Out-of-work colonel grateful for outpouring
Retired Air Force Col. Robert Freniere says he is considering dozens of offers for housing and jobs after an outpouring of responses from Inquirer readers who learned of his story of unemployment and homelessness last Sunday.
Freniere, who spent 30 years in the military, both in active duty and the reserves, estimates he has gotten two dozen offers per day since The Inquirer published his story. Offers have come from Philadelphia-area people and organizations and from others as far away as Alaska, Tennessee, and New Mexico. Veterans and civilians have offered their help.
Freniere, 59, said he is grateful for the support and plans to respond to every offer.
"It's been a really positive experience," he said.
But it hasn't been all positive.
Freniere said he has seen in online comments that some readers, including veterans, questioned his living situation and annual pension of more than $40,000, thinking the amount should be higher for a colonel. Freniere said he wanted to clarify that the money is compensation only for injuries he sustained while on active duty.
He said he doesn't know whether he will receive more retirement pay when he turns 60, as most veterans do. Veterans groups have offered to help him find out.
People have also offered him places in their homes for free, so he can stop living out of his van, occasionally in a motel, or with friends.
On Friday, he was in Somerset, Mass., staying with friends. He said he'd like to live in New England or Western Pennsylvania, but he hasn't decided on any offers.
Representatives from veterans organizations, including the Department of Veterans Affairs, have reached out with resources. The Veterans Group offered to help him get a spot in its West Philadelphia housing facility.
Army veteran Maura Gillen, a deputy executive director at the Veterans Multi-Service Center based in Philadelphia, said the organization wants to help Freniere find a job.
"The fact that he hasn't been able to get a job is unfortunately not a surprise," Gillen said. "I know many stories of retired officers who really have been challenged to find employment."
Alex Archawski, founder and director of the Greater Philadelphia Veterans Network, which helps veterans find employment, also offered his nonprofit's networking and job resources to Freniere.
"The colonel is definitely employable," said Archawski, a Navy veteran. "He needs to align his career search with the right opportunities. And we want to help him with that. With the leadership and training he developed in the military, one of the local employers in this area would be happy to have him on board to lead them in the right direction."
Civilians have also been offering their help. A certified public accountant in Maryland, who said her father and husband served in the military, offered to help Freniere fill out tax returns and benefit forms.
Employees from Bank of America and a Pennsylvania janitorial firm said they want to help him get a job.
A New Jersey staffing company said it wants to hire him as an on-site manager immediately.
Freniere said he thanks everyone who is reaching out to him and other veterans in similar situations.
"God bless you," he said. "It means a lot."