be on a different continent,” Juan said.
Some of the soldiers are deploying for the first time — some of them for the fifth time — sacrifice after sacrifice after sacrifice.
“It wasn’t hard the first month or two knowing I was going to leave. It’s when it got toward the end, things got rough — real rough.”
And now let the worrying begin.
“It’s going to be alright. I went to a class. I know how to call in for air support. Don’t worry, I’m not going over there not knowing anything.”
A jet carrying 221 soldiers from Fort Carson left for Afghanistan with Juan aboard last Friday.
Juan continues a long tradition of military service for Neal’s family as her father is a retired a command-sergeant-major after serving 31 years. Her sister and brother each served 20 years.