But respect wasn’t what Robert was after. What he wanted, more than anything, was to be a soldier.
Growing up, the military had always been mentioned by his parents as an option for all of their sons. All four boys, who range in age from 18 to 11, grew up with an appreciation for the military. The Metzings have a rich history in the Armed Forces, with several relatives having served in one branch or another going all the way back to the Spanish-American War.
“We would sit down and talk about what [Robert] wanted to do with his life, and joining the Army came up often,” Eileen said. “We all thought it would be good for him, so we definitely supported his decision from the beginning. Once he got injured, though, I don’t think anyone knew what would happen. But he was so strong. He told us not to worry. He kept saying, ‘I’ll get through this.’”
By Christmas, a little more than a month since the injury, his foot was still severely swollen and frozen in place in a walking cast. In addition, he had developed a case of cellulitis, a type of staph infection, as a result of the sprain. He was well on his way to losing more than 40 pounds, and his amazed doctors told him it was the worst sprain they’d ever seen.
But still, he pressed on, learning “three-point” push-ups with his left foot elevated, devouring whatever medical information the doctors would teach him and working his way up to Platoon Guard overseeing several other recruits.
Months passed and he had succeeded in convincing everyone at Fort Jackson that he had a bright future as a soldier—everyone but his doctors.
“The doctor told him, ‘I can’t do anymore for you,’ and he recommended surgery,” said Ted. “Obviously, [Robert] was a little leery of that. He got a second opinion from another doctor with a background in sports medicine who proposed a different method of treatment and gave him two weeks to improve. If that didn’t work, he was going to be discharged.”
Two weeks later, Robert Metzing was on his way to recovery.
“He pushed and he pushed, and he made it,” Ted continued. “I don’t know that he ever had that kind of motivation in him. And I certainly don’t think he knew he had it. But he wanted this. He saw it as his job. They talk about the soldier’s creed, ‘I must complete my mission.’
This was his mission.
“You can’t help but be proud of him.”
While both Eileen and Ted, a cost accounting manager for a defense contractor in Manhattan, always preached the benefits of serving in the military to their sons, neither knew how much it would eventually mean to their firstborn.
“He’s always been a great kid, but he never really knew where he fit in, he never knew what he wanted to do,” said Ted. “He saw the military as an opportunity to learn about himself, and I really think he has. To see him beam and to see the pride he has in himself is really something to see.
He really bought into the ‘team’ mentality down there and he knew it was something to be a part of. That’s what kept him going. And the military was what brought it out of him.”
Robert, who was unable to be interviewed for this story, now has what his mother refers to as a “functional” foot and is learning to live with the constant pain in his foot.
At 6-foot-4, he’s down from more than 220 pounds to a wispy 185, but as a graduate of Basic Training, he’s moved on to Fort Sam Houston in Texas, where he’s in the midst of a 15-week EMT program. Eventually, he will become a certified paramedic before beginning a 44-week program that will make him a licensed nurse.
Though currently blinded by their pride, both his mother and father say that with the ongoing war in Iraq, it’s difficult to think about where he will go once his training is completed.
“Are we concerned about what’s going on? Of course we are, we’re his parents,” Ted said slowly, fighting back tears. “They rah-rah him down there, so he’s looking forward to going to ‘play in the sandbox’ in the Middle East. But we’re worried about him. He’s our son. But with the world the way it is right now, maybe people need to hear a story like Robert’s to understand that the military isn’t evil. It’s an important job, but it’s also a way to find out and learn a lot about yourself.
“It’s done wonders for our son.”