PORTSMOUTH, RI (WPRI) - Rob Guzzo was often the toughest man on the football field and also one of the brightest faces in the halls of Portsmouth High School in the late 90’s. His accomplishments didn’t stop there.
His mother Robin Andersen, who now lives in Newport, could fill a few days talking about every thing her son did in his 33 years. But on a chilly winter day, she focuses on the end, hoping awareness can help slow a rising statistic.
On Veterans Day, Robert Bryan Guzzo took his own life in a year when 349 active U.S. service members committed suicide. 295 died in combat in Afghanistan in 2012.
“Everyone called him Guzzo,” Andersen tells us. “He was good at every thing he tried.”
When the towers fell on September 11, 2001, Guzzo decided to follow in his father’s path and enlisted to fight with the Navy SEALS.
“He sort of outdid his father,” Andersen explains. “Because it’s tough to make it through in the same class that you start with.”
Guzzo earned his trident with Seal Team 5 and was deployed to Iraq in 2006. What he survived is classified but since his mother had a Navy security clearance, he could tell her.
"There were things where I just couldn't hear it,” Andersen says. “I couldn't listen to it. There was a lot of tragedy and death but I really can't say more than that.”
Andersen did say that her son lost team members during combat and saw others seriously injured. When he returned home, there wasn’t a scratch on him but his mother remembers a "blank stare".
“Emotionally numb. One of the problems is these men have both eyes and both arms and both legs,” Andersen says. “But that does not mean they’re not injured.”
Guzzo was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Andersen and Guzzo’s father Bob Guzzo, a former SEAL himself, called their son every day and took turns flying to San Diego to see him every month.
Andersen thought she saw an emotional breakthrough last year after her son met the daughter he didn’t know he had.
“She allowed him to feel again and to care again and to realize that he's not a monster who killed people,” Andersen says. “He really loved her. I could see that. ”
He saw his little girl for the last time on the Friday before last Veterans Day, which Guzzo spent with war buddies.
“The amazing thing is this young corpsman told us Rob was the one comforting him,” Andersen says. “Rob was the one saying it’ll be okay. ”
But after the conversations and war stories ended, Guzzo found himself in front of a picture of a friend who was killed in action. With his trident nearby, the former SEAL and Portsmouth football star ended his life.
“I think when he was all alone with his thoughts and everybody else had gone to sleep. it just overcame him,” Andersen says.
In the past, the Pentagon stated that the military suicide rate is no higher than the nation’s rate. And now, each branch of the military is handling the issue in its own way but in the Fall, the Army decided to step up its prevention and awareness programs.
Chaplain Major Tim Bourquin of the Rhode Island National Guard tells us there are annual and quarterly programs in the Army that were put in place toward the end of 2012.
“We train soldiers who are then imbedded in their units,” Bourquin says. “And when a soldier is having thoughts of suicide, he now has someone he can go to. ”
As a retired Navy officer, Andersen believes one problem is the red tape, stuck between the mentally wounded and the help they need.
“Rob needed something that they were not prepared to give and they weren't necessarily educated on the options to take to get him what he needed,” she says.
A point of frustration is that she believes there are good programs available but she found out firsthand that the Veterans Administration is backlogged.
“A claim that Rob had submitted in March of 2012 had not been processed when he died in November. It wasn't even in the final stages of being processed. ”
Guzzo's parents also suspect he had a traumatic brain injury and they wonder if that problem contributed to his and other military suicides.
Andersen hopes talking about the problems her son faced getting help during and after his service, will help others get help and slow the military suicide rate that Pentagon statistics indicate has been rising since 2001.
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