OKEECHOBEE — Veteran George Roberson was born in 1958 in South Bay. He comes from a family of migrants, but his mom stopped migrating when he was 5, and they settled down in Tifton, Ga.
“In a lot of ways, Tifton is similar to Okeechobee,” he said. “They are both small farming towns.” While he was growing up, he earned money for clothes and other things he needed by picking the different crops they grew up there. He didn’t see any future for himself in Tifton, though, and oddly enough, he said, he has six children, and they don’t see a future for themselves in Okeechobee.
When he was a senior in high school, there was a career day at school, and a recruiter was there. Mr. Roberson signed up right then and there to be evaluated. He knew he wanted a way out of Tifton, and he knew he needed something to do with himself. He decided the military was the best way to accomplish both of those things. Initially, it was just a job to him, he said. He did the delayed entry program, and though he joined the Army in January 1976, he did not leave for basic until he graduated that June. He was only 17 when he went in, and his 18th birthday present was graduating from basic training.
He did his basic training in Fort Jackson, S.C., and then, he was sent to Schofield Barracks in Hawaii for about nine months. He was trained in supply, and that is what he did for the three years he spent on active duty. He was stationed on the island of Oahu. He just missed the Vietnam era, he explained. That ended in 1975, and he went in 1976. When he passed the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) test, they told him he could have whatever job he wanted. He told them he did not want infantry, and he wanted to go to Hawaii. So, he was a supply clerk in an infantry unit. He did a lot of training with the other men, because a lot of the time, you are sitting there waiting for something to happen, he said. A lot of the training took place up in the mountains, and he said, “People don’t realize it snows in Hawaii.” After he left Hawaii, he finished out his tour at Fort Dix, N.J.
He served in the National Guard for 23 years, and his job there was infantry. His company was in West Palm Beach, and they spent a lot of time training at Camp Blanding, Fla. Back then, the National Guard had what they called a capstone mission, and that was what they would do if a war broke out. His unit’s capstone mission was the Panama Canal. If the active duty troops had to be called out of the Panama Canal, his unit would go secure the Panama Canal. During his training, he went to Panama three times and has experienced “jungle” school.
His last duty station was Camp Blanding, where he was an instructor for non-commissioned officers. In order to move up in rank, you have to transfer, and that is how he ended up at Camp Blanding. Six months after he was transferred, the unit he left was deployed to Fallujah, and one of his closest friends, Matteo, was badly injured and is now 100% disabled. Mr. Roberson still experiences some survivor guilt about that, because his friends went off to war and suffered, and he never saw combat himself. After his decision to trust Christ as his savior, joining the military was the best decision he ever made, because it paved the way for his future, he said. “I would recommend it to any kid who didn’t already have a path paved.”
He ended up in Okeechobee because he was a client at Faith Farm, a faith-based residential drug and alcohol recovery program.
“I’m not proud of it, but I am so blessed by my time there,” he said. “I’m a Christian, and the only reason I stand here now is because of God. My past is dead.” He believes relapse is normal and happens to most people, but he has never relapsed. He gives the credit for this to a true conversion. He got saved and then he got himself hooked up with a good church after he left Faith Farm, he said.
He has been a resident of Okeechobee for 32 years and considers it his home. “Okeechobee is a little behind the times, but I love it anyway,” he said. He owns two businesses here in town, rental properties and construction.
“I’ve had a thousand jobs over the years,” he said. He is a licensed clinical social worker and goes back and forth between teaching and social work. Currently, he works for the VA and works with homeless veterans but he is considering retiring next year.
“I believe there are only three reasons a person is homeless: Money, drugs and alcohol or mental illness,” he said. “If they are homeless due to a lack of money, that’s easy; but if it’s one of the other reasons, then I have to do quite a bit of work to help them.”
The Robersons are very active in the community and donate a lot of time to helping others. “After being saved, I decided that no matter where I lived, I would try to make it a better place,” he said.