On Veterans Day, the greatest wound for many is loss of purpose
Capt. Kyle Snook, a third-generation soldier, only wanted to be a platoon leader – a dream shattered by a roadside bomb in Kandahar. Now, he's trying to find meaning after the Army.
For Capt. Kyle Snook, military service runs in the family.Skip to next paragraph
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His grandfather, retired Col. Robert Gerard, served in the Korean and Vietnam Wars. Snook’s parents, retired Cols. Kathleen and Scott Snook, were both members of West Point’s class of 1980, where his mother was among the first graduating class of women. And three of his four siblings have attended the US Military Academy – including an older brother who is training to be a special forces officer.
But on this day, the Afghanistan war veteran is sitting on a bench in Boston, wearing a different kind of uniform: a Harvard Business School cap, zip-up sweatshirt, and jeans. Two years ago, he stepped on a roadside bomb in Kandahar, ending his Army career.
Now, he’s hoping his two years at Harvard are enough to help him rebuild a new life. After all, for someone who grew up dreaming only of being a platoon leader, life after the Army was never a part of the plan.
On Veteran’s Day, America pauses to honor the selflessness and sacrifice of those who have served. As a decade of war in Afghanistan and Iraq wind down, the mental impact of that service has become clearer. For the first time, the military suicide rate is higher than that for civilians, forcing the Pentagon to reshape how it cares for those affected by the stress and trauma of fighting a war without boundaries.
For Mr. Snook, doctors say the bomb blast that injured his foot will prevent him from ever running again. But the mental toll of having to leave the only job he ever wanted is, in many ways, just as acute. In that way, he represents the thousands of veterans for whom today – like many other days – is simply another chance to discover new meaning in a life dramatically changed by the bonds of war and brotherhood.
“For years, I woke up everyday because I knew there were 30 guys waiting for me at work, and we were trying to get ready to fight a uniform-less, hiding enemy,” Snook says. “I felt such deep purpose in my life, and now I don’t feel any purpose at all.”
It was Sept. 26, 2010, that the course of his life changed. As a part of President Obama’s troop surge to southern Afghanistan, Snook’s platoon was tasked with clearing an area where Taliban were operating.
That Sunday was to be the beginning of a 10-day mission, but within the first few hours, his platoon came under attack. Amid the confusion, while dodging heavy fire, he sprinted toward a wall to take cover. When he planted his right foot behind the wall, Snook says he felt the ground compress. The explosion launched him nearly 15 feet in the air, shattered his right foot and heel, and scattered shrapnel throughout his right leg.
Ahead lay 18 months of therapy – both physical and mental – to get him to where he is today, a student at one of the most prestigious business colleges in the country. But behind lay a life’s purpose blown apart amid the shrapnel.
Kathleen Snook says she never wanted any of her sons or daughters to feel pressured to go to West Point. But Kyle was different. “Kyle was the only one that indicated all along that he wanted to be in the Army,” she says.