Vet's Children's Book Inspired by Wounded Comrade

The story of Scott Mann and Romulo Camargo, combat veterans who fought together with the 7th Special Forces Group in Afghanistan, is one of friendship, hope and the unbreakable bonds of those who serve.

It involves a horrific war wound, a children's book and a prized motorcycle.

And people who can handle the hardest of times.

Early in the war in Afghanistan, Mann, 43, began to notice that the toll of long deployments was often heaviest not on those leaving, but those left behind.

"A lot of military families were dealing with the aspects of long deployments, particularly the young kids," said Mann, who lives in Brandon with his wife and three sons. "There just didn't seem to be a lot out there to deal with the trials and tribulations of long separation when a mom or dad had to go away."

Mann said his wife, Monty, had a positive approach for when he was gearing up for deployment.

"She would emphasize a shared commitment, a shared sense of mission in the deployment," said Mann. "Rather than just gut through it and deal with it, she would encourage the boys to understand that what I was doing over there was really part of a larger sacrifice and that their sacrifice was a huge part of that."

Having his children become part of the mission gave Mann an idea.

"That shared commitment really inspired me to look at putting together a kids' book," said Mann, "where a mom would be talking to her son and explaining what his dad is doing over there and why it matters and, more importantly, why the role of sacrifice in that child matters so much."

That was back in 2004. But constant deployments for the Army lieutenant colonel and other life realities took precedence. Then there was the issue of finding a publisher. But Special Forces troops don't let things stand in their way and finally, in September, Mann put out "Daddy Keeps Us Free."

Written by Mann, illustrated by Nick Pannell and published by PublishAmerica, the book is about a little boy who misses his daddy and is angry that he went away to war.

"I cross my arms, stick out my lip and say, 'That isn't fair. I miss my daddy very much, And I don't want him to be there.

"With an Eskimo kiss and a gentle squeeze, Mommy asks, 'Sweetie, don't you see? Your daddy is serving over there, so all of us can be free.' "

In addition to writing the book, Mann and his wife created a nonprofit foundation called Patriot Families. The idea, he said, is to sell the book to raise money to get as many books as possible into the hands of the families of those deploying. And to use the author's proceeds to help wounded troops and their families during the arduous road to recovery.

Mann, sitting in a conference room at James A. Haley Veterans' Hospital, said he was inspired to help the wounded in large measure by his good buddy, Chief Warrant Officer Romulo Camargo.

As Mann talks about his book and foundation, Camargo guides his motorized wheelchair into the room, accompanied by his wife, Gaby.

Mann and Camargo became friends after meeting in Afghanistan in 2005 while serving in the same battalion. Eventually, as happens in the military, the two went down different paths. Camargo stayed with his unit while Mann transferred to Tampa.

Then Camargo went out on patrol Sept. 16, 2008. And everything changed.

"We were conducting combat operations in south central Afghanistan," said Camargo, a Green Beret whose friends call him Romy. "My unit came under an ambush and I sustained a gunshot wound to the back of the neck, paralyzing me from the shoulders down."

As he speaks, Camargo tilts his head back and forth every 30 seconds or so. The bullet that confined him to a wheelchair has also forced him to breathe with ventilator. A device called a diaphragmatic pacing stimulator allows him to detach from a ventilator for hours at a time. The head tilting is now an integral part of his breathing.

The Camargos, who live in New Tampa, have come to Haley for Romy's daily, intensive therapy. The goal, said Gaby Camargo, is ultimately to have her husband walk again.

Camargo, 36, smiles broadly when recalling how Mann presented the first copy of "Daddy Keeps Us Free" to his family.

The Camargos have two children -- a girl, 16, and a boy, 4 -- who have experienced their own ups and downs of parental deployment.

"Boy, it was an honor for him to give us the first book," Camargo said. "As I read it I thought it was a pretty good -- well, pretty great idea. This book can inform the children on, you know, us being deployed and not being around for a while."

Camargo is deeply touched that Mann has been a constant by his side since the injury. And he liked the book so much that he came up with a surprise of his own for his friend.

Unable to use his prized 2004 Harley Davidson Spring, Camargo decided to raffle off the motorcycle. He used half the proceeds, $10,000, to help those, like Mann, who stood by him during his recovery.

Camargo donated $2,000 to the foundation Mann set up in part to help the wounded, like Camargo.

The donation, Camargo said, is to buy more books to put in the hands of the families of 7th Special Forces Group before their next deployment.

Mann said he is also working on two more books, one called "Mommy Keeps Us Free" and one about how children cope with a wounded parent. "That will be based on Romy and his family," he said.

Just because Camargo sold his Harley doesn't mean he has given up riding.

Izzy Izquierdo, one of Camargo's Special Forces teammates, owns Lefty Brothers Cycles, a Destin bike shop that at the time was located near Fort Bragg in North Carolina. Izquierdo and three other soldiers who served with Camargo customized a Rigid motorcycle. It now has a specialized sidecar, allowing Camargo to once again pursue his passion.

You might see the tan bike zooming around Ybor City today as Camargo celebrates Veterans Day with a special driver -- retired Air Force Maj. Gen. David Scott, the former deputy director of the Center for Special Operations at U.S. Special Operations Command.

Living the motto that the troops never leave comrades behind, either on the battlefield or when they return home with injuries, Scott said he is honored to drive Camargo around on their frequent motorcycle journeys.

"As a two-star general, I was pointing pencils while guys like Romy jumped into harm's way and they got hurt," said Scott. "This is my chance to do something for guys like him."

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