Monterey Peninsula veteran to be honored as ‘Hometown Hero’ at 49ers Games

Veterans Transition Center program member served in the military 24 years, transitioned from homelessness, survived cancer

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Local veteran Robert Jones, right, makes a point about being chosen to be honored as a “Hometown Hero” at Monday nights San Francisco 49ers vs Cleveland Browns football game at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, as his case manager, Makena Volzing, looks on Friday, Oct. 4, 2019 at the Veterans Transition Center in Marina. (James Herrera – Monterey Herald)

MARINA — A local Veterans Transition Center program member will not only be watching in person as his favorite NFL team plays on Monday, but he will be in the spotlight come halftime.

Robert Jones will be an honored guest of the San Francisco 49ers as he is recognized for his service to the country and being a cancer survivor. Jones will be named a “Hometown Hero” during halftime at the football game Monday night at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara between the San Francisco 49ers and the Cleveland Browns.
“We work with local military organizations to identify special active and retired military personnel to be recognized each home game,” said Liz Malara, a 49ers community relations coordinator. “I had been in touch with the VA about wanting to honor someone special and they immediately thought of Robert!”
Malara said that with it being the organization’s Crucial Catch cancer awareness game, it is meaningful to not only honor a veteran for their service but one who dealt with cancer.
“I’m grateful for the program and the people in it who have helped me step up in life and do the things I want to do,” said Jones. “They’re the real heroes.”
But those who nominated Jones for the recognition see it another way.
“Mr. Jones is inspiring on several levels,” Veterans Transition Center Executive Director Kurt Schake said. “He served in the military for 24 years, transitioned from homelessness and survived cancer.”
Jones, 59, grew up on the Monterey Peninsula. His father, a military man, brought the family to Seaside in 1960 when Jones was 6 months old. Jones joined the U.S. Air Force in 1980, the same day his dad left the military.
Jones was an intelligence analyst and aircrew member who earned many awards, including the Joint Meritorious Service Medal, Air Force Commendation Medal and Aerial Achievement Medal. During his service, Jones participated in combat operation in Kosovo and Saudi Arabia. He obtained the rank of master sergeant and retired honorably in 2004.
Jones said when his dad died he was devastated. His life started to go off track, his marriage ended and his solid home life evaporated. He left his job and tried to make it on his retirement funds but when his rental home was put on the market for sale, he was forced to move and found there was not anything he could afford.
“I was homeless from there,” said Jones.
As with many veterans, Jones found it hard to get back into civilian life and experienced homelessness for 18 months.
“I already knew about the (Veterans Transition Center), by word of mouth, and applied,” said Jones. “It was like a beacon.”
The organization, which states its mission is to “empower veterans from crisis to self-sufficiency,” found an exemplary participant in Jones who rapidly progressed through the treatment program, found a part-time job, and is now looking for permanent housing.
But it has not been easy for Jones. Not long after coming into the Veterans Transition Center in Marina, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer and soon began radiation treatment while continuing to work.
Jones underwent more than eight weeks of radiation treatment, keeping a positive attitude and a whatever-happens-happens outlook while he went on with life.
“I was only able to get into treatment because of this program,” said Jones. “They provided everything I needed to get better.”
Jones is currently in remission and being a cancer survivor put him squarely in line for the “Hometown Hero” distinction.
According to Jones’ case manager, Makena Volzing, the Veterans Transition Center got a call from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System, which was contacted by the San Francisco 49ers organization seeking a veteran to honor who has survived cancer.
“We were quick on the ball” in nominating Jones, Volzing said.
Malara said that in addition to his on-field recognition, Jones received tickets for himself and a guest, passes to watch pregame warm-ups on the sidelines, complimentary parking and the opportunity to hold open the locker room doors for the 49ers as they run out for kickoff.
“The Hometown Heroes program recognizes military personnel, first responders and other community members that have gone above and beyond to serve others,” said Malara. “The number varies, but we honor around 30 people a season through this program.”
Volzing said she, along with a driver from the Veterans Transition Center, will be accompanying Jones on his trip.
“We’ll have lunch on the way up, get pregame access to the field, and see the game from a box seat on the 50-yard line,” said Volzing.
Jones will be taking his own football and the Veterans Transition Center will spring for a jersey of his choice.
“I’m getting anybody’s signature on my football, but I’m going to get Jerry Rice’s jersey,” said Jones who clearly is excited about going to the game.
Jones said he generally does not want to be the center of attention, but in this case, he would like to accept the honor and make sure people know about the great work the Veterans Transition Center in Marina is doing.
Jones said he would tell other veterans in dire straits to come to the Veterans Transition Center.
“They take care of you and they care about you,” said Jones. “It’s a hand up, not a handout.”
The game starts at 5:15 p.m.

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