By The U.S. Department of Agriculture
It is not every day that you meet a real hero—someone who shows great courage coupled with patriotism. If you were lucky enough to work for the United States Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) in New Jersey, then you would look no further than Robert “Bob” Andrzejczak. A Purple Heart and Bronze Star with Valor recipient, he exemplifies all the attributes of a military hero, although you would never hear him say so.
Andrzejczak is a loving husband to his wife Trisha and a devoted father of two, who served two tours in the Army in Iraq and seven years in the New Jersey legislature. Today, as the State Executive Director for FSA, a presidential appointment, he leads a group of 37 USDA employees. He and his team support production agriculture in New Jersey by administering an extensive portfolio of federal farm programs. These programs help agricultural producers access capital, recover from natural disasters and manage commodity market volatilities.
How does a military hero become a USDA leader? For Andrzejczak, the journey has been a winding path fraught with adversity. His hard work, dedication and sense of duty led him to where he is today. Andrzejczak’s values are common attributes of military service personnel and also synonymous with farming, ranching and rural America, making a career with USDA or in the agriculture sector a natural fit.
A Seed Planted
Andrzejczak’s Garden State roots run deep. He was raised in rural Cape May, New Jersey, a town that places value on family, good friends and the importance of agriculture to the community. Andrzejczak recalls, “Growing up, my grandparents lived next to a lima bean field, and I remember being fascinated watching the beans grow, and then harvested, each summer.”
As a teenager, Andrzejczak worked as a laborer on a small specialty crop operation in his hometown. “I have a vivid memory of busheling sweet corn as the sun was rising over the fields.” During those long days, working for hours in the sweltering sun, he developed a deep appreciation for farmers and agriculture. Little did he know then that, years later, this appreciation of agriculture would lead him to a successful career with USDA.
Into the Fray
After graduating from high school and starting college, Andrzejczak felt a call to serve. In 2005, he joined the Army as an infantryman and attended basic training. After basic training, he was stationed in Hawaii for six months before his first tour in Iraq. “During that first tour, it was just non-stop action,” Andrzejczak explained. “We were working out of Hawija. It was a constant barrage of attacks, and we lost a lot of really good guys during that time.”
His second tour seemed relatively calm. All that changed during a patrol on January 7, 2009, when a grenade exploded and ripped through Andrzejczak’s truck. Although he’d experienced combat before and was injured in previous missions, Andrzejczak realized immediately this was different. “The pain I felt was like nothing I experienced before. At one point, I looked down and knew my leg was gone.” Had it not been for his fellow Soldiers applying a tourniquet and helping him reach medics, Andrzejczak’s outcome would be different.
Recovery on the Homefront
Andrzejczak spent two months undergoing surgeries that would save his life. Once stable, he was flown to Walter Reed Army Medical Center for continued treatment and physical therapy. He spent two years at Walter Reed under the care of the nation’s best physicians, nurses and physical and occupational therapists.
Volunteerism and Political Service
“As soon as I was able, I started volunteering with different veteran organizations. I joined the VFW and DAV, helping whenever and wherever I could,” Andrzejczak explained. Giving back and getting involved set him apart, and eventually, his work was noticed by local political leaders.
Ultimately, Andrzejczak served six years in the New Jersey General Assembly as Chairman of the Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee and as the New Jersey representative on the Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee of the Council of State Governments. “We constantly visited farms to figure out what the needs of the agricultural community were. During my time in office, we made some huge improvements in agriculture for New Jersey.”
In Feb. 2022, the Biden-Harris administration appointed Andrzejczak to the position of FSA State Executive Director, and he immediately jumped back in with the members of the agricultural community. Andrzejczak explains, “For farmers to put their trust in me and want me in this role is very humbling, it drives me to do the best job I can do.”
Preparing for a Career with USDA
When asked how his military career prepared him for his USDA career, Andrzejczak explained, “Going through what I have, nearly dying, gives a unique perspective and a different view on life. Many times, the things we see as big problems or issues, unless they are life-threatening, are not. I bring that mentality into my everyday decision-making and look at everything from a logical versus an emotional standpoint. This is one of the greatest attributes my military experience and training gave me—preparing me to lead by example and choose a positive perspective.”
He continued, “I bring to my position as FSA State Executive Director a compassion for farmers and for the USDA employees who work alongside me. In the military, you have leaders who lead by example and those who lead through fear. I learned early on that leading with compassion is my leadership style.”
For those transitioning to a new career after military service, Andrzejczak offers some advice, “One of the things you learn in the military is you can do anything. I feel sometimes, when you get out of the military and you’re no longer in that environment, you forget. I believe the only real limitations we have are the ones we put on ourselves. I think veterans really need to remember that you can do anything if you put your heart and mind to it and have the determination to see it to the end.
“If your dream is starting your own farm or gaining the confidence to take over the family farm, those are big steps in life. USDA has programs that can help you take the leap into production agriculture. The resources USDA offers mean you are not alone—we guide you along the way.
“Starting or working on a farm or ranch is not a path for everyone, but USDA offers many job opportunities, from engineers to procurement officers. There is a place for everyone. Many programs are designed to assist veterans transitioning to their next career. Remember, you cannot accomplish anything if you don’t take those first steps. USDA stands ready to help you transition to a civilian career.
“Statistics show military recruits disproportionately come from rural and suburban areas, but the opportunities in agriculture—rural and urban—are endless. No matter where you land in your civilian life, a promising future in agriculture awaits. I encourage veterans to consider a career in agriculture and think of it as continued service to our country because food security in the U.S. ensures national security. And, like the military, agriculture is not only a livelihood but also a rewarding way of life.”
USDA Resources for Veterans
USDA is committed to working with our nation’s military veterans as they become involved in agriculture. To begin your journey in agriculture, visit usda.gov/our-agency/initiatives/veterans. You will find a comprehensive look at USDA programs available specifically for veterans.
Each state has a USDA Beginning Farmer and Rancher (BFR) Coordinator who can answer questions and provide information specific to your state. Your state’s BFR coordinator can be found at farmers.gov.