"Connection Man" of 88th Readiness Division reflects on importance of black history

By Sgt. Rachel Grothe | 88th Readiness Division | Feb. 28, 2019

FORT McCOY, Wis. — Retired U.S. Army Reserve Sgt. Maj. Reginald “Reggie” Robinson Sr., from rural East Prairie, Missouri, keeps the 88th Readiness Division connected through the use of phones, internet, stories, and history.

“Black History Month is a time to reflect on what happened prior to us to help us get where we’re at,” said Robinson. “Black history wasn’t really taught when I was in school, so you learn something new each year.”

While race has not defined Robinson’s life or career, as a child he was completely insulated from racism because of segregation. “I didn’t know I was ‘black’ until I was older,” he said. It has had a rippling effect on his life. 

“If my father were alive, he would break down in tears to see where I got to, but it all came from his teachings,” said the fifth of Aretha and Jim Robinson Jr.’s eight children.

Robinson’s paternal grandmother, though he never met her, was a child born of slave rape, and harbored internal racism that affected the way she treated her children. “She mistreated all of her darker skinned children. As one of the mistreated, my father wanted his family to be completely different. I grew up with a lot of love in my family.”

“When people were like ‘no, Lil’ Rob, you can’t be a sergeant major,’ that just drove me because my dad told me, whatever you do, you do the best,” said the jovial “phone guy.”

The former honor student grew up working on the large family farm building strong life-long connections to his family and the community he lived in with hard work.

“My father liked to do everything big. He’d buy rabbits from people after a hunt, so we’d have to skin and gut like 50 rabbits, plus the farm work, and we had a huge 5-acre garden. We had a lot of assembly lines, so we’d have plenty to give to whoever needed it.” He looks back fondly on his childhood, but is quick to laugh, “I don’t want anything to do with a garden.”

His labor on the farm prepared him well for the physical aspects of military life.

“People think it’s hard, but it wasn’t hard for me.” He nods his head and grins. “Drill sergeants were like, ‘Pick this up, put it here, no, put it there.’ I was like a horse from all the farm work, and I loved it.”

It took longer for Robinson to understand broader strategy.

“It just seemed like the Army didn’t have any common sense,” he said, thinking about his, and nearly all young service members’ perspective.

He learned a lot of simple but significant lessons over the next four years as an active duty infantryman and dragon gunner in Erlangen, Germany, and Fort Lewis, Washington. 

“How you gonna give me all these pockets, and I can’t put my hands in any of them, but you’re gonna give me an Article 15 if I get frostbite?” He paused with a knowingly arched eyebrow. “In basic training, they told you everything you need, but once I got to my unit, it wasn’t like that anymore. Then I was like, ‘yeah, I guess I should’ve brought gloves.’ I learned that I need to make sure I’ve got what I need,” said the former drill sergeant and veteran of both the Iraq and the Afghanistan wars.
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He left the active duty force in 1986, and returned a year later as a U.S. Army Soldier and civilian military technician. He worked as an administrative specialist and mail room clerk, where he began his ascent to both drill sergeant, and into the role most people working in the 88th Readiness Division are familiar with him as, “the Telephone Dude.” 

He retired from the U.S. Army Reserve in 2014, continued to work for the 88th Readiness Division as a civilian, at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin, imparts the wisdom he’s accumulated over more than three decades working for the U.S. Army and nearly 55 years of life in the history books to people all over the buildings he services.

“My birth certificate says ‘colored’ on it too,” the father of three children said, while he looked through photos of his family and a newspaper clipping reporting the sale of 80 acres of land to his grandfather that also says “colored.” “It’s very important to know history, not to react to it, but to know it.”

Robinson plans on retiring from the 88th Readiness Division in 18 months, but leaves behind drops of life advice along with wire telecommunication drops.

“When you learn the basics you can fix anything,” he said.