The kids aren't a burden, Miguel Sr., 59, insists. He likes to joke with them and admits he's less of a disciplinarian than he was with his own son. "I'm not their father, I'm their grandfather," he says with a grin, "and that's how I treat them."
Luz's body language tells another story. Dangling from her neck are two symbols of her life today: a crucifix and a cell phone. Faith and responsibility. Across the room sitting on a sofa, the 60-year-old grandmother barely moves, hands clasped in her lap. Her shoulders sag and worry lines crease her forehead. Only when the phone rings—which happens repeatedly—does she look energized. Of course, the calls are all kid-related.
Yes, her life has changed a lot. "I'm responsible for them. If something happens, I have to take care of it, like taking them to the doctor if they get sick. Their father used to do that," she continues. She can't sleep in anymore, even if she's the one who feels ill, and she can't nap because the kids' schedules keep her tied up in the afternoons. Taking time to clean house seems a luxury.
But, "God always provides," Miguel Sr. says. "He doesn't give us anything we can't handle." That's true even when it comes to finances, he says, giving an example to make his point. He hasn't worked for the past three weeks because it's low season at the nearby resort where he's a banquet server. But the money he earned during this year's high season was much more than last year's, so they're making do, even though, he says, the kids "eat a lot more than we do."
"You see, God knew we were going to have our grandchildren with us this year," he says. And you find yourself waiting for him to add: "Punto final." Period.
"The modern technology in the theater of operations means we have more soldiers coming back, but fewer are dead and more are disabled," says Deputy State Surgeon Marta Carcana. "Once you get the disabled vet home…it's a whole new way of doing business."
Puerto Rico's National Guard members and their families have a host of services and benefits, but aren't always able to access them. Distances from home to help, the number of wounded, and an overcrowded VA hospital contribute to the problem.
For the families left behind, there are Family Readiness Centers throughout the island that offer seminars, counseling, help with paperwork, and other services.
Strength in Numbers
The explosions Sgt. Roberto Lloret heard on July 4, 2007, in Iraq weren't Independence Day fireworks. They did, however, give him more than a rough estimate of the high cost of fighting for freedom. He's paying the price in physical, psychological, and brain trauma injuries. He's not complaining.
In October 2007, he returned to Aguadilla, a town of friendly people, colorful homes, and an air of familial tranquility on the island's northeastern side. But his trip home wasn't a smooth nonstop flight from Iraq. He had layovers in military hospitals in Germany, Washington, D.C., North Carolina, and Ft. Buchanan in Puerto Rico.
And the Roberto who returned wasn't the same man who'd said goodbye to his wife Linnette, 26, his 5-year-old daughter, Alaihia, and his large extended family. The fun- and baseball-loving dad who had spoiled his wife and daughter endlessly became withdrawn, suffered from nighttime flashbacks, and endured severe pain from a shoulder injury.
"Because of all the experiences I had…you change," says Roberto, 29. "You're always on the defensive. When there's a sound, you jump. Many of us weren't like that before. Now we know what the others [vets] were going through."