Veteran’s ‘homecoming’ is ongoing quest to forge identity
AURORA — The story of Kevin Anton’s American homecoming has unfolded in progressive chapters: the happy-go-lucky soldier’s return; the first steps toward a civilian career; the sudden leap into family life; the struggle to redefine both himself and the very idea of “home.”
But for the former Army intelligence specialist, who served a tour in Iraq, they’re linked by an underlying theme.
Discipline, he reminds himself, or everything’s lost.
It is how he shoehorns about 64 hours of work at two nursing jobs into his week, how he attends and studies for two college classes and manages to wedge quality time with his fiancée, Edna Ramos, cq and their two young boys into the mix.
“I’ve made something of myself when everybody said I wasn’t supposed to make something of myself,” says Anton, 26, cq who grew up the Los Angeles-born son of Nicaraguan immigrants. “I feel like I’ve come out of the ’hood, fulfilled my call to duty, done something for myself and took advantage of everything the United States of America gave me and my family.”
He realizes that his homecoming has differed significantly — for the better — from many others who returned from war zones, both now and in previous generations. In the jobs he has held at rehabilitation facilities, he has encountered veterans from the Vietnam war whose return from combat met with public hostility.
“They speak about how they weren’t accepted, how they were called ‘baby-killers,’ ” Anton says. He no longer tells them that he, too, is a veteran, for fear they might resent him.
He returned from Iraq unscathed, physically or emotionally, and still recalls his military work as exhilarating and rewarding. He would have re-upped, if not for the pleading of his parents.
With civilian life looming ahead, he shifted his sights to becoming a licensed practical nurse, then worked and took classes at the Community College of Aurora to finish up some credits before transferring to University of Phoenix to pursue his bachelor’s degree.
With the help of military programs like the post-9/11 G.I. bill and VA loans, he has gotten financial assistance for his education and been able to buy a house for his family — Edna, her son Isaiah cq from a previous relationship and Kevin Jr. cq
“It’s a blessing everything worked out that way,” says Anton, who also has reconnected with his Seventh-Day Adventist religious roots. “I’ve been to church a lot more often. I’ve been real thankful.”
Now, his challenges focus on more mundane concerns, like the balancing act of time and money — covering both necessities and family outings to the monster truck show or the Denver Aquarium.
While Edna puts in 20 hours a week as a nurse when she’s not caring for the kids, Anton recently took on a new job with more flexible hours — and kept his old job on a part-time basis. The expanded work time has helped him pay down credit card debt and offer financial assistance to family in L.A.
But it also reinforced the importance of the military discipline that has helped him methodically grind out the work week while handling school as well — he’s currently enrolled in an anatomy and physiology class plus a film study elective.
Meanwhile, he has become something of a role model for Brian Furman, cq a close friend since they met while stationed at Buckley Air Force Base several years ago. And Furman has become a point of reference for Anton’s ability to move ahead with his life.
They both served tours in Iraq and eventually shared an apartment while Furman was still in the Air Force and Anton was a footloose single guy in the waning months of his Army service.
They reunited when Anton rebounded after a short-lived marriage and started to forge a post-military identity.
Furman saw him as an emotional, heart-on-his-sleeve kind of guy struggling to deal with the end of his brief marriage while also dealing anew with the civilian world.
“When you’re still in and you see somebody transitioning out, you almost think it should be easy,” says Furman, 30. cq “It was probably good that I was in and he was getting out, because it helped us see each other’s point of view.”
Furman,who remained in the Air Force, watched Anton enroll at Concorde Career College cq and began to realize how hard his friend worked and how much he was learning in the nursing program.
“I saw him fulfilled, in a way,” Furman says. “And I thought, ‘That’s what I want to do.’ He was an inspiration.”
When he exited the military in 2011, Furman started down the same path. Now, he looks at Anton with admiration at what he’s been able to accomplish both professionally and personally.
“I get chills just thinking about it,” says Furman. “I remember him at his lowest point. And now I see him, how hard he’s working, how he knows who he is and what he wants out of life. I see where he’s at now, and ‘proud’ doesn’t even suffice.”
Still, Anton admits that sometimes he will “look in the rearview mirror” and regard his time in the military wistfully, as something that retains a certain hold over him. He toys with joining the Reserves, but admits that he avoids that conversation with Edna — for now, at least — and remains focused on creating a stable home for the boys.
“I sweep it under the rug,” Anton says of his dilemma, “but at the end of the day, I made the decision to be here and support my family. But I’m 26. There’s a lot more decision-making I have to do.”
The process suggests a more fluid, figurative “homecoming,” influenced by his L.A. childhood, his military coming-of-age, his continuing personal metamorphosis.
“It’s all what made me who I am,” Anton says. “But what defines me is what I have here, in the moment. I never stop moving forward. I never regret anything. This is home now.
“Colorado is home.”
Kevin Simpson: 303-954-1739, firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/ksimpsondp
The Denver Post has followed Kevin Anton since last spring as he adjusted to civilian life. His story and those of other servicemen and -women are on the site AmericanHomecomings.com. This marks the last regular installment about Anton, though The Post will continue to check in on him from time to time. American Homecomings chronicles the lives of returning veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and offers news, support-service information and a place to share photos and memories.