Ricardo Quiles-rosa has been in the military for 13 years. He lives in Northeast Philadelphia with his wife and two children. When he's not serving his country, he serves his city as police officer. He's been to Iraq twice. As part of our Impact of War series, Jen Howard reports on the relationship between his life abroad and his life at home.
Photos from the top: Soldiers boxing at Abu Ghraib, Ricardo Quiles-rosa with fellow soldiers next to the truck that would later be hit by a suicide bomber, Ricardo Quiles-rosa with local children in Iraq
Ask Ricardo Quiles-Rosa about the military, and the first thing he'll do is tell you a story. Like this one, when he was coaxed to compete in a boxing match at Abu Ghraib with a fellow soldier.
Quiles-Rosa: " I just remember like I'm dancing around and I'm shuffling my feet and I'm like wow! Man, I've got some moves! I've even throwing a few jabs. And then it was tweedy birds... I mean, when else are you going to get knocked out in Abu Ghraib? Once in a lifetime".
That's what most of his stories sound like: animated tales of fun and camaraderie. And yeah, Quiles-Rosa's a fun guy. But it's more than that.
Q-R " So many guys were over there too, well, their job was to be in the war. And war is an unnatural and pretty horrible, horrible thing. And it felt good to be part of something positive in that. Being in medical I could always say I'm just here to help. Just here to help, man" .
Quiles-Rosa is a medic. On his first deployment to Iraq he was based in Fallujah. He'd travel around on convoys with CAGs - that's civil affairs groups.
Q-R " We used to go give out Barbie dolls and soccer balls. They used to always tease the CAG guys -- called us the Barbie-doll brigade" .
Often, Quiles-rosa would be the only medic assigned to a convoy. Which was the case one Sunday morning when he was called to ride along on a last-minute trip to Karma, a neighboring town. It was supposed to be his day off.
Q-R "I just grabbed the bag that was sitting right next to my bed. I don't even think I looked through it. I just picked it up and got on the truck. I thought it was only going to be a couple of hours".
He was right--it was a short trip. But he never got to Karma. Quiles-Rosa was riding in the bed of a truck with his good friend, Sean Locker. They got rammed by a suicide bomber in a car. Everything around them exploded.
Q-R "When I think back now it happens like in flashes. I can remember - there's that loud- a high-pitched squeal in your ear - kind of like when you finish a concert. You know, that 'errrrrrrrrr.' And there was smoke all around. And I was lying down on the ground. And I remember locker was sitting on this bench, and he looked down at me and it was like in a dream. And he was mouthing the words like are you ok? Are you ok?"
Quiles-rosa was mostly ok. In shock, but not physically harmed. Locker was not ok. His eye was dislocated from its socket, and his arm was amputated. Other soldiers started running over to help.
Behind him, Quiles-rosa noticed that the explosion had also ignited a civilian car with two Iraqis inside.
Q-R "I was like, we've got to help them. And the Lieutenant Colonel slapped me on top of the helmet and was like get your - (expletive) - back into that other vehicle. We've got to take care of Locker. Let's move! Let's move! And I remember looking back and now like I think about it and it was these two people - they were burning in this car.
On the way back, Quiles-rosa says he struggled through his mental fog to help his friend.
Q-R " I remember I was just pulling things out of the bag. Like, pulling out bandages and dropping them. And pulling out eye patches and dropping them. In my head at the time, I was thinking well, I'm setting everything out. But later on they said you looked like a clown. Just pulling stuff up and throwing it over your shoulder".
When the truck reached the medical center back on base, Quiles-rosa says he watched as Locker picked up his own arm and headed inside. He's never spoken to Locker again. He says he wouldn't know what to say. He also thinks about the burning civilian car that he had to leave behind. Later reports say it was a man and his young daughter inside.
Q-R " I have kids and uh, sometimes you think back and the person that was in the car and it becomes a little kid. And then becomes a baby. Or it becomes something awful" .
It was too much to bear. Quiles-rosa vowed to never be a medic again. He says it was too painful knowing that he couldn't do enough -- that no matter how hard he tried he couldn't help everyone with everything.
Then, his contract ran out. He was free. But he also wasn't. He'd go to local bars, trying to relax and enjoy his civilian life.
Q-R " I want to have friends outside of the military. And you can't--somehow you just can't connect with people. They talk about things like buying new houses and buying new cars. And all of it just seems like -- you just don't know what to say to it. It made me really miss the kind of camaraderie and the kind of friendships that you have in the military" .
Quiles-rosa says he started playing internal mind games. He'd call the recruiters office but then quickly hang up. He'd drive by the office but wouldn't go in.
Q-R " I finally got up the nerve and the recruiter was like 'yeah, we get it all the time. How long you been out - 6, 7 months?' And I was like 'yeah, 6 months.' And he was like 'yeah, we can get you back in".'
And so he did. Quiles-rosa knew the risks he was taking, and did end up going to Iraq for another deployment. And did amass more stories of camaraderie. He has two more years on his current contract.
Q-R " Eventually, my name will get put back in to the hat. And somebody somewhere will need someone and they'll come up and ask me like they did last time -- they'll just say are you ready and willing to go? And then you just say yes. I am ready and willing to go" .
Also like last time, he hopes it will be worth the risk.
I'm Jen Howard, WHYY News.
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The Impact of War at Home
About 4,000 members of the Pennsylvania National Guard's 56th Stryker Brigade Combat Team are expected to deploy to Iraq later this year. Hundreds of these men and women live in the Philadelphia area. They include business owners, computer programmers, teachers, students and cooks, and they are wives, husbands, and parents. As the soldiers gear up for war, their family members prepare for their absence. Over the next year, in conjunction with National Public Radio and three other Pennsylvania public radio stations, WHYY will tell the stories of these soldiers, their families and how they cope emotionally, and financially, with the absence of their loved ones.
Additional coverage on the effects of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts on soldiers and their families can be found at War Torn - a series by The New York Times. The articles and multimedia tell the stories of veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan who have committed killings, or been charged with them, after coming home.