Captain Robert Silah - US Navy (Retired) - Tampa, FL

Graduated Marquette University BS, 1959. He attended many different training courses during his Navy career ranging from Emergency Shiphandling to Defense Systems Management – about fifteen courses in all ranging in length from two to six weeks each. Summary of the Nominees’ Professional or Employment History Served in the Navy for 27 years retiring as a Captain (0-6) in 1988. He was awarded a VA Disability Rating of 70% based on injuries during his military career. Bob had sea duty in various ships of the fleet over a period of thirteen years. He deployed to the Mediterranean, Caribbean, and the Western Pacific many times. He was Surface Warfare qualified and also was selected a Proven Sub Specialist in Manpower and Personnel Training Management.

Served as Chief of Staff for a twelve ship squadron. He held many significant staff assignments including working in the offices of the Chief of Naval Personnel and the Chief of Naval Operations in the Pentagon.

At the time of his retirement he was the Deputy Inspector General for the Commander, U.S. Central Command at MacDill Air Force Base. He inspected embassies for security, and military field locations in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan, Qatar and Yemen. Briefing Ambassadors and their staffs almost became second nature for Bob. He also served as Primary Evaluator in joint military exercises in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Pakistan and other locations both foreign and domestic.

His military decorations include the Legion of Merit, Defense Meritorious Service Medal, Navy Commendation Medal and other decorations.

Upon retirement he obtained his Real Estate License and was employed as a Realtor for five years.
He served as Parish Manager at St. Paul’s Parish in Tampa for three years. Parish had over 12,000 members. He supervised security for seven Parish Buildings and acted as Chairman of the St. Paul Carnival fundraiser for nine years, managed grounds security, hired all security officers and supervised their performance. Elected to the Parish Council and served for three years.

Bob Silah currently owns and operates SKY Sportswear Incorporated, specializing in screened and embroidered sportswear. Because it is a self employed business, Bob has sufficient time available to maintain maximum activity in volunteer military and community affairs.

Elected to the Board of Directors of the Carrollwood Area Business Association (CABA), Tampa in 2001. This is a civic organization of 425 business members. Elected as President 2004/5. Currently serves on the CABA Gavel Club, which is made up of past CABA presidents who advise the current CABA officers and board.

Summary of Nominee’s Advocacy on behalf of Veterans.

Organized and started by its current Chairman, Captain Robert J. Silah USN (Ret.), Operation Helping Hand (OpHH) is a special project of the Tampa Chapter of the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA). Started in May 2004, OpHH is operated by military retired officers and volunteers who proudly donate their time and do not receive any compensation. OpHH is a registered 501(c) (3) not for profit organization. The administrative costs for OpHH are under 5%. OpHH is a devoted humanitarian effort dedicated specifically to providing compassionate assistance to U.S. military wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan and being cared for at the James A. Haley VA Hospital in Tampa, Florida. OpHH is zealous about making things a little easier for both patients and their families at a stressful period in their lives. It all started in 2004 when Dr. Ed Cutolo, now Chief of Staff for the hospital, reached out to Bob Silah looking for help since they were overwhelmed with active duty wounded pouring in from the battlefield, and the loving families that followed. Bob and fellow MOAA Chapter Vietnam veterans got organized to help. OpHH recognizes that the most important part of rehabilitation is having the love and support of family. That’s why OpHH assistance ranges from roundtrip commercial air travel for immediate family members to visit and be with their injured loved ones to paying for rental cars, prepaid cell phones, comfort items and countless other helpful gestures.

For nine years, OpHH under Bob’s leadership has helped close to 1,000 of our wounded and more than 1,300 family members. Over $1,000,000 in checks and cash has gone to the patients and families along with such in- kind support as monthly gift bags, food and restaurant coupons, welcome kits, various gift cards and a range of other materials and services. For those who can, OpHH conducts outings to area sporting events like the Tampa Bay Rays Baseball team and to see the Lightning Hockey Team play.

The mission has remained steady over the years. Since the start of the War on Terror there has been a steady flow of wounded combat military getting treatment at Haley for their injuries. Many arrive in Tampa with debilitating wounds, including blindness, amputations, blast injuries, bums, brain and spinal cord damage or a combination of their injuries referred to as Polytrauma. Haley Veterans’ Hospital is one of the nation’s five Polytrauma Rehabilitation Centers for the care of seriously injured service members.
Bob and his team of OpHH volunteers host monthly dinners at the Spinal Cord Injury Center honoring the injured and wounded. It is a chance for the Tampa community to render the thanks of a grateful nation. Approximately 300 people attend these dinners to salute and applaud the warriors. There are many willing community sponsors to underwrite the cost of the dinners. Gift bags are presented to the heroes and bouquets of roses to their loved ones in attendance.

Paying for all the assistance and support is not always easy. Thankfully, through modest fund-raising efforts OpHH has been and continues to be blessed with the generous donations of individuals, corporations and associations. Many Tampa Bay area businesses and service organizations who know Bob Silah have stepped forward and presented checks to OpHH based on their own internal fund-raising campaigns. Bob reports that the many heartfelt thank you letters received from grateful patients and their families is the fuel that keeps OpHH going.
Section 6. Summary of Nominee’s Civic Activities, and Contributions.

Bob is a lifetime member of the MOAA Tampa Chapter, one of the 408 independent chapter affiliates of the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA), a nonprofit veterans’ association, with over 392,000 members. Founded in 1929 MOAA is dedicated to maintaining a strong national defense and ensuring our nation keeps its commitments to currently serving, retired, and former members of the uniformed services and their families and survivors. Bob is currently a member of the Board of Directors for the Tampa Chapter. He served as First Vice President, 2002-2003. Elected as President in 2004, he served in that position for six years; the longest tenure for the office of President. In 2004 Bob started a special project of the Tampa Chapter entitled “Operation Helping Hand” which is fully explained above in Section 5. He was recently elected to the National MOAA Board of Directors, one of twelve nominated nationally to this Board which governs all 408 chapters. For the past twelve years Bob has been serving on the Military Affairs Council of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce. The Council strives to maintain close ties with MacDill Air Force Base, the U.S. Central Command, U.S. Special Operations Command and the other tenant commanders located there. For ten of the last twelve years Bob has staged a major Veterans Day event in downtown Tampa each November honoring those who have served our country.

Bob has been actively involved in the Tampa Council of the Navy League since his retirement:

  • Served on the Board of Directors and was a Vice President and later President for several years.
  • Elected as Navy League North Florida State President in 1998. Elected as Navy League Florida Region President in 2003.
  • Presided over 15 Navy League Councils from Key West to Tallahassee.
  • Served as President of the Kiwanis Club of Carrollwood (Tampa area) in September 2004.

List any awards or honors.

  • Awarded the C. Edward Owings Plaque for civic involvement by the Tampa Board of Realtors in 1995.
  • Received the Meritorious Public Service Award from the Secretary of the Navy in January 2006.
  • Received the Meritorious Public Service Award from the Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard at the National Navy League Convention in Reno, NV in 2008 – the highest civilian award that is given by the Coast Guard.
  • As Chairman of Operation Helping Hand, received the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce Humanitarian of the Year Award in 2006.
  • In 2012, was selected by the Tampa Bay Lightning Foundation for its Community Hero Award and a $50,000 check for OpHH.
  • Also in 2012 was awarded the MOAA Tampa Chapter’s Admiral LeRoy Collins Jr. Award for Leadership which was presented by his widow Jane Collins.

I have personally known Bob Silah for twenty-seven years and have come to admire his leadership skills and his affinity for helping those in need, specifically the wounded from Iraq and Afghanistan being treated in the Spinal Cord Injury Center at the Haley VA Hospital in Tampa, Florida. We first met when we served on active duty together at U.S. Central Command from 1986-1989. We serve on the Military Affairs Council of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce and I also worked with him on Navy League activities.

As Chairman of Operation Helping Hand for nine years Bob has gone above and beyond to serve others. I have personally witnessed the many hours he cheerfully gives to help our wounded warriors many of whom know him on a personal basis. He has not only comforted the wounded being cared for in the Spinal Cord Injury Center, but he has provided caring help to countless mothers, fathers, wives and other loved ones. Bob organized the monthly dinners at the Hospital to honor these injured heroes and their families. Loved ones are presented with roses and gift bags. Compassionate and full of empathy, Bob is attuned to specific needs since many arrive at the hospital with debilitating wounds. Bob also instituted welcome kits that are handed out to the wounded and their families.

His incredible desire to help wounded warriors cannot be measured. He always walks the extra mile to make sure family needs are met. A Mother that needs a round trip ticket to see her son. Done. A father who needs help with a care rental while visiting. Done. A wife who needs gas money because of a long drive. Done. There was a need for an ice machine in Fischer House where families of the wounded stay. Done. From time to time Bob has even organized a milk shake run and the surprised patients were delighted. Always thinking of others, that’s his modus operandi. Outgoing, cheerful and helpful. Bob is much in demand for talking to civic groups about Operation Helping Hand. He’s also exceptional in that he sees others needs and finds a way to get results. For example, large golf carts were needed in the Spinal Cord Injury Center to transport patients. Done.

In addition to the outstanding support that Bob gets from the Haley VA leadership and staff, he has drawn strong support and participation from U.S. Central Command, U.S. Special Operations Command, and officers from CENTCOM’s coalition of 55 foreign countries. Positive, committed, and outgoing. Bob easily brings people together to help those who need help the most – our wounded heroes. It has been an honor and a privilege to work beside him as a volunteer in the OpHH program.