Heading back into the fray
Local businessman Tony Rider heading
It's 2:30 p.m. Monday and the look on the face of Tony Rider is one of peace and contentment. The day's work at his two businesses is nearly completed and soon he'll be going home to his wife and daughters.
His appearance isn't shocking -- it's one you'd expect to find on someone who's worked hard, made the right decisions and carved out a corner of America he can call his own -- but it may not tell the whole story. Beneath the gentle veneer of business owner, employer, husband and father, lies concern because soon he'll have to once again say goodbye to the most important things in his life.
Soon, that look and mentality of everyday citizen living the American dream and taking life as it comes will be transplanted by the thousand-yard stare of a war-time soldier. Soon, the life Rider lives here will have to be compartmentalized and put in check.
"You almost have to phase it out," said Rider. "If you let it get to you, it will take away from your job and that's when people get hurt."
Rider, a Shawnee resident, owns the Mr. Goodcents Subs and Pasta in Bonner Springs, and he also is involved in community activities in Basehor and Linwood.
This won't mark the first time that military service has beckoned Rider to defend life and country in an overseas war. In January, Rider and his unit will depart for training and then deploy for a year's rotation in the Middle East. It's familiar territory for Rider: he also served during Desert Storm in the early 1990s and in the first year of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
But, that doesn't mean it's easier to go, he said.
"This will be the third time so that experience helps," said Rider, a Marine reservist and platoon sergeant in an anti-tank platoon. "But that doesn't make it any easier when you realize what's at stake and what you're leaving behind.
"When I look at my wife, my kids, my restaurants -- that's what makes it difficult."
Same war, same convictions
Rider, who will leave behind two successful restaurants -- he also owns a Mr. Goodcents in Kansas City, Kan. -- his wife, Traci, and three young daughters, including two-month old Hayden, wouldn't risk life and limb for just any reason. The one reason enough to go, however, is simple -- he's a patriot.
His convictions concerning the war haven't changed since day one. Rider said he believes in what America is trying to accomplish in the Middle East.
"I just wish people would see the bigger picture," said Rider of the American voices opposed to the war.
In this post-Sept. 11 era when America has proved vulnerable to enemies willing to trade their lives, "We've got to change our mindset on how we defend our country," Rider said. "There are people that don't like us, that will hurt us, and they've got to be dealt with."
And Rider doesn't believe that now, as things appear to becoming more dangerous in the region, is the time for American forces to pull away. People there are still in need, he said. Iraq remains unstable, he said. But mainly, you don't quit until the job is done.
The deaths of more than 1,000 fighting Americans alone should dictate that U.S. forces finish what it started.
"If you leave before the job is done then their deaths meant nothing," he said. "If we leave now, then what would be saying to their families. What was their service and sacrifice for?"
The war at home
As Rider and his wife, Traci, can attest, wars aren't only fought overseas. The service of America's military leaves thousands of families scrambling to fill the gaps.
A unique aspect to Rider's service is that as a small-business owner, he's essentially leaving behind his livelihood. Last time, Traci was pledged with overseeing operation of the two stores and taking care of the couple's children.
She tackled those tasks quite well, Rider said, but circumstances have now changed. With the new addition to the family, Rider said he's not willing to put his wife and children through the same stress as last time.
"My whole objective is to make things easier for my wife and my kids," Rider said. One way he considered doing that is by simplifying as much of his businesses as he could and by putting more responsibilities on his managers.
However, it's not that easy. Things happen in business: problems occur, employees have issues and turnover happens. It's inevitable, Rider said, and finally he realized "I can't control 10 months -- but when you know this place has to keep functioning, it makes it more difficult."
A solution that Rider has entertained since August, but one he's not entirely favorable towards, is selling either one or both of his restaurants. As of now, he would listen to offers. Rider said his first goal would be to keep both stores, or at least the Bonner Springs location.
"We've worked hard for these businesses," he said. "I don't want to just turn them over.
"We've become involved in the community, in the schools. We've been in this community for nine years. This is my first store. Hopefully, it won't get to (the point of selling the stores). We're going to try and make it work."
Home for the holidays
At the Bonner Springs location, a sign hangs on the door that indicates the restaurant will be closed for the holidays so employees can spend time with their families. Spending time with family is an important notion to Rider, perhaps never more so than this year.
There isn't a more alone feeling than sitting in a foreign country thousands of miles away during the holidays, he said. During those moments, "you just don't realize how much family tradition means to you.
"I tend to think we'll value and cherish this holiday season more than the past," Rider said.
While Rider is spending as much time as he can preparing for his departure, whether that means being with his family or coordinating things at his restaurants, at the end of the day he's faced with this: soon he'll be sent off to war.
And when that happens, he's got to embody what his drill instructors taught him years ago, "that you're a Marine 24 hours a day."
His last tour in the Middle East consisted mostly of providing security for convoys. Rider expects this time around to be different, though. Now, the infantryman expects to be on the ground more often.
"We're there to provide security and stability for the Iraqi people," he said. "The only way to do that is by being mobile and on the ground."
Until he leaves, his mind will be focused on his life at home. Once he departs, however, the 'Marine blinders' go on and he's at the mercy of Uncle Sam and fate.
"What could happen is always in the back of your mind because you know what's at stake," he said. "I'm ready to go and do my job. I'm ready to serve my country."