In this special episode, I am remembering the 9 year anniversary of the death of my brother, SGT Steven DeLuzio. I'm sharing memories and lessons learned from losing someone so close to me.
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More About SGT Steven DeLuzio
Hey everyone, thanks for tuning into the drive on podcast. Today I'm doing a special episode. Special to me anyway. 9 years ago this week on the 22nd of August 2010, my brother, SGT Steven DeLuzio was killed in action in Afghanistan. And I wanted to make sure this episode was dedicated to him and his service.
A few weeks ago I had Chris Weir on who also lost his brother in combat. One of the things Chris said was that he wanted to make sure his brother's memory continued to live even though he was gone. I couldn't agree more with that. I feel like the more we do to keep the memory of these soldiers alive, the better.
So with this episode, I'm going to talk a little about my brother and how he impacted my life.
My brother was about 3 years younger than me. Growing up we always had that big brother, little brother complex. We'd fight, but then get right back to playing together. Even though I had the upper hand at home and usually won our fights, outside of home we always had each other's backs.
Steve played hockey in high school, and eventually went on to play in college at Hofstra University. While he was there he sort of fell into the wrong crowd and started to not focus on school as much as he should. His grades slipped and I think he even ended up failing a couple classes. He realized he was heading down a path he didn't want to be going down. Late night parties and drinking replaced the studying that he should have been doing.
He came home one day and said that he wanted to transfer to a military college. The idea was that he'd get more discipline and focus there. Eventually this led to him transferring to Norwich University in Vermont. While he was there, he definitely got some discipline. His entire day was planned out for him, including early morning PT, class time, study time, meals, everything. He didn't have time for all the other partying that he had when he went to Hofstra. Not surprisingly, his grades improved.
At some point while he was at Norwich he had talked to an Army recruiter about joining the Army National Guard. A friend of his at Norwich was already in the guard and told him all about it. He ended up joining in a delayed entry program, and went to basic training at Fort Benning, GA in the summer of 2005.
While he was in basic training, the seed had been planted in me. I knew I wanted to join the military as well, but I was in a bit of a different situation than he was. I already had graduated college and had a full time job. It sort of scared me thinking that I might get fired if I asked for a few months off to go join the Army. It turns out I didn't have to worry about that because by law my employer couldn't fire me for that. I didn't know that at the time though. When Steve got out of basic training, I told him my plans and asked him to talk me out of it. I had basically made up my mind that I would join, but I wanted him to give me all the cons all the negatives to joining.
While he tried his best, ultimately he failed, and I enlisted in the CT army national guard in November 2005, just a few months after he had finished basic training.
It was around that time that he got orders to go to Iraq. His unit was already there, and were at the tail end of an 18 month deployment. They needed a few extra bodies and Steven volunteered to go. According to him, the way his contract was set up he didn't have to go since he was going to Norwich University, but he waived that and went anyhow. I don't know how true all of that was, but that's the story he gave to us anyway.
His deployment sent him to Ramadi, Iraq at the end of 2005, and into the early part of 2006. I never went to Ramadi, or Iraq, but from what I read it wasn't a very friendly place at that time.
After Steven got back, he bought a book called The Sheriff of Ramadi by Dick Couch. It was written about the events that went on in Ramadi around the time he was there. Steven ended up writing a companion to that book that he called simply "My Side". When the author of the book wrote about certain areas or times in Ramadi, Steven told about relevant events that he personally experienced in those places or at those times. I think that was somewhat therapeutic for him, but he really didn't like talking about the deployment outside of that book.
While he was deployed, I was in basic training, also at Fort Benning. I started a couple months after he deployed, and as it turns out he ended up getting back home just a few days before my graduation. Any Army infantry soldier knows the significance of the blue cord that we receive. For anyone else, it is essentially a light blue cord that is worn on the shoulder of the dress uniform of infantry soldiers. You don't get that cord until you finish your training as an infantryman. Since my brother returned early enough he was able to present me with mine at my graduation, which is something I'll never forget.
After we all got back home my brother decided not to return to Norwich University. He would be returning into the corps of cadets, which gave upperclassmen higher rank than lower classes. He realized after being deployed into actual combat that he wouldn't last too long having some 19-20 year old kid boss him around who never saw much more than a fist fight, never mind actual combat.
Not only that, but he wanted to be close to family. At the time, we lived in Connecticut, which was a little over a 3 hour drive away in good weather. Even longer if it was snowing, which was highly likely in the winter in Vermont.
When Steven got back from Iraq and I got out of basic training we both ended up moving out of our parent's house and into a condo together. Obviously we lived together, but we also would do all sorts of things together. We drove to Boston on the weekends to watch Boston Bruins games. Some of those trips and the shenanigans we got into are burned into my memory. Man we had such good times.
Steven ended up transferring college one more time to the University of Hartford where he eventually graduated with a degree in Accounting with great grades. Shortly afterwards he started working at a local CPA firm in our town.
Then in 2009, both Steven and I received orders that we would be deployed to Afghanistan. It turns out that Steven didn't actually have to deploy since he had just gotten back from Iraq. He was given the option to stay back if he wanted to. I remember talking to him about this once and being shocked that he essentially volunteered to go. He told me that he deployed with a lot of those guys already, and he didn't want them going without him. I guess the thought was if something bad was going to happen, he wanted to be there to help as best as he could.
By mid February of 2010, I was in Afghanistan, and he followed shortly afterwards. At that point we had very little contact with each other. He was on a very remote outpost, and the FOB I was on wasn't much better. We had internet and phone access, but it wasn't the easiest to get onto.
Then on August 22, 2010 I was on a mission in a remote village when I got the word that he was killed. I remember when my commander told me the news he followed up with asking if I was going to hurt myself. A rational question to ask a very emotional man with a gun and a crapload of ammo.
I remember being disgusted at the question. How could I hurt myself? I had a wife and a newborn son at home. My parents just lost one son, how could I let them lose both in the same day?
Years later I reflect back on that day and that question, and realize how easily I could have decided to make a different decision. What if I wasn't married, or didn't have a kid? Would the pain of losing my brother - my best friend - have been too much for me? What if I didn't have something, or someone to look forward to being with when I got home.
Then after I got home, what if I didn't have a good relationship with my wife? What if she didn't think to tell me to get help when she did? What if she kicked me out instead? Where would I be? Would I have attempted to self medicate, or worse?
Going back now to that question my commander asked of me "you're not going to hurt yourself, are you?" I get it now. And I don't want to mention names on this episode, but if you're listening Sir, you know who you are. That had to be one of the hardest messages you had to deliver, and you did it with the utmost respect and professionalism. Never in a million years would I want to be the guy in your shoes at that moment, but you did it without hesitation. I don't think I've ever said this to you directly, but thank you. I know you used to rag on me, but I knew it came from a place of love. Thank you for being the one to deliver the message the way you did. I remember you trying to comfort me by telling me that you didn't know the circumstances, but you were sure he took a few of the bad guys out with him. In a sick way that was oddly comforting.
There were other friends who comforted me that day too, and again I'm not mentioning any names, but you guys know who you are too and I want to thank you all for that as well.
Anyway, after getting home I struggled a bit with everything that happened. Eventually I had to make a decision. Would I be angry the rest of my life about what went on, or would I honor my brother's sacrifice and his life with the way I lived mine? I decided to choose the latter.
I ended up going to the Vet Center and getting help for my issues. That was one of the best decisions I ever made with regards to my own mental health. It wasn't easy, but it was a tremendous relief when I finally admitted there was a problem. Like a huge weight being lifted off of my shoulders.
Listen, this is just a small part of the story. I don't know, maybe I'll get more into it in another episode. The moral of the story is that you need to have people close to you who care enough about you to tell you when you have a problem and will help you seek out the care you need. I needed to have someone in my life that I cared about more than myself. I couldn't leave my wife with a newborn to fend for herself. Sure she was perfectly capable of figuring out life on her own, but I could never do that to her.
These relationships don't just pop up overnight, so it's important to try to cultivate these relationships before you need them. If you're having trouble with your spouse, get help. Work on your issues. No one said it was going to be easy, but it's a heck of a lot easier going through things together than it is going it alone.
Of the many things I learned from my brother's death, this is one of them that really struck home with me, and I hope it helps you too.