Warning: In order to honor the true stories of our veterans, their experiences are presented to you as told and may include difficult themes such as sexual assault, substance abuse, and suicide. If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, please call the Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.

Robert

Bergen County, NJ
U.S. Navy 1978 - 1983

Bobby grew up in a family that believes that serving your country is a person’s highest calling. When he was 16-years-old, he enlisted in the Navy — being two years underage was merely a barrier to following in the footsteps of practically every brother, uncle and father in his family tree.

The recruiter, however, wasn’t as excited as Bobby. After finding out that he was two years too young for enlistment, Bobby was made to stand at attention in the recruiting station every weekend for two years before allowing him to enlist again.

This enthusiasm for military service followed Bobby through his naval career where he served as a cook and Petty Officer Third Class aboard the USS Benjamin Franklin. He was happy. Then, everything changed.

On the morning of October 23, 1983, Bobby had just finished serving breakfast to hundreds of Marines, many of whom were from his home state of New Jersey. Moments after he had returned to his post, a truck carrying 2,000 pounds of explosives drove into a barracks near the Beirut International Airport, killing almost all of the Marines that Bobby had just fed. The blast caused him to lose most of his hearing in one ear, and left him with more than just scars.

When he returned to civilian life, Bobby grappled with the trauma he had experienced. He struggled with alcoholism, losing his license, his job and his home. In his words, he had hit rock bottom. And then he met Julia.

Julia Orlando is the director of the Bergen County Housing, Health and Human Services Center, and is the Built for Zero lead for the community. Bobby has credited her and her colleague, A.J. Luna, for saving his life. Today, they share games of pool at a New Jersey pool hall, laughing and reminiscing over the sound of sinking stripes and solids, and celebrating his resilience.

Bobby is just one of many veterans who have been able to count on Bergen County for support. In 2016, Bergen County became the first community in the nation to end chronic homelessness and nine months later, they ended veteran homelessness, too.

Thanks to their commitment, we have the story of Bobby’s journey to a better future through community bonds, friendship and love.

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