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"We hope, and we pray": Tortorella's son following his passion

by Rob Mixer / Columbus Blue Jackets

John and Christine Tortorella’s 25-year-old son, Dominick (“Nick” for short) currently spends his days in some of the world’s most hostile and dangerous environments.

Nick Tortorella is a member of the elite U.S. Army 75th Ranger Regiment, a unit known as one of the most skilled special operations strike forces in the world. Recognizable by their distinct tan berets, the 75th Ranger Regiment is comprised of “highly trained, experienced, motivated and disciplined men of action.”

When you ask John about his son, he lights up as if you’ve flipped a switch, and ready to walk you through Nick’s life and how he got to be where he is today.

It began in Tampa more than 10 years ago after John, then head coach of the Lightning, won the Stanley Cup in 2004. Nick, a high school sophomore at the time, tagged along with his dad on many visits around the city with the Cup in tow – and they made an instant connection with the folks at MacDill Air Force Base.

The Tortorellas spent as much time as they could with those families and brought the Cup around quite often (they had the unfortunate luxury of the 2004-05 lockout, giving them some added time with it), and bonded with those in the United States Special Operations Command headquartered at MacDill.

During that time, John said, Nick’s burning desire to serve in the military became fortified.

After high school, Nick began his post-secondary education and began getting serious about enlisting. His parents wanted him to finish school first, but after getting his Associate’s degree from the John Jay School of Criminal Justice in Manhattan, Nick initiated the process of pursuing his passion.

“Nick wanted to make a difference. He wanted to help and he wanted to serve. That’s what he was determined to do,” John said. “He had other options. Nick said to me once: ‘You know, there are some people that have no options and they have to serve, but I have options and I want to serve with them.’ And that’s how it started.

“We never saw it coming. To get involved with the 75th Ranger Regiment, we really didn’t see that coming at all. That’s what he wanted to do.”

The Tortorella family (Nick on the left) is active in supporting animal welfare.

Those emotions of hope and pride are what every parent covets, and they’re usually born from their children doing something they care deeply about. The Tortorellas have accepted his decision and are proud that he’s able to live out a dream, even if it’s one that means spending time in the world’s most volatile environments is included in the job description.

They think about him every day, praying for not only his safety but the safety of those in his Regiment. Between deployments, the Tortorella family has come to know many of the families in Nick’s Regiment and find themselves united by a sense of pride, a five-letter word that they’ve found it impossible to understate.

“As parents, we couldn’t be prouder – not just of Nick, but of all the men and women who do this,” John said. “Are we nervous? Sure we are. It’s a natural feeling. We pray, we hope, and that’s all we can do. We can’t control anything.

“Really, you don’t get any information about it. We hope and we pray for Nick, but also for all of those people who do this and allow us to have freedoms in our lives.”

Will they see their son at Thanksgiving? It seems doubtful.

Christmas? The Tortorellas just don’t know, and that’s the stream of information they’ve been relegated to. Contact with Nick is limited and, when it happens, often brief.

John did, however, get a special surprise on Sunday night after he and the Blue Jackets had returned from California – it was a call from his son.

“That was great, it really was,” John said. “The conversations are very mundane, though, because you just don’t speak about that stuff. There’s no going there. But he’s a proud member of that Regiment and he’s serving with some great people, that I know.

“But it’s not just about Nick, it’s all of those people along with him who are doing a brave thing and giving us the opportunity to do what we do.”

The past two weeks have been a period of transition for the Tortorella family, and moments like those are what bring the world to a screeching halt. John, who admitted to not knowing where he was supposed to go after the team plane landed in Columbus Saturday night, is still getting used to a new team and new city and has had little time to do so.

Nearly 600 miles away in their Stamford, Conn., home is Christine, taking care of the four family dogs and preparing (at some point soon) to move west and join her husband. It’s safe to say they’re a busy bunch these days, along with their daughter Brittany, a school teacher, who’s in the same boat as her parents: worried, but hopeful and happy for her younger brother as he does what he’s long wanted to do.

But in those quiet moments, they’re thinking about their son and anxiously waiting for him to come home again. In the meantime, they’ll think of that word – pride – and smile.

“They allow us our freedoms in such a crazy time in our world,” John said. “We’re blessed to have people that are willing to do that. We’re proud of the group that is doing these things to keep us safe. It’s a whole different being.

“We worry about him, so we hope and we pray, that’s what we can do. And we will.”

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