Arroyo was born in Puerto Rico and came with his family to New York, when he was shuttled off to a new home and school. Knowing very little English, Arroyo had to make friends at Woodrow Wilson School, where he first attended.
One of the first friendly faces belonged to Kostas "Gus" Papadapoulos, who also attended Woodrow Wilson School.
"Gus was the first person I met when I came to New Jersey," Arroyo said. "We quickly became good friends."
Arroyo and Papadapoulos went on to Weehawken High School together and played on the same basketball team for two years. They both graduated from Weehawken High School in 1992 and remained friends.
But like many childhood friends, Arroyo and Papadapoulos went their separate ways as an adult.
Arroyo tried college for a semester, then got a job in the financial world, but then finally enlisted in the United States Army, where he spent four years of regular duty, eventually serving one year as a paratrooper in Afghanistan and 12 years total in the National Guard, finally reaching the rank of sergeant.
Papadapoulous went to work for his family's seafood business, Gotham Seafood, in New York.
But they both had the same childhood dream - to eventually become a police officer.
Following a dream
Papadapoulos' younger brother, Angelo, was fortunate to get the call as a Weehawken police officer nine years ago. Gus took the test back then, but wasn't lucky enough to get hired.
Arroyo was concentrating on his military career and hoped that he would eventually get the chance to become a Weehawken cop.
Recently, the two long-time friends were able to fulfill their dreams, albeit a little later in life. The 35-year-old Arroyo and the 33-year-old Papadapoulos were sworn in together as the two newest recruits into the Weehawken police department.
The two friends are completing in-house training and then will head to the Jersey City Police Academy for the next 26 weeks.
Both men were fortunate to receive the call this time around. The cutoff age for new police recruits is 35 years old, so Arroyo just makes it and Papadapoulos was coming real close.
"We're a couple of old-time recruits, old-time rookies," Papadapoulos said after taking the oath. "We both just made the cutoff. I just kept on hoping that I would get the chance, because I always knew that police life was for me. I wanted to have it happen and it's a dream come true."
Papadapoulos wanted the job so much that when he was a senior at Weehawken High, he chose to be the Chief of Police during the annual Law Day that the seniors participate in.
"I've waited a long time for this," Papadapoulos said. "Other than getting married to my wife [Adelisse] and having my daughter [3-year-old Nia Hope], this is the greatest day of my life."
Arroyo, a single father of three children, had been working as a building inspector for the town since his tour with the military completed last March.
It's ironic that the two friends got sworn in together, because they've recently become closer than ever over the last year since Arroyo's return. They both serve as coaches together in the Weehawken Pop Warner football program and also coach a basketball team together in the Weehawken Recreation league.
"We're best friends and we're a lot closer now than ever before," Arroyo said. "It means a lot to me that I'm going in with Gus. We can always share this together."
Both men said that they have no problem with the upcoming training in the police academy.
"I think it's only going to be repetitive for me," Arroyo said. "I've been through so many boot camps in my life with all sorts of training. I'm not saying I'm fully qualified, but I think it won't be too hard. I just have to get back to that phase of my life. But having Gus with me will make it easier, being there with someone who will push me and support me. We're always helping each other out in other ways, so this won't be any different."
"I'm looking forward to it," Papadapoulos said. "I feel that there's no reason why I can't do it. Age should have no bearing on me."
Weehawken Public Safety Director Jeff Welz said that the age of the two new recruits should be no factor.
"In fact, I think it should be an advantage, especially with Rafael, because of his military training," Welz said. "There's a maturity factor with both guys. They're both in great physical shape. They had to compete in the physical portion of the test and to their credit, they both scored very well. They were competing with younger applicants and fared very well. I think they both should be great assets to the department. They're great friends and already have that close camaraderie. They will have the natural support of each other for the next 26 weeks."
Welz said that the two men were hired at an annual salary of $25,000 while they attend the academy. By the time they are ready for regular patrol work in June, they will receive a raise to $30,000 and then another substantial raise after they complete one year on the job.
It's safe to say that the two men are definitely ready for the challenge ahead.
"I feel like I'm living out a dream," Papadapoulos said. "I'm ecstatic."
Sure beats hauling fish.
"I have to agree with that," he laughed.
As for Arroyo, it sure beats getting dropped from a plane with just a parachute.
"I always wanted to either get into the military or law enforcement," Arroyo said. "Now, I'll have the best of both worlds."
Jim Hague can be reached via e-mail at either OGSMAR@aol.com or email@example.com