HOUSTON — Nick Rocha, a former Navy SEAL, is drilling new recruits.
"Ready...GO!" he shouts. But his heart lies with those who have already served, especially their widows left behind.
"We as a country owe it to the members of the service and their families to honor that sacrifice and I think we're not doing enough," Rocha says.
It's a passion that began in Afghanistan where, in 2002, his Navy SEAL buddy, Neal Roberts, was killed. Rocha, who served in Iraq, couldn't shake a battlefield promise to take care of the families.
"I felt a deep obligation to make sure that we honored that promise and kept that commitment to them," he says.
And so he began the United Warriors Survivor's Foundation for the widows of fallen special operations soldiers. They meet twice a year — young, vibrant women whose lives one minute revolved around the military, and the next fell apart.
Emily Munoz lost her husband, Gill.
"It focuses on helping us come back into our own and planning our own lives again in a way that honors our husbands," Munoz says. "I didn't invent military widowhood."
The women are offered seminars on benefits, financial planning, even dating. And while the moms are meeting, Rocha hangs with the younger crowd.
Rocha, talking to 5-year-old Lucas, asks, "You still miss him?"
Lucas replies, "Ah, uh, yeah."
And during those lonely moments, the widows receive comfort baskets and personal notes.
"Receiving the gifts has brought so much more meaning to — not my husband's death — but his life. He would have given me those gifts if he were still here but he's not," Tricia Tarlavsky Kirk says.
It hits home for Rocha. He knows it could have easily been his family left behind.
"I can't look myself in the mirror if I don't continue to help these people and their children," he says.
What started as a small fundraiser has grown into a real need. And Nick Rocha is intent on fulfilling it and keeping that battlefield promise.
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