Retired Solana Beach Marine Corps major helps veterans recover 'visible and invisible' injuries

Nick Marcolongo, his wife, LIsa, and son Rocco are seen on the Sesame Street set, which Nico said "was almost surreal.  There I was sitting on the steps at 123 Sesame Street, walking around Mr. Hooper's store and climbing in Oscar's trash can."
Nick Marcolongo, his wife, LIsa, and son Rocco are seen on the Sesame Street set, which Nico said "was almost surreal. There I was sitting on the steps at 123 Sesame Street, walking around Mr. Hooper's store and climbing in Oscar's trash can."

By Kathy Day

Nico Marcolongo is going back to Sesame Street – well, sort of.

The Solana Beach resident and retired Marine Corps major and his family were featured on the April 2009 prime time show “Military Families Near and Far,” in one segment of “Talk, Listen, Connect.” The multimedia outreach program that includes TV segments, magazines and support materials is aimed at helping children and their families cope with deployments and injuries – visible and invisible.

In one segment, in which Marcolongo says “I lost my smile,” his son Rocco – then 3 — talks about his daddy crying a lot after he got home and then adds, “My daddy is still in Iraq.”

It was a revealing moment for the tough Marine.

“With physical injuries, it’s very obvious – you get on it right away,” he said, but with “an invisible wound you don’t understand what is happening to you.”

Now manager of the Challenged Athlete Foundation’s Operation Rebound, the La Jolla High school graduate, his wife Lisa – also a San Diego native — and Rocco shared the story of his invisible scars from post-traumatic stress disorder. He calls it post-traumatic stress injury, saying if you lost a limb “you wouldn’t call it amputee disorder.”

On April 18, he will participate in a conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., when Sesame Street unveils its findings from “Talk, Listen, Connect.” He will be answering questions from the perspective of an injured service member and how the findings helped his family, and particularly his son.

Moderated by Bob Woodruff, the ABC newsman injured while covering the war in Iraq, and his wife Lee, the program also will include military medical and Defense Department personnel, researchers and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Joining them at the end will be Sesame Workshop’s senior VP for outreach and educational practices — and a skit featuring bilingual Muppet Rosita, who Marcolongo says with a smile, is on his speed-dial list.

“Sesame Street’s work has been groundbreaking on a national scale,” he said in an interview on April 2. “It creates a context for children to understand … it’s an injury, they still love you.”

A veteran of 12 years in the Marines who served two tours in Iraq, Marcolongo said he first realized he was suffering from “PTSI” after his second deployment to Iraq ended in 2007. Acknowledging that he felt depressed and anxious – “like the world got really small” – he said when he realized he wasn’t feeling any love for his wife Lisa or 3-year-old son and felt more committed to the military, he knew something was wrong.

It took him a while to get his head around his injury, but when he did he set out to find a solution. Marcolongo, a major who served with the Marines Regimental Combat Team 7 in Western Anbar, put an ad in the newspaper seeking a support group for military officers facing similar issues. But it was four months before anyone responded and that person was an enlisted man. He knew then, he said, that he wasn’t alone.

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