After three years living under the alias “Bobby Covert,” an undercover New Jersey state trooper infiltrating the mob, Bob Delaney thought he was headed back to his normal life on the day police conducted a mass raid and made arrests. But that’s when the personal problems began, he told Soldiers here Thursday.
As a police officer booked Delaney and another man he knew in the mafia, his true identity was revealed. “Bobby, what did you get pinched for?” the crime family member asked Delaney.
“He’s with us,” the other cop replied. “He’s a state trooper.”
Delaney, who’d gained about 50 pounds in his assumed identity and sported a beard, remembers how he felt. “The look (on the guy’s face) was of disappointment and hurt,” he said in a presentation to Maneuver Captains Career Course students and cadre at Derby Auditorium. “‘How could you do that to us? How could you do it to me? I was your friend.’
“It took a toll on me. Growing up, you were taught not to rat out your friends.”
Delaney recounted how he “became another person” during that mid-1970s operation, dubbed “Project Alpha” by the New Jersey State Police. Mobsters nicknamed him “Bobby Smash” and knew him as the owner of Alamo Trucking Company, a fictional business set up by authorities.
“We mimicked the mob. We became a crew,” he said.
“It’s a Sopranos-esque type story. I interacted with every one of those characters.”
Despite going on to a 25-year career as an NBA referee, Delaney said he struggled with post-traumatic stress in the investigation’s aftermath, which included a “contract hit” put on his life that police picked up in surveillance.
“I started to experience an emotional roller coaster ride. I changed as a person,” he told the Soldiers. “The more I spoke about what I was going through and what I was dealing with, it was like therapy for me.”
On Thursday, the 59-year-old Delaney, who retired from the NBA after last season, signed copies of his new book, Surviving the Shadows: A Journey of Hope into Post-Traumatic Stress, at McGinnis-Wickam Hall and the Fort Benning PX. He addressed students and cadre from the Henry Caro Noncommissioned Officer Academy that afternoon and later attended the Fort Benning Gateway dedication at the National Infantry Museum.
By 1978, Delaney said his personal security out in public remained a big concern, but he had an epiphany that year, too.
“If I didn’t go about my life, the bad guys would win,” he said. “We all experienced that after 9/11. But we don’t become paralyzed by fear, we just become more aware of the things around us. Basketball became my therapy. I wanted to put myself in an environment that was healthy.”
He also befriended former FBI agent Joe Pistone, whose undercover work as “Donnie Brasco” became the basis for a 1988 book and critically acclaimed 1997 film starring Johnny Depp. Delaney said the two had common experiences cracking the world of organized crime — and used them in one another’s healing process. “Peer-to-peer therapy is the first line of defense against keeping post-traumatic stress from becoming a disorder,” he said. “We need to talk about it, but more often than not, we push it down, make believe it didn’t happen. We can’t take away traumatic events. This is a human condition and we’re all susceptible.
“Frustration leads to aggression. I experienced all of that. It took years upon years to get my emotions out.” For the past quarter-century, Delaney has spoken with cops, firefighters and emergency first-responders about post-traumatic stress. He’s visited troops in Iraq and gave a presentation at Fort Hood, Texas, following the massacre two years ago that killed 13 people.
He said it’s not about eradicating PTS, but boosting awareness instead so it can be managed more effectively, as there’s a physiology behind it.
“Post-traumatic stress may be a lifelong journey, but it’s not a lifelong sentence,” he said. “Peer-to-peer therapy works and when you’re going through tough times, find what gives you an inner peace. Being a Soldier is what identifies you, it’s what you do best, but you’re more than that. You need other things in your life, too.” “Shell shock” and “battle fatigue” were among the labels placed on Soldiers emerging from wars past. Post-traumatic stress disorder wasn’t an accepted medical diagnosis until 1981.
Delaney said he’s met Soldiers who can’t drive or ride across a bridge when they come home without looking for roadside bombs. Even camera flashes can trigger reminders of blasts they saw in war zones.
He urged the officers and NCOs in attendance to make a difference within their units.
“You have an influence in the environment. It doesn’t mean you’re weak,” he said. “This is just another part of the battlefield. Education and awareness is key to erasing the stigma. The more we have it, the better off we’re going to be.”