Lt. Col. Allen Robinson retired after a 31-year military career in 2006, but when his son, SSgt. Nate Robinson, followed in his footsteps by enlisting in the Ohio Air National Guard in 2013, he still had plenty of connections.
Allen Robinson retired as the civil engineering squadron commander for the 121st Air Refueling Wing stationed at Rickenbacker Air National Guard Base in Columbus. So when Nate joined the same squadron, Robinson was able to issue his son's Oath of Enlistment, an honor and memory that has stood the test of time.
He was also able to keep a close eye on his son thanks to all his old contacts.
"When he got in they kind of kept an eye out for him," Robinson says now with a bit of a laugh. "They kind of reported to me when he was screwing up. I got a little CIA."
All joking aside, Allen is proud of the family tie to the military, with the two Robinsons now boasting 45 years of combined service to our country. That service was recognized Dec. 21 by the Blue Jackets when both Robinsons were in Nationwide Arena to take part in the Elk + Elk Military Salute, which included the two being on the ice with Leo Welsh for the national anthem as well as being recognized during a media timeout during the first period.
Video: Allen and Nathan Robinson were honored during Anthem.
It was also fitting that the celebration took place at a hockey game. The elder Robinson was born in Minneapolis and fell in love with the game there before first heading to Columbus in 1975 when was assigned to Rickenbacker after first joining the Air Force. He then attended Ohio State and stayed in Columbus, with Nate growing up a huge Buckeyes and Blue Jackets fan.
Allen has also become a Blue Jackets fan, and you can often spot him in Nationwide Arena in his old-school original union blue jersey adorned with the name and number "Robinson 50" (it was a gift for his 50th birthday, not an homage to Eric Robinson, who would come along many years later).
Robinson has carried that Blue Jackets fandom in a fair number of ways, including when he met Mike Sillinger in the franchise's early days and arranged a photo in Afghanistan with a Blue Jackets flag sent to him by the former Blue Jackets forward.
Add it all up and the experience of being the military honoree for that December game was a memory for father and son won't soon forget.
"The way people treated us, I was really impressed," Allen said. "Very respectful, very appreciative of what Nathan and I had done, and the whole experience was just cool. Everybody was coming up to us the entire time. In fact, we went out afterwards, and Nate was in uniform and people were thanking us and shaking our hands and telling us their stories. It made me appreciate everything that we had done and was very thankful that people around us recognized that."
Both Robinsons have had a decorated career with numerous deployments overseas. Allen has been involved in several NATO, State Department and Department of Defense deployments to Europe, Central America and the Caribbean Basin, including trips to Puerto Rico and Jamaica to provide aid after hurricanes.
But perhaps his most memorable deployment came shortly after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, as the 121st's Civil Engineering Rapid Deployment Team was sent from Rickenbacker to Pakistan and Afghanistan for the early stages of Operation Enduring Freedom. It was the first Air National Guard engineering team deployed to a combat zone since Vietnam, and it was tasked with constructing and maintaining the forward operating base supporting more than 2,000 coalition forces.
"When we deployed, we got the call on the 21st of October," said Robinson, remembering that 57 Air Guardsmen from Rickenbacker were sent to help put the base together. "There were 750 people living in a hangar. We built the base and at one point we were hosting about 3,000 people. We had 22 different air frames on there. We built the power station, the water distribution station, all that stuff. To this day, I can vividly recall some of the things we did over there and the experience. For me, it was a life-changing experience."
Nate's story was a little different, as he enlisted in the Marine Corps and was stationed in Columbus with Lima Company. He deployed to the Republic of Georgia and Senegal before the company was sent to Helmand Province, Afghanistan as part of Operation Enduring Freedom in 2010. It was a notable deployment, as Lima Company had been hit hard by casualties in Iraq in 2005.
Robinson returned and fulfilled his contract with the Marines in 2013, then followed in his father's footsteps in joining the Ohio Air National Guard as a heavy equipment operator. This winter, he returned from a six-month deployment to Qatar as part of Operation Freedom Sentinel.
The younger Robinson lives in Worthington with his wife, Lauren, and young daughter, Brooke. Allen Robinson lives in Westerville with his wife, Kathleen, and in his home sits a reminder of the two paths, similar but differently, that unite father and son.
"We have a map in my basement with red pins for Marines and blue pins for Air Force," Allen Robinson said. "We each have a pin in Kandahar because he was there about 10 years after I was there."