Sgt. 1st Class Robert Hornbrook, 38, a 20-year member of the Special Forces who has dodged bullets, roadside bombs and rocket-propelled grenades, is preparing to “switch gears” and pursue a private career for the first time in his adult life.
Sgt. 1st Class Robert Hornbrook has made night jumps with the 82nd Airborne Division. He has dodged bullets, roadside bombs and rocket-propelled grenades with Special Forces teams in Baghdad, Fallujah and Ramadi.
A Bronze Star recipient, he has helped train Iraqi Special Forces. And, having fought 57 combat missions in Baghdad alone, he’s been the unofficial “mayor” for small-unit American combat bases in Iraq.
Now, after 20 years in the Army, the 38-year-old is preparing to “switch gears,” as he puts it, and pursue a private career for the first time in his adult life.
When Hornbrook, his wife and their two young daughters come home to Quincy, Mass., this fall, he’ll have company. Thousands of service members will re-enter the civilian world this year – in the midst of a recession and an extremely tight job market.
For Hornbrook and the others, “there’s going to be a bit of an adjustment. That goes with the territory,” said Ron Koontz, a Vietnam War veteran who is the director of the Massachusetts’ Veterans Workforce Investment Program.
With media attention focused on Iraq and Afghanistan veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injuries and crippling war wounds, Hornbrook is more typical of those who leave the service after multiple hitches or a career. After years of overseas duty – perhaps combat as well – they’re looking forward to a few humdrum days for a change.
Hornbrook isn’t sure how easy that part will be, though, after tours that started with Operation Desert Storm and ended with 10 postings in Iraq.
“I’ll have to have something to take care of the adrenaline,” he said in a telephone interview from Fort Bragg.
He won’t officially leave the Army until November, but he’s already thinking about what kind of work he wants to do – or can do. He may apply to the federal Homeland Security Administration or local police departments.
“There’s not a big calling (in civilian life) for what I do,” he said of his combat experience.
In that respect, Koontz said Hornbrook has the same uncertainty as most new veterans.
“You want to do what you know,” he said.
Hornbrook is easing toward civilian life, with resume writing and career workshops at his North Carolina base. It’s the first time he’s done that since he enlisted in the Army in 1989.
He didn’t wait long after graduation to join. His father had died suddenly a year earlier, and he was restless to get away to somewhere fresh.
“I didn’t think I would be in for 20 years,” he said.
But he liked the camaraderie, especially his small-team missions with the 2nd Battalion of the 3rd Special Forces Group.
Along the way he married Laura, a Brookline, Mass., native. Now he’s looking forward to spending more time with her, and being a full-time dad for Veronica and Adeline, who are 7 and 5.
“That’s better than being a voice on the phone,” he said.
His wife and mother, Teresa Hornbrook, are happy about that, too – and hugely relieved. They’d grown more nervous with each new Iraq tour their son took.
While Hornbrook goes job hunting, at least he won’t have to house-hunt. He’s buying his childhood home from his mother – a short walk from the beach and a long way from the dangers, and the brotherhood, he found in Iraq.
As he settles in this fall – enjoying, among other things, all the Bruins hockey games he couldn’t see from Iraq – Hornbrook says he’ll try to forget the bad days and remember the good ones.
“Life is pretty fragile,” he said. “You’ve got to live it every second. It’s a gift.”
On the Web:
- For more information for veterans, as they look for job: Mass. Dept. of Veterans’ Services
- U.S. Dept. of Labor: Veterans Employment and Training: National Veterans Foundation
Tips for Veterans
- Make sure you have all your records on hand, including your service record, list of promotions, education documentation and medical information.
- Make your first stop a state career center, where veterans get a top priority.
- Don't be afraid to consider a career you hadn't thought about. Think first: "What would you like to do?"
- Keep job hunting, even in the recession. In some employers' minds, people with military service have a built-in advantage and reputation as being disciplined, educated and multitalented.
Source: Ron Koontz, director, Mass. Veterans Workforces Investment Program
Patriot Ledger writer Lane Lambert may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.