WASHINGTON, D.C. — A four-star general with strong ties to Mount Washington Valley is retiring from the Air Force after a storied 37-year career.
Gen. Lori (Howard) Robinson, 58, is to retire today bringing to a close a distinguished career in which she not only flew high in the wild blue yonder but also broke the glass ceiling when it comes to women’s accomplishments in combat command posts in the military.
“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 an email to The Conway Daily Sun this week.
Daughter of the late Tish Howard and retired USAF Col. George Howard of Jackson, Robinson’s retirement follows her change of command ceremonies, which took place at her headquarters in Colorado Springs, Colo., on May 24, transferring her command of the U.S. Northern Command (USNORTHCOM) and North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) to Gen. Terrence O’Shaughnessy.
“We couldn’t be more proud of her,” said her father this week.
She is the first female officer in the history of the United States Armed Forces to command a major Unified Combatant Command. In 2016, Robinson was named to Time magazine’s list of 100 most influential people.
Robinson previously served as commander of Pacific Air Forces; air component commander for United States 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.
On March 18, 2016, U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter announced that Robinson would be named by President Barack Obama to replace Admiral William E. Gortney as commander of USNORTHCOM and NORAD, and was approved by the U.S. Senate.
She is married to Maj. Gen. David Robinson (USAF-Ret.). They plan to live in St. Petersburg, Fla., and have two children and two grandchildren.
Her brothers Steve and Jim, both graduates of the U.S. Air Force Academy, also served, with Steve attaining the rank of captain and Jim — who was medically retired — lieutenant colonel.
The oldest of the five Howard children, Robinson accompanied her father to Veterans Day ceremonies at the Josiah Bartlett Elementary School in Bartlett in November 2013.
She attended the Bartlett school in 1969-70 while her father was stationed overseas with the USAF. As a military family, they moved around a lot.
In her remarks at the school nearly five years ago, she said she didn’t set out for a military career at the outset, only intendeing to serve in the USAF for a few years, but she found she loved it. Being a member of a military family, it was a framework with which she was comfortable. When asked why she joined, she pointed to her father in the back of the room who was dressed in his Air Force uniform for the day’s events.
“See that man in the back of the room? He’s my daddy, and he was in the Air Force,” said Robinson. “I was going to be a teacher, and you had to go a fifth year for your master’s. I wasn’t sure that that was what I wanted to do, so I joined the Air Force, thinking it would be something I would do for a few years until I determined what I wanted to do with my life. So here I am 32 years later — pretty funny, huh?
One young sixth-grader asked if it was tough to be a woman in her military role.
“I was always true to myself and did the best I could. If you look at some of the jobs I have had over the years, I was the first woman to hold that position. So that is sort of the story of my career,” said Robinson.
Later, in a short interview with a reporter, she repeated that assessment.
“We have had female fighter pilots around for a while, so female fighter pilots have had the opportunity to be in combat for a while,” said Robinson, before adding, “As to being in a male-dominated field, I would tell you this: If I have learned anything, it’s to let your work and job performance speak for everything. The whole important part is they then respect your job and it becomes immaterial that you are a woman,” she said.
In addition to her year at the Bartlett school while growing up in a military family, 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, and being commissioned a second lieutenant in the Air Force.
Her accomplishments are reflected in the major awards and decorations presented: Distinguished Service Medal, Defense Superior Service Medal, Legion of Merit with two oak leaf clusters, Bronze Star Medal, Defense Meritorious Service Medal, Meritorious Service Medal with three oak leaf clusters, Aerial Achievement Medal, Air Force Commendation Medal with two oak leaf clusters and the Defense Superior Service Medal. 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.
The Howard and Robinson familys’ commitment to the military has not gone without tragedy. In 2006, the Robinsons sadly lost their daughter, Taryn, who had graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 2005. Taryn died from injuries suffered in an aircraft accident while undergoing required flying training to go to Air Force pilot training.