One of the overriding factors in going, Roberts said, was to see first-hand what his son had gone through while serving there.
“I saw some of the post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms Sean and other service men and women displayed when they came home and heard some of the stories he told, and I wanted to know just what we were sending our troops into over there,” Roberts said. “This subject affects me deeply as a parent, teacher, community member and U.S. citizen. I can’t help looking at my own son and wondering what it is we are putting our young people through as we send them into places such as Afghanistan, and to whose benefit are we doing this.”
Roberts said it didn’t take long once he got to Afghanistan to realize just how important the job he was undertaking was.
Roberts and his crews hopped from base-to-base installing 2 1/2-inch armor plating on eight-axled HEMTT (Heavily Expanded Mobility Tactical Truck) vehicles that were used by soldiers to tow in other military vehicles that had been damaged in combat.
Seeing the damage to vehicles brought in, and the evidence of the carnage that had occurred when they were hit by explosives, Roberts said, made him want to quickly do everything in his power to make the vehicles safer for the next soldiers who drove them.
“We didn’t see the action. We just saw the aftermath on the vehicles where there would be bullet and shrapnel holes and bloodstains on them,” Roberts said. “I knew that my son was in some of those a year ago, and other people’s sons and daughters were in the ones we were working on. We realized real quick that we needed to get the armor on them as quickly as we could to protect the next soldier who went out in them.”
Roberts’ team had several other Kentuckians on it, including Brad Williams, one of his former GRC students.
During his time there, Roberts said that the older members of the team — Tom Mays, Ronnie Penn and himself — became almost like clergy to the young soldiers who would come to them to talk about their experiences on the road, something they couldn’t discus with their own families.
“We would have guys come in off the road and you almost feel like a priest sometimes because of the things they came to us and talked to us about,” Roberts said. “They knew they couldn’t tell their parents because they knew it would upset them too much, but they needed to talk to someone, so they came to us. You could just see how scarred they are by it.”
Roberts said he came away from the experience with a new appreciation for the men and women who choose to be soldiers and a better understanding of why they do it.
“Most of the soldiers that I met over there wanted to do something. They had a pride in the U.S., a pride in being part of the military and a pride in being able to defend freedom. I met a lot of good guys over there, and I’m proud to have worked with them,” Roberts said. “It was an eye-opening experience, especially from the perspective of seeing what our young men and women are going through.”
Roberts returned home July 3 and said he has spent the last week spending time with and catching up with his sons Pat and Sean and other family members.
The experience has strengthened his relationship with Sean, Roberts said, and made him appreciate things he had been taking for granted. It also has given him a renewed zeal for teaching and he’s looking forward to sharing it with his students when school opens next week.
“I compare the last year to waking up from a coma. It makes you appreciate everything and everybody,” Roberts said. “This gives me more enthusiasm for teaching, for pushing my students and motivating them and getting them to understand what a privilege a free and appropriate public education really is and how important it is. I think I will be a better teacher because of what I saw and experienced while I was there.”
Contact Bob at email@example.com.