Meet a Veteran: Robert

This story was originally featured in The Prescott Daily Courier on January 26, 2015.

Robert Schaffer served in the U.S. Marine Corps for 21 years, from 1976 to 1997. Working in tech support, he never made it to the front lines of any military action – but he was on U.S. Embassy security duty in Tel Aviv Israel and Katmandu, Nepal.

One of the highlights of his military career was being in Tel Aviv for the Israeli-Arab peace summit in ’79. He got to meet President Jimmy Carter’s family, and chatted with Carter’s mother, Lillian.

“That was pretty impressive to me,” Schaffer said.

On a separate occasion, he met Farrah Fawcett-Majors. She’d come to Tel Aviv for a lookalike contest, sporting her signature feathered mane, which women worldwide wanted to emulate at the time.

“Everyone was. That was the big hairstyle,” he said.

After leaving the Marines, Schaffer did tech support for GTE in Southern California and worked as a computer network technician in Ventura County. In 2011, he moved to the Grand Canyon’s South Rim, where he did computer network support for Xanterra.

He also struggled with alcoholism. In September 2013, Schaffer moved to Prescott and, after completing a substance abuse program at the VA, entered the U.S.VETS program.

U.S.VETS – Prescott, which celebrated 12 years in the community earlier this month, provides transitional and permanent housing for homeless and at-risk veterans, said Matthew Phillips, U.S.VETS development and activities coordinator. On any given night, the program houses 75 veterans – 56 at the transitional facility Schaffer is staying in and 19 in permanent housing. Annually, 150 veterans are served.

“The program really is a godsend for a lot of people,” Schaffer said, adding that it allows folks to make changes to get back on track.

Among its services, U.S.VETS offers education and training, a full-service career center and life skills classes in topics that include computer basics, self-responsibility, money management, self esteem and stress management.

Individual residents’ paths through the U.S.VETS program are different. “We take the person in and look at them as a whole person, and we build on that to make sure they’re successful,” Phillips said.

He added that the goal is to help them help themselves succeed.

“We work for the residents, but we also work with the residents,” Phillips said. “We give them the tools for success.”

For Schaffer, one of those tools was mindful meditation, something he now practices daily.

“By doing so, it has enabled me to be grounded every day,” he said.

Schaffer has also gotten involved. He chaired the resident council, a group of residents that serves as a go-between for staff and residents, for four months.

“Being able to give something back has been a benefit to me,” he said. “You grow when you do that.”

Schaffer describes U.S.VETS as “the real hero.”

“It’s a marvelous program, but you have to put the effort in,” he said. “You need to make the changes for yourself. You have to stomp your own snakes, as they say.”