Soldier Re-Enlists at New Jersey Home Sandy Took Away

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI | March 11, 2013

A couple of days after Superstorm Sandy washed away their childhood home, Army Spc. Brock Vazquez and his stepbrother walked their old neighborhood pulling American flags they found in the debris and rubble.

They filled four plastic containers with about a dozen weather-beaten flags; their parents and siblings, meanwhile, had four plastic containers of their personal belongings left when the storm was done.

The Asbury Park Press reports that the family returned to their ground zero on Friday and unfurled a fresh new flag against a gun metal-gray sky. A harsh wind came off the Raritan Bay, which had risen up and violently taken their Brook Avenue home on Oct. 29. Snow fell onto the muddy hole where the house once was.

Both dressed in digital camouflage fatigues, Vazquez, 27, raised his right hand, and his stepbrother, Marine Sgt. Christopher Colgan, administered the oath.

“I, Brock Vazquez, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic .”

And with that, Vazquez, who is based in Newport News, Va., signed on for another four years in the Army. He could have signed his re-enlistment papers in an office in Virginia as he did two years ago. He could have signed them anywhere in the world, if he wanted.

He chose instead to mark his military renewal in a familiar place – in front of what used to be 804 Brook Ave., where he shared a garage apartment with Colgan, right down the street from the beachfront where he married his wife, Samantha, in 2007.

On a mobile device? Watch Vazquez renew his military oath.

“He called me up and said, ‘Dad, what do you think?’ ” his father, Bob Vazquez, told the newspaper. His reply: “That’d be awesome.”

Brock Vazquez, a watercraft operator in the Army, said the idea was to make his re-enlistment memorable.

“The last time I re-enlisted I just did it real quick, signed a couple pieces of paper in the commander’s office and didn’t do anything special. So this time I figured it’d be something nice for my family, to be able to have us do this here,” he said. “It’s more or less for them than myself.”

As with the rest of Union Beach, they’ve been through various hells the last four months.

On the night of the storm Bob and Pam Vazquez stayed in their tan, two-story home until the bay’s floodwaters rose so high that they needed to get out of the house. With their Great Pyrenees dog, Molly, they took shelter in the apartment above their detached garage and lay down to rest.

Then the wind started whipping, the water began rushing into the garage and “everything was banging around, like change in a washing machine,” Bob Vazquez said.

“Outside you could see the other houses falling apart,” he said.

It was between 8 and 9 p.m., and about 12 feet of water was in the yard, he said. They knew they were in trouble when the front steps broke away, then so did the chimney. They watched the wind and the waves rush in and slowly tear away their home. It was apparent they would end up in the water, he said.

Molly went first, lost in the dark of the storm. Then the Vazquezes set out to reach their neighbor’s deck, the only sort of bulwark in sight. For about 90 minutes they thrashed around and clung to debris to get 50 yards away to their neighbor’s home.

The couple reached the deck, and their neighbor came to the door to help them in, where they stayed until the water receded. More than an hour later, they spotted Molly floating about 10 yards away on a piece of plywood, Vazquez said.

The dog and some clothes would be the only things they salvaged that night. All that’s left of their home is a concrete slab where the garage once was.

The family has been living at Fort Monmouth, unsure of what lies beyond the red tape of insurance and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Vazquez said.

Vazquez, a car salesman in Keyport, comes by every so often to look around the neighborhood – at what, he admits he doesn’t know. There’s one house left on the block.

“There’s nothing here, but this is our home,” he said.

But there are other things he comes for.

“Everybody’s helping other people,” he said.

A neighbor, James Butler, stood in the raw cold Friday afternoon. For a man who lost his own home down the street and was now looking at one large, rubble-strewn lot, he expressed an abundance of optimism.

“This is the state we’re at now, but we’re getting better,” Butler, 42, said.

Watching Brock Vazquez and his family returning to their home for what anywhere else would have been routine paperwork was Butler’s evidence of that.

“Hopefully by the time Brock gets out of the service, there’ll be a house standing there,” he said. “One day, (I’ll) be (having) a beer in the living room. If we can get to that point, we’ll be OK.”

This is enough for now. Vazquez finished his oath, signed the papers, then hugged his stepmother for a long time before leaving the neighborhood.

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