Posted at 11 a.m., Nov. 12, 2013


Providing support:
After two overseas deployments and 18 years of military service, George DeBono is ready to help other veterans transition from the military to civilian life.

Photo by Daniel Herring

Drop 50; fire for effect

Veteran helps others find target

By Brooke A. Rogers
Managing Editor

When George DeBono left the battlefield in Iraq, he wasn’t yet ready to take on the challenge of community college. Instead, he decided to use his one-year grace period between deployment and college to recuperate and deal with family and anger issues before beginning his higher education.

DeBono’s wife, Lesley, and his three young children, Ethan, Matt and Mariah, influenced that decision. “I really had to take a year off before I did anything,” DeBono explained. “I think that made it a little better.”

When he did begin attending college, the first years at Laramie County Community College were still taxing. “In the beginning it was a little nerve-wracking,” DeBono said. “My militant attitude helps a little, but it’s stressful. And there’s nobody here to say, ‘Hey, let me show you the ropes.’ I think that’s where LCCC lacks.”

DeBono’s, a human services major, said he hoped to use his degree to help others. “That’s kind of where I want to go with this in my degree…to come back and make it easier for veterans, especially student veterans,” DeBono said.

DeBono has utilized the opportunity the LCCC Student Veterans of America (SVA) chapter has offered as a way to assist other veteran students. “I’m trying to get [the SVA] fired up, along with all of the other student veterans around here,” he said. “I think that’s something that’s needed here in the college.”

Student veteran lends helping hand

DeBono is the treasurer for LCCC’s SVA chapter, whose future will “be dependent on the following semesters,” DeBono said. “Myself, I’m not going to be here 100 percent next semester. So the handoff to younger student veterans is needed to keep this program alive. I think that will be significant in helping other veterans coming back to school.” In 1995, DeBono began his 18-year-long military career as a Colorado guardsman. “I’ve always wanted to join the Army or military anyways,” he said. “My older brothers were in the military,” “But stuff always came up that kept me from joining,” he explained, shrugging a shoulder.

Eventually, the desire to leave the past behind in his hometown of Lamar, Colo., gave DeBono the push to join. “It propelled me to get out of Dodge,” DeBono said.

He served in New Orleans after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita before deploying overseas.

DeBono spent 2007 in Balad, Iraq, a city about 60 miles north of Baghdad, and home to the largest American base in Iraq, according to the Washington Post. There, DeBono was a door gunner on a helicopter crew. “I didn’t ever worry about dying over there because I had a job to do,” he said. “I worried more about turning in my paperwork, and getting things in on time more than I worried about getting shot at or blown up.”

“The glass factory,” he explained, was an area so dangerous, the soldiers expected heavy fire whenever they flew over.

“Being a door gunner, when you’re flying if you get shot and you’re going down, there’s not much you can do about it,” he said. “So your attitude has really got to change for the worst because you know that you’re kind of helpless up there.” DeBono decribed taking enemy fire during mealtimes. “Breakfast, lunch and dinner was kind of their MO. I mean, you could set teatime to it. It just got to the point where you got so complacent that you weren’t running for bomb shelters. If it happens, it happens. There’s not much I can do about it, so I just came to terms with it.”

DeBono’s first overseas deployment in 2007 lasted 12 months, in addition to the training he had received at Fort Hood, Texas.

In 2009, he was deployed to Ramadi, Iraq, where his second tour was spent as an entry control officer guarding points of entry on his base. “The second time I was over there, it was more quiet,” DeBono said. “It just seemed that where I was at it was a little calm. I’m sure it was different for others.”

DeBono’s compassion for student veterans drives his desire to assist others in the college who have had similar experiences to his and to build a stronger support system for student veterans at the college as he finishes his degree.

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