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American Homefront

Parents on Their Children Going off to War

How do parents of adult children deal with the stress and uncertainty when their child volunteers to go off to war?

Jean Cicero is married to a police officer, now retired. She said it was no surprise that her son, Rick,  joined the Army and served in the first Gulf War or that he became a police officer when he returned home.

“It was kind of hard to decide which was more difficult, which made me crazier,” Jean said. “I would talk to him and he’d go ‘Mom, you’ve got to be brave because if you’re brave then I’m brave.’”

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Credit Bobbie O'Brien / WUSF Public Media
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WUSF Public Media
The challenge coin Rick Cicero was given as part of a commendation for saving the life of a Canadian soldier in Afghanistan July 31, 2010 after a bomb blast.

Rick Cicero would ask his mom to be brave again when he headed to Afghanistan as a defense contractor training dogs to detect Improvised Explosive Devices.

“I just said my prayers and hung in there,” Jean said.

Her son was severely injured by an IED in 2010 while on his third tour in Afghanistan. Rick Cicero lost his right arm and right leg.

Other family members stayed with Rick immediately after the injury at the military hospital in Landstuhl, Germany.

Jean didn’t see her son until he arrived at Tampa’s James A. Haley VA Hospital. She remembered that his body was a wreck, but his face told her something else.

“His spirit, his bravery that’s all that you saw. And he said, ‘Mom I’m fine. I’m going to be fine,’” Jean said. “I happened to be there the day, the first day, he put his leg on. So, I saw him stand for the first time out of bed.”

Asked if was similar to watching Rick learn to walk as a toddler, Jean said it was much different and more difficult because she knew the pain he was experiencing.

“You know when they’re babies and they take their first steps, you’re there and you can kind of hold onto them a little bit,” Jean said. “When they put the leg on and he turned to me and said, ‘Mom, don’t watch.’ He wanted to protect me. I couldn’t tell you how proud I was.”

She said within a week Rick was walking all over the hospital. That was almost three years ago.

Rick credits his son, Dylan, for helping him adjust to losing two of his limbs.

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Credit Bobbie O'Brien / WUSF Public Media
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WUSF Public Media
Rick Cicero uses his service dog to help maintain his balance.

“The probably best and most challenging moment was the day I woke up and a few minutes after speaking with the nurse, my son walked in,” Rick said. “He was stationed in Afghanistan at the same time and he actually flew with me to Germany on the Medevac flight and had been with me the days I was unconscious.”

Rick said he raised his son to make lemonade when life hands you lemons.

“There was no time to complain,” Rick said reflecting back to that first day in the Landstuhl hospital. “There was no time to gripe. And it was probably the best thing that could happen to me because you know here’s my son, I’ve got to man up.”

Rick now volunteers his time visiting severely wounded troops at the Haley VA Hospital.

His son, Dylan Cicero, is turning 22 and working to qualify for Special Forces.

Having served and suffered the loss of a leg and arm, Rick focuses on what he can do to help Dylan succeed.

“Coddling them is not going to do it,” Rick said. “That’s going to make them second guess, it’s going to make them lack in their commitment. What we need to do is reinforce in them - you’re trained. I raised you since a little one now and you have the right tools to do this.”

Rick said he has faith, faith in his son and faith that he will succeed.