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Bob Carlone made sure the home front cared

July 5, 2013 Updated: July 5, 2013 at 6:44 pm
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photo - Bob and Mary Carlone in their Colorado Springs home Thursday, March 7, 2013. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette
Bob and Mary Carlone in their Colorado Springs home Thursday, March 7, 2013. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette 

If Bob Carlone were still around, you'd laugh as you read this story, smile a lot, and have your wallet lightened.

The 84-year-old founder of The Home Front Cares in Colorado Springs had a knack for making people smile and getting them to buy into his dream of helping troops, veterans and military families. He died Tuesday.

Not even novocaine could slow Carlone's fundraising.

"He went to his dentist and talked about the Home Front Cares," said Dennis McCormack, a friend of Carlone's who still sits on the charity's advisory board. "He walked out with a $1,000 check."

A career Air Force officer who flew 163 combat missions in Vietnam, Carlone in 2003 teamed with another Colorado Springs veteran, the late Joe Henjum, to found a charity that has helped hundreds of Pikes Peak region military families through crisis.

His motivation was simple: Carlone recalled coming home from Vietnam as a bitter experience, with a divided nation dedicating little energy to helping troops.

The Home Front Cares was designed to make things different for a new generation of troops. While the soldiers were away, the charity would look after their families. The charity would also be there when the troops came home.

The effort came as thousands of Fort Carson soldiers headed into combat in Iraq.

"We'll have their backs while they're gone, so they can concentrate on their jobs over there," Carlone told anyone who would listen during a frantic fundraising campaign that saw the idea turn into a full-fledged charity in a matter of days.

Carlone knew about the job "over there."

In Vietnam he earned the Silver Star Medal for valor. On a mission during the battle of Khe Sanh, his C-123 transport plane was hit 130 times by enemy fire.

Carlone and Henjum positioned the charity in a niche unlike other groups. If a car broke down, a roof leaked or the rent was late, the charity would provide immediate support, solving problems in hours rather than weeks. The support would come with advice and education that helped military families work past short-term financial woes and find success.

And Carlone got locals to buy in - $4 million worth over the past decade.

He always seemed amazed that so many shared his dream.

"We are still getting so many wonderful people in this community offering help," Carlone told The Gazette in 2004.

Don Addy of Colorado Springs said Carlone's sincerity drew donors.

"This was his passion," Addy said.

Not long after the charity's founding, Carlone and Henjum brought in professional management to oversee operations and helped engineer a finely-tuned board that kept the Home Front Cares humming.

But Carlone remained the charity's top pitchman, talking to groups and hitting events around the region to get money for military families.

"It wasn't a commitment to the Home Front Cares," explained the charity's president, Ed Anderson. "It was a community to the troops and their families."

Terrance McWilliams was a skeptic when Carlone approached him with his idea for the charity in 2003. McWilliams was the top enlisted soldier at Fort Carson then and had to be convinced.

In the past decade, he's seen the charity become more than Carlone's wildest ambitions back then.

"I am surprised it has lasted this long," McWilliams said. "But it shows you that The Home Front cares is now part of the fabric of this community."

A service for Carlone is planned for 11 a.m. Monday at St. Paul's Catholic Chruch, 9 El Pomar Rd.

And, of course, donations can be made to The Home Front Cares in lieu of flowers: http://thehomefrontcares.org

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