Kathy Guzzo sent three daughters off to college. Each time was an emotional event.

None matched the feelings when her youngest child and only son, Brian, a corporal in the Marine Corps, was deployed to Afghanistan in June 2005 and, 15 months later, to Iraq.

Kathy Guzzo sent three daughters off to college. Each time was an emotional event.
None matched the feelings when her youngest child and only son, Brian, a corporal in the Marine Corps, was deployed to Afghanistan in June 2005 and, 15 months later, to Iraq.

No one was surprised when Brian joined the military. He enlisted on his 17th birthday and left for boot camp two weeks after graduating from Lutheran High School in 2004.

“He’s had a disciplined mentality his whole life,” his mom said. “His room was always cleaner than the girls’. And after 9/11, he felt he needed to do his part.”

So Kathy and husband Mickey watched and supported Brian as he became a heavy-machine-gunner and was ordered, at age 19, to the war against terrorists in Afghanistan.

“I felt I was prepared,” Guzzo said. “Brian had all the training you could get as a Marine, and I knew he was a logical thinker. But that’s what you know intellectually.

“Then there’s the other part of you.”

That second part kicked in big time when Brian called home in early summer 2005.
“He couldn’t tell us the exact date he was leaving but he said, ‘Mom, I’ve got to turn my phone off now.’

“I thought, No, you can’t do that.

“Afterward, I stood there with the cell phone in my hand and thought, now what?”

“Now what” turned out to be seven months of worry, prayer and wondering. In both his deployments to the war zones, Brian was seldom in a base camp. In each case, he managed to call home only three times.

“You go through anger, frustration, the pain of separation and wondering,” said Guzzo. “Is he OK today? Is he eating? Has he had a shower?”

That part – not knowing what your child is going through — is what makes saying good-bye to a military son or daughter so hard, she said.

“When you send a child off to college, a little bit of the umbilical cord is still attached,” said Guzzo. “You can reel it in if you have to, and you know you’ll see your child at Thanksgiving or Christmas.”

When a child goes to war, the cord is cut. The Guzzos sometimes didn’t hear from Brian for six weeks at a time.

She couldn’t bear it when the doorbell rang and asked their letter carrier to no longer push it when he left a package. She held her breath each time she drove home, wondering if an official black car would be parked outside their Rural Oaks neighborhood home. She told Mickey that if that ever happened, she wouldn’t answer until he came home.

“It’s like cancer. You don’t know what it’s like until you’re in that situation,” Guzzo said. “There are times when you feel you can’t take it anymore.”

She found support in a local network of families who have soldiers in war zones. And the family shared joy this summer when Brian, 21, wed his high school sweetheart, Allison Grunder.

Guzzo was on home ground with the milestone. “Brian has a good role model in his dad and is very aware of the responsibility of getting married. He cherishes Alli, and she’s been with him through everything since high school.”