Returning veteran moves from work as ‘intel specialist’ to nurse and family man
Gently gripping the 10-month-old’s hands, Kevin Anton helps his son balance on wobbly legs and take halting steps that soon – very soon – he will be taking on his own.
Anton, finally relaxing after a week-long forced march through college exams, a PowerPoint presentation on medieval medicine and overnight shifts working at a Denver rehab hospital, revels in the family time. At 25, a little more than two years after his discharge from the Army, he appears to have the whole package: Nice suburban house, devoted fiancée, two adorable children and a couple of dogs to keep things interesting.
But his post-military reinvention remains a challenging work in progress.
It’s not that he returned from the Army with the physical or emotional damage so many of his fellow soldiers did. Quite the contrary: His 10-month tour in Iraq, where he was an intel specialist, left him energized from a job tracking down bad guys – so-called “high-value individuals” he pursued mostly in adrenaline-charged night missions.
“I never really got shot at,” Anton says, “because my whole mission was to go catch everybody off guard. Getting shot at first was not our agenda.”
He adapted well to military life and rose quickly, leaving the Army in 2009 as a sergeant and shifting to the inactive reserve. He would have re-upped. But he let his enlistment run out and launched the transition back to civilian life at the urging of his parents, Nicaraguan immigrants who had moved to the Los Angeles area decades ago, in the midst of their native country’s political strife.
There was a certain irony in this. The military was where Anton had sought refuge after an altercation with his father and older brother – an actual fight that erupted when they confronted him about some questionable lifestyle choices. The incident left him battered and bruised. He resolved to leave family behind and find his own way, to yank out his California roots and take a new path.
Over the course of his four years in the Army, he repaired his relationship with his dad and, when his parents begged him not to put them through the worry of another hitch and likely overseas deployment, he couldn’t say no.
But he needed an alternative.
“A lot of vets lose their edge,” Anton says. “They come out and have no game plan.”
By the time his enlistment ended, he was stationed with the 743rd Military Intelligence Battalion at Buckley Air Force Base. When he considered his career transition, he looked at one of his older brothers – a Marine who had shifted his focus to the medical industry and become an X-ray technician.
Anton decided to try nursing. He enrolled at Concorde Career College in Aurora and began a 13-month course to become a licensed practical nurse. “The longest 13 months ever,” he recalls. “Nursing school is no joke.”
But he also realized that the career appealed to him.
“Closer to the end, there was a lot of clinical work,” he says. “And it started growing on me. I was working with people who needed help. You can appreciate life more after you leave a hospital or a nursing home. It was an eye-opener for me.”
So was his return to civilian life. His patience was short. The military experience had shifted his frame of reference for everyday life. He found himself annoyed by people’s reactions to mundane inconveniences.
“Coming back home, I was very complacent, and a little angry,” Anton says. “You come back home, you see people whine about little things. (In Iraq) we were living the desert life. You don’t have your family. The guy next to you is your family.”
Meanwhile, he struggled to get on his feet after a brief marriage ended. Once the divorce was final, he turned his attention to a lab partner at Concorde – 25-year-old Edna Ramos. They had worked at arms length, just friends.
Anton wanted something more.
“I didn’t see anything else but friendship,” Edna says now. “Then it was a matter of accepting that he’s always going to be there.”
They were on parallel career paths to earn a bachelor of science in nursing. From there, Anton thinks he might want to train to become a flight nurse. Edna aspires to be a midwife.
It wasn’t long before they were engaged and moved into a home in Aurora together, along with 4-year-old Isaiah, her son from a previous relationship. But things took an unexpected turn about a month later, when Edna learned she was pregnant.
She felt frightened, sorry, guilty because she didn’t think this was what Anton wanted.
“But I was sure that day,” he says, “that we’d be together forever.”
Again, Anton found his father a touchstone for his preparation for the next phase of his life – this time in a good way. They talked often on the phone, with Carlos Anton reinforcing all the good things to come from fatherhood. His words had a calming effect on his son.
Last July, as Edna began what seemed destined to be a long labor at the hospital, Anton returned home to change clothes and grab some breakfast. Around noon, he got a phone call that the baby had decided not to wait.
Anton jumped in his car, turned on the flashing hazard lights and pounded on the accelerator. He arrived at the hospital just in time to deliver his son.
“It was breathtaking to hold him,” he says.
“I didn’t see,” adds Edna wryly. “I was screaming.”
The arrival of Kevin Jr. changed everything. Edna, who works part-time at an assisted living facility, put her higher education on hold while Anton finishes credits at Community College of Aurora and prepares to transfer them this spring to the University of Phoenix, where he plans to complete his bachelor’s degree – all on the G.I. Bill.
In some ways, Anton has never left the Army – or the Army has never left him. In the medical field, he sees similarities to military life. The well-defined hierarchy. The sense of duty. The uniform itself.
“I feel like a super hero,” he says, “when I put on my scrubs.”
Every so often, he thinks about what it would be like to rejoin the Army, maybe sign on as an officer this time. But he knows the strain it would put on family life, and he lets it go — for the moment.
Kevin Anton is a committed family man, on the road to a promising career. But it’s Army discipline that helps him power through finals week and the overnight shifts that segue into fitful naps in his car outside the community college before his morning class.
Mowing the yard, he wears his combat boots.
“It’s how he functions,” Edna says. “He’s always been a very independent person. But I think with the military, he gained confidence in himself. He’ll always be a military man.”