CONWAY Proud, humbled and grateful.
Such words sum up retired four-star U.S. Air Force Gen. Lori Robinson’s feelings as she reflects on her 37 years of active-duty service, as well as on what it means to be coming home to the Mount Washington Valley in order to participate in local Veterans Day observances.
The featured speaker in North Conway’s Schouler Park on Nov. 11, Robinson became in 2016 the first female officer in the history of the U.S. armed forces to command a major Unified Combatant Command: the North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Northern Command. She held that position until she retired in May 2018 at the age of 59.
Robinson also was set to make an appearance at ceremonies Friday, Nov. 8, at Josiah Bartlett Elementary.
The daughter of the late Tish Howard, formerly of Bartlett, and Col. George Howard (USAF-Ret.), now of Jackson, Robinson said in an interview with the Sun this week she had not originally intended to make the military her career.
She had enrolled in ROTC at the University of New Hampshire, initially thinking she’d stay for four years after graduating in 1981 as a second lieutenant.
But she learned to love what she did, rising through the ranks with a distinction for competency and always trying and doing her best, no matter the assignment.
“I am proud to have served my country for 37 years, and to be a part of something bigger than myself. I am eternally grateful for the support of my family, and look forward to spending more time with them in retirement,” Robinson said in a phone interview Tuesday, speaking from St. Petersburg, Fla., where she lives with husband, Maj. Gen. David Robinson (USAF-Ret., who was to accompany her on her upcoming visit to the valley).
As a child, Robinson attended Josiah Bartlett Elementary School in Bartlett in 1969-70 while her father was stationed overseas with the Air Force. As a military family, they moved around a lot.
From her own experiences growing up, as well as her military career, she knows firsthand that the men and women who serve this country do so out of love of country and a commitment to duty, honor and freedom.
The former Bartlett resident will give a few remarks echoing those thoughts at Monday’s services in North Conway’s Schouler Park following the annual North Conway Veterans Day Parade.
“I will be speaking about military themes; of always thanking veterans and the community for embracing them; and how important that is to everybody,” she said.
Robinson’s father, Col. Howard, who will introduce his daughter to the crowd on Monday, said he has been looking forward to her visit. “We are always glad to have our children come home. We thank friends and community for all their support over the years to welcome her.”
Monday’s parade through North Conway Village will be presented by American Legion Post 95 with the help of other local veterans organizations.
The parade is set to leave from the John H. Fuller Elementary School at 11 a.m. and then head south down Main Street to the park.
Veterans are encouraged to participate in the parade. They are asked to gather at the school at 10:30 a.m., according to local attorney and veteran Don Ekberg, a member of American Legion Post 95 of North Conway.
The Gibson Center for Senior Services will provide its shuttle bus from the school parking lot to the park for those who are not up to the walk but who would like to participate in the procession.
Post 95 Cmdr. Jim Lefebvre and his counterpart at Post 46 in Conway, John Kiesman, noted they will represent their respective posts in laying wreaths at the flagpole in Schouler Park in memory of the fallen as part of the ceremonies.
Lefebvre, Kiesman and Ekberg all agreed the valley is honored to have Gen. Robinson coming to participate.
“I think it is quite a feather in the cap of the valley to have a four-star general coming to speak at our observances,” said Ekberg.
Added Lefebvre: “She is the daughter of George Howard of Jackson. We have been speaking for some time about getting her to come. This being the 100th anniversary of the founding of the American Legion nationally, I cannot think of a better way to mark that anniversary than having a four-star general who spent part of her years growing up in the valley come to participate, and we are very honored to have her.”
Lefebvre noted that, at the invitation of Principal Danielle Nutting. of John Fuller Elementary, veterans took part in ceremonies at that school on Friday.
(For full details of planned local Veterans Day ceremonies, see related story on Page 1a inside this edition.)
Monday’s speech by Gen. Robinson will be her first local appearance since November 2013, when she visited Josiah Bartlett Elementary for Veterans Day ceremonies there.
In her planned remarks on Monday, in addition to honoring veterans for their service, she said she also will thank military families because their sacrifice and commitment is equally as praiseworthy as that of the nation’s military service people.
“It takes a team,” Robinson said. “David and I very much always believed in the (military) member and the family.”
She added it is important for the member serving on active duty to be able to focus on his or her task at hand knowing their partner back home is handling important family matters.
“Often, I would talk to a member when we would deploy overseas, and say that it’s easier to focus on one thing versus driving children to ballet or soccer games and seeing to everything back home,” she recalled.
“I would say that the person who does that for you allows you to focus — David and I are always very, very grateful to the family: You recruit the member, but you retain the family.”
Having grown up in a military family (her father was an Air Force pilot during the Vietnam War), that is something she has always understood.
Her own family paid the ultimate sacrifice in January 2006, when Lori and David Robinson lost their daughter, Taryn, who had graduated the year before from the U.S. Air Force Academy. Taryn died from injuries suffered in an aircraft accident while undergoing required flying training.
“She wanted to be a fighter pilot like her daddy. … The (only) solace to me is that she died doing something that she loved doing, flying,” said Robinson.
“David and I are blessed by a family that includes our son, Travis; his wife, Jacque; and their children Ethan and Mya; and our son, Eric; his wife Stormi; and their daughter, Kylie. We are proud of them all and love to see them grow and thrive,” Robinson said.
Son Travis is a test engineer in the Navy, and Eric works for Southwest Airlines.
Robinson is the eldest of five Howard children. Two of her brothers, Stephen and Jim, graduated from the Air Force Academy and served for a period of time. Stephen, who attained the rank of captain, now flies for American Airlines. Jimmy, now deceased, was a lieutenant colonel.
Another brother, Michael, is a scientist. Sister, Carol is a nurse.
“My brothers and sisters are great human beings, and their families are also amazing,” Robinson related proudly.
She also is proud of her family’s military heritage and of the commitment of all who wear the nation’s uniform.
“Man, woman — I would tell anybody a career in the military is awesome,” said Robinson. “You know, you have an opportunity to serve your country and take an oath to defend and support the Constitution of the United States. And there is nothing like it.”
Asked what it was like to be a woman in the military, Robinson said it was always a matter of doing the job she was given to the best of her ability.
“People always talk about my being a woman — I always say that when I was on active duty, I was an airman and a general, and I just happened to be a woman.
“What was important to me was someone put me in a job because they thought I was competent and had potential. … My bosses and mentors along the way put me in places that were different for a non-fighter pilot for a woman. But I never said I don’t want to do that job — and I always wanted to be the best at the job they put me in.”
Asked about leadership and how she learned about it, Robinson said she was taught some lifelong lessons from early in her career.
“When I was a captain, I had an amazing mentor who told me that I was ‘now part of something bigger than yourself.’
“‘What does that mean?’ I thought, but over time, I discovered it is not about me; it’s about the institution and that if we try to make the people around us better than us then at the end of the day we make the institution better.
“When I finally understood that I was part of something bigger than myself, it became one of my driving things (in life) — to make people better than me.”
In addition to her year at the Bartlett school while growing up, Robinson also attended schools in France, England, Texas, Idaho, South Carolina and Virginia before enrolling at the University of New Hampshire, where she graduated with a bachelor of arts degree in English.
Robinson served as commander of Pacific Air Forces; air component commander for U.S. Pacific Command; and executive director, Pacific Air Combat Operations Staff, Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii.
The Pacific Air Forces command has responsibility for Air Force activities spread over half the globe and supports 45,000 airmen serving principally in Japan, South Korea, Hawaii, Alaska and Guam.
Her accomplishments are reflected in such major awards and decorations as: the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, Legion of Merit with two oak leaf clusters, Bronze Star Medal, Aerial Achievement Medal and Air Force Commendation Medal with two oak leaf clusters. She holds the rating of Senior Air Battle Manager and has logged more than 900 flight hours in the E-3B/C and E-8C aircraft.
Her dedication won her national media acclaim in 2016, when Robinson was named to Time magazine’s list of 100 most influential people.
In that article, U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), a retired Army lieutenant colonel. lauded Robinson’s attainment of the Unified Command Post promotion.
“In the military,” wrote Duckworth, “a combatant command is the ultimate job. It’s the pointy tip of the spear, overseeing the people carrying the rifles and flying the aircraft. Northern Command, created the year after the 9/11 attacks, is also prestigious because it protects our homeland. That is such a tremendous commentary on where we are as a nation.
“For years, women were barred from combat roles, closing off their route to the senior leadership. Gen. Robinson’s appointment makes clear to every female lieutenant that the top jobs are now open to them.”
Robinson also was featured on the cover of Time’s Sept. 18, 2017, edition in a story about “women who are changing the world,” focusing on women who had achieved firsts in their respective endeavors.
The sky has been the limit for Robinson, and she flew right through the glass ceiling so others can now follow her trajectory.