Veterans of CNY: Robert Braun—US Marine, Gulf War

Melissa Romero 07/22/08More articles

This story is the first in a series entitled “Veterans of CNY.” Each week, Eagle Newspapers will profile a local veteran, one from each of the 15 communities we cover.

Whenever Syracuse native Robert Braun, 42, sits in airport, he notices two things: first, any man or woman dressed in uniform. Second, just how incredibly young they are.
“I was their age and thought I was old and knew everything,” said Braun, who now lives in Baldwinsville. “Because that’s what you do when you’re 18, 19, 20, or 22. And then when you get older you realize you really weren’t that intelligent at that age because you didn’t have any wisdom. You may be book smart but you didn’t have the lifetime experience.”
It’s hard for Braun to see these young adults in uniform because at one time, he was a 19-year-old newly enlisted United States Marine, and someone who wasn’t sure what exactly he wanted to do with his life. He had spent two semesters at a community college before he realized that school was not the right path for him at the time.
“It never came to a point where I wanted to figure out what I wanted to do. I don’t know how anyone can figure that out when they’re 18 or 20. So I decided I liked the military,” Braun said.
And with that thought, Braun enlisted into the U.S. Marine Corps, forgoing the typical college experience in exchange for a military one.

From boot camp to Baghdad
Braun’s boot camp experience was like any other: an enduring, miserable three months of getting acclimated to life in the military. “After a while, it fades how bad it was,” he said with a laugh. “I mean, you’re giving up a lot, you know...but it’s three months of your life and you’re done.”
He still has pictures from his stationing in Okinawa, Japan, or in Switzerland where he trained in the freezing cold, in case he was ever deployed to such a climate. But six years after he had enlisted, Braun found out he was stationed to somewhere quite opposite to that of a snowy, mountain range.
He had just spent some time with his family for Christmas, and a few weeks later, he started the new year in the deserts of Saudi Arabia and Iraq for the Gulf War. By this point, Braun had reached sergeant status, and led a platoon of about 20. For two weeks, Braun and his platoon got acclimated to the desert environment and culture, a place that he would remain until August of that same year.
However, the environment wasn’t what Braun had expected. He recalls the time when it rained 24 hours straight, as he spent the entire day in soaked clothes. “One day it just started raining and I was soaked and refused to put on dry clothes and said, ‘This is gonna stop ‘cuz we’re in the desert,’” he said. “But we always kind of joked, if it ain’t raining we’re not training.”
Braun admits he had a somewhat different type of war experience than most do now in the current wars in Iraq or Afghanistan. He and others stationed in the desert saw little combat action—only a total of about 3 days. “People who are in Afghanistan now, everyday they’re doing their patrols. And they’re doing it for a year to 18 months so they have a much more broader perspective. They’re driving through a city for a year where a bomb could blow up,” he said.
One of the days Braun was actually in combat was his birthday on February 24. He was in the midst of the Ground War in Kuwait, crossing a mind field as he turned 25. “So when people ask, ‘What were you doing on your 25th birthday?’ Well, I was crossing a mind field,” he said laughing. “I was so happy to get to the other side.”

Life after war
Braun returned home to the United States in August, with his career in the Marine Corps. already planned out. He had orders to go to Parris Island, S.C. for two years and then back to Okinawa for a year.
But then Braun received the news that his mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer and his career in the military came to an end. For a while, he lived off the money he had saved during his time in the service, spending time with his family and catching up with old friends.
Essentially, Braun said he was back to square one. “I still wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. At that point I probably would have stayed in the military, if I had different issues,” he said. But he decided to give school a try again, and enrolled in Onondaga Community College.
At OCC he ended up meeting Elaine Zimmerman, who in a few years would become his wife. With a smile on his face he recalls sending her flowers anonymously. They were married a little over two years later.
Braun said he’s noticed more and more men going into the army marrying at 18. “It’s really hard to have a long distance relationship in that situation. In the military you just don’t have a lot of money where you can jump on a plane fly at meet them,” he said. “There will be all those young people getting married at 18. They do because they’re lonely because, you know, you’re far away from all your family.”
Now, Braun and his wife have their own family with son, Greg, a 5-year-old who sometimes asks his dad to pull out his albums, full of pictures from his time in the service.
Braun continues to travel with his new job, as a technical manager for a software company. Life has continued on since his time in the military over 20 years ago. And while he realizes he was just on the cusp of adulthood when he enlisted, he knows at that point in his life, it was probably the best time physically to do so.
“Unfortunately, that is also when you’re at your peak. I realized one day I was getting older when we were playing Frisbee and I went to jump the fence and didn’t make the fence,” he said, shaking his head in embarrassment. “You know, I used to be able to make that fence.”

If you know of a veteran who would like to share their story, contact us at shall@cnylink.com or 434-8889 ext. 334.

CATEGORY: General Society
TAGS: veteran, gulf war, baldwinsville
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