The explosion threw Robert Cannon off his feet and slammed him into a concrete wall. The enemy had slung an IRAM into Robert’s base in southern Iraq, a propane tank with rockets duct-taped to it, and the concussion from the blast tore through the silence of the night.
With blood trickling down his forehead, Robert stood up. And he laughed.
Robert’s ability to laugh at a life-and-death situation was part of coping with the stress of combat during his army deployment in Iraq.
Others that night were not so fortunate. “After the initial shock wore off, your training kicks in. I’m a certified combat lifesaver, and I went to see who was hurt, who was okay, and started putting tourniquets on people who needed them.”
Honoring Lifesaving Skills
Robert’s job was IT support for Army intelligence, as well as handling other duties such as supervising and tracking all intelligence assets, or supervising all incoming flights of C130s and Black Hawk helicopters in and out of his base. But it was his lifesaving skills that were recognized with two citations.
He earned the first citation for actions he took one night at base. Robert was in a housing unit when he heard a firearm discharge. Another solider, despondent over troubles with his wife at home, had attempted suicide. Robert and his squad leader stabilized him until the medics arrived. His actions enabled the soldier to be evacuated to Germany, where his family was able to see him before he succumbed to his injuries.
The second citation came from actions he took when he and his squad encountered a wrecked Humvee, separated from its convoy. The vehicle had rolled over, severely injuring the solider in the turret. Again, Robert’s training took over and he and his team established a perimeter and called in a medevac. All of the men survived. For both of these actions, Robert received an Army Achievement Medal.
Adjusting to Civilian Life
Robert says you learn to live with the stress of war, but it’s hard to adapt when the deployment is over and soldiers reconnect with civilian life.
“It’s a huge issue because as soldiers you go over there and that level of stress becomes the normal. When you come back to the states, the worst thing you might find is someone cutting you off in traffic, and it doesn’t compute, and you don’t know how to deal with the lower level of stress.”
When Robert came home he suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which affects up to 20 percent of veterans returning from Iraq, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
“I didn’t have the smoothest transition from soldier to civilian. I bounced between a lot of jobs, like 14 to 16 in the past four or five years.”
Establishing a New Career
Robert got treatment for his PTSD. He was hired at SYKES Boise in January of 2017, and he says it’s a good fit for him. “I really seem to mesh with the goals here. We’ve got a wonderful team, and we try our hardest to work together, to support each other. And it’s a lot of fun.”
Robert has been thriving at SYKES. He started as an agent, and after three months was promoted to flex OMD agent. Three months later he was promoted into the IT department, as an end-user support specialist. He loves it. “My passion and my heart has always been in the IT world.”
He also gives back to the veteran community, and has worked with the Veteran’s Day parade in Boise, providing IT support to organizers.
Veteran’s Day provides an opportunity for Robert to reflect on his and his fellow soldiers’ service. “The statistics that the Army gave me was that out of everyone in the U.S. population, only 10 percent could pass the requirements to join the military, and of that 10 percent, only 1 percent will even try.
“So, if you see someone you know is a veteran, go up and shake their hand and say ‘thank you. I’m free because of you.’ It doesn’t matter if they’re a combat veteran or not, if they served in war time, if they served in peace time, it doesn’t matter. You’re thanking them for what they were willing to do.”