BOSTON (CBS) – Military service is in Bob Barlow’s DNA. He served in the U.S. Air Force and the Air Force National Guard.
His father and grandfather served in the U.S. Army. An uncle and cousins also served. He grew up with a sense of duty. He told WBZ’s Lisa Hughes, “It was always—you need to be part of your community. You need to be part of your country. In your community, you give where you can. You help where you can. Make sure to make that a priority.”
Right now, he’s helping raise money for the DAV 5K. The 2018 race, to be held this Saturday (Nov. 10) on Castle Island will raise money for the Disabled American Veterans, a group helping vets navigate health care, benefits and more. Bob—whose wife Stacie, daughter Reese and son Jake also participate in the race– says it has become his personal way to give back.
Contrary to what many people think, the DAV doesn’t just help vets wounded in combat. Bob served in Iraq as part of a combat communications squadron. Members were sent in during the build-up to Operation Iraqi Freedom. They were responsible for setting up everything troops would need to communicate once they arrived—internet, phones, radios, fax, etc.
Days before flying to Iraq, Bob and Stacie were married. They’d been together for ten years and had planned a wedding that was upended, temporarily, by Bob’s deployment. “She said, ‘You are not leaving for war without us being married.’” Bob explained they were leaving in two weeks. Stacie promised to take care of it. “We got married in her mother’s living room,” Bob remembers, smiling.
And by pure luck, the squadron was back in less than a year. Bob called all the wedding vendors who were happy to pick up where they had left off to make sure Bob and Stacie had the wedding they had dreamed of. “I talked to everyone—guests included—and we’re having our wedding,” he said. “So we got married again.”
Bob and Stacie bought a home in Norwell. With two small children, Bob built a mortgage business (MBA Mortgage) and began to grow the business. He describes himself as a sports fanatic—playing volleyball, flag football, softball and developing a love for mountain biking. He helped the DAV build its charity golf tournament. He supported the organization but never assumed he would need it. After all, he had returned from Iraq without any injuries. “I really had no idea what the VA was willing to do for me. It had never crossed my mind. I always assumed that I could take care of myself. And I didn’t want to use VA benefits if I didn’t need to.”
But the need came on April 9, 2015. Bob was with friends in Key West, Florida. “We were in and out of the water. And then, ironically, on our last dip, my buddy jumped in in front of me. I jumped over him. I went over headfirst-ish and hit my head on a rock. It wasn’t a big hit.”
But he knew, partly based on the sound of the impact, that something terrible had happened. “The sound and being underwater was very serene. Everything I thought of while I was underwater could have taken 15 minutes up here. But it took 30 seconds.” Bob was paralyzed. His friend pulled him out of the water. He was hospitalized in Miami. And, at great expense, he soon flew home to Massachusetts and the VA Hospital in West Roxbury.
He was in the hospital for nine months. “The veterans hospital and the DAV—all the parts that came together to help—all of it was a sense of relief after his accident,” Stacie recalls. “The people who were there to help you step-by-step and to guide you through some of those difficult times. It was pretty amazing..”
Since then, the DAV has been a constant source of support. “They helped us understand our new normal and start to live our lives again.”
The DAV also helps Bob with access to new technology. The day WBZ set up to interview Bob at home, he was using eyeglasses with a sensor that allowed him to call up photos on his computer and run programs. He’s also trying out a new wheelchair that would raise Bob to the height of a person walking next to him which, he says, would be huge. “People are like, what’s the big deal? Well, I tell you, the first time I was at height with the rep, the wheelchair rep, and we made eye contact… it was emotional.”
He also dreams of adding a robotic arm so that he can throw a ball to his kids. “Stuff like that…connects you back to your world. Physicality is a huge part of raising kids. So… it gives me something.”
Before then, Bob and his family are committed to giving back. Bob’s MBA Mortgage team was the top DAV 5K fundraising group in 2017. This year, he’s put together a 16-person team. His daughter will walk with him. His wife and son will run the race together. His parents, friends and colleagues are also running to support an organization that helps the Barlows—and other vets’ families—so much. “Seeing a lot of different things you wish you could have corrected or helped. Now we get to. I may not be the expert on how to do that. But I know how to raise funds. So I’ll do that all day long.”
A thousand people are signed up for this year’s DAV 5K and anyone interested in participating can register online or at Castle Island in South Boston on Saturday morning before the 10:00 a.m. start.
Bob can’t help but smile when he thinks about last year’s race. Reese, who was five years-old at the time, started the 5K walking next to Bob’s chair. When they crossed the finish line, she was asleep on his lap. “Sprint. Run. Walk. Ride. Ride your daddy. However you’ve got to do it.”