Puerto Rico native First Lieutenant Ernesto Rodriguez enlisted in the Marine Corps in 2002 as an opportunity to serve, see the world, and better his English. In 2004, the year after the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom, he was married, and in January 2005, his first child, Sebastian, was born. Later that year he was deployed to Iraq.

RodriguezExtra1While he loved life in the military with the security and stability it offered, and welcomed the opportunity to put his training to use, being at war limited his contact with his family and he missed them immensely. Having seen other service members watch their children “grow up in pictures,” he was determined not to let that happen to him.

In 2009, resolved not to spend any more time away from his family, which now included his daughter, Elsasofia, Ernesto retired from the Marines.

Returning home, he found the life he arrived to was not the same one he had left behind before going off to war. His children barely knew him, steady employment was difficult to find, he and his wife separated, and for a period of time he was homelessness. His life was in a tailspin.

Ernesto came to StoryCorps with Sebastian (pictured together above), 11, to talk for the first time about what it was like for him to go off to war, and his attempts to keep his family together after his return.

Originally aired June 17, 2016, on NPR’s Morning Edition.