One minute, Robert Banks was happily moving from a good job with the Veterans Administration to a better one with the Department of the Navy. The next, he was run over by the Trump Train.

“I don’t want to rag on the presidency,” Banks said over a cup of coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts in Windham on Monday, which happened to be Presidents Day. “But he’s making some really stupid decisions.”

Banks, 44, lives in a summer camp owned by his parents in Casco. He’s there not by choice but by necessity: Thanks to President Trump’s month-old federal hiring freeze and a colossal case of unfortunate timing, Banks just went from a proud, disabled veteran with a bright future to a casualty in the crusade to Make America Great Again.

A little history:

Three months after he graduated from Morse High School in Bath back in 1991, Banks enlisted in the Army. He remained on active duty for eight years, serving in the Persian Gulf War and, among other deployments, at Camp Eagle in South Korea.

It was there, while transporting a load of 50-caliber machine guns to be calibrated, that his Humvee collided with another vehicle. Banks, who was in the back, sustained serious injuries to his neck and spine – a primary contributor to his 90-percent, service-related disability rating.

Upon leaving the regular Army in 1999, Banks joined an Army Reserve unit in Auburn for another five years.

During the same time, he went to work for the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office – first as a corrections officer, then as a patrol deputy, and finally as the department’s internal affairs investigator and human resources officer.

Feeling burned out from more than a dozen years in law enforcement, he left that job in 2013 for work at the VA Maine Healthcare Systems-Togus. A year later he snagged a position with the Department of the Navy as a logistics management specialist at Bath Iron Works.

But Banks needed a change of scenery. Long divorced, with a daughter preparing to enter college and a 10-year relationship that had just ended, he pulled up stakes last year and headed for Colorado and a job helping disabled veterans with prosthetics at the Grand Junction VA Medical Center.

“I got to help a lot of veterans, and I liked the job. Half your job is talking. The other half is providing a service for them,” Banks said. “It was very enjoyable, but I missed home. I missed New England. I missed my daughter.”

So back he went onto the federal job sites and, lo and behold, he spotted an opening as an administrative/technical specialist at the Naval Undersea Warfare Center in Newport, R.I.

He got the job.

“We look forward to your acceptance of this offer and are certain that you will enjoy a challenging and rewarding career at the Naval Undersea Warfare Center, Division Newport,” said the letter from the Navy dated Jan. 11.

Banks’ start date was to be Feb. 6. Rather than move all his belongings across the county, he sold almost everything he owned, hopped into the 2017 Toyota Tacoma pickup he’d recently purchased and headed back East.

It was somewhere in Pennsylvania, while watching a Fox News broadcast on a hotel TV, that he first heard of the hiring freeze.

“But I was hired. I went through my emails and I went through the acceptance letter, you know, saying ‘Congratulations…’ The VA had released all of my personnel records to (the Navy), which is like the end game,” he said. “I slept well that night. I wasn’t worried so much. I thought I was good.”

He thought wrong.

The next morning, Banks dashed off an email to Newport to confirm all was still on track.

“Unfortunately, due to the recent hiring freeze, we are not able to establish a start date at this time,” read the email response from the Naval Undersea Warfare Center. “All hiring actions are on hold until we receive further guidance.”

This despite an exemption to Trump’s memorandum – for job offers that were accepted before Jan. 22 (Banks had accepted his almost two weeks earlier) and had start dates before Feb. 22 (Banks has email correspondence indicating his start date would be Feb. 6).

No matter. Banks suddenly found himself with no job in Colorado (he’d already resigned) and no job in Newport (where they now maintain he was never formally hired).

His Plan B – another civilian job he’d been offered with the Navy in Pennsylvania – also evaporated (or froze) right before his eyes.

So here he sits back in Maine, unemployed and understandably in shock. He’s applied for some 20 positions since he arrived back home, but the moment most non-government employers hear the words “veteran” and “disabled,” well, let’s just say no one is beating a path to his door.

Banks, a libertarian, didn’t vote for Trump, mostly because he had trouble trusting him. But he accepts Trump as his president and respects the office as much now as he did throughout the 13 years when the chief executive was his commander in chief.

Still, he wonders if the guy now in the White House truly grasps the impact of what he’s doing.

“I’m not sure if he is thinking things through,” Banks said. “He seems to just want to fulfill his promises he made with no regard as to its effects.”

More than anything, though, Banks feels shortchanged. His military service, his time in law enforcement, his additional years serving his government as a highly skilled civilian … and now this?

“I’m not the swamp. I’m not the person that needs to get drained,” he said. “I work. I’m a good worker. I’ve put my time in – I always have. I’m the one you want to keep.”

Finishing his coffee, he added, “And here I am on the sideline.”

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

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