17th Fires Brigade soldier named best artilleryman of 2012
May 3, 2013
JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash. - Sgt. 1st Class Thomas A. Robinson, a Newport News, Va., native, and the fire control chief and digital master gunner with 1st Battalion, 377th Field Artillery Regiment, 17th Fires Brigade, was presented with the Edmund L. Gruber Award during a ceremony outside 17th Fires Bde. Headquarters, April 30.
The Gruber award is named after Brig. Gen. Edmund L. Gruber, who composed the official Army song, and is awarded to an individual soldier each year for significant contributions and innovative enhancements to the field artillery corps.
When Robinson returned to JBLM in September 2012 after a deployment to Afghanistan, he was informed by his battalion commander that he was going to be nominated for the Gruber award - which Robinson instantly shrugged off, expecting not to win.
His initial reaction was replaced with surprise when he found out he had actually won the award for his efforts during deployment. While Robinson already had three deployments to Iraq under his belt, his duties in Afghanistan were unlike anything he had done before.
"My job traditionally, at the battalion level, is to ensure the battery level [fire directions control] sections are trained up to standard, they're able to put rounds downrange effectively, and they're following the regulations accordingly to make sure all their procedures are correct," Robinson explained.
"When I deployed, that was my initial intention, to go down there, make sure that guys were doing the right thing, really scrutinizing on their tactics, their techniques, how they're performing, to make sure we're as accurate as possible when that call for fire comes down," he continued.
Robinson performed his duties in Afghanistan for only about a month before a platoon sergeant position became available, and the Battery C first sergeant asked him to become the new platoon sergeant.
"Traditionally a platoon sergeant of a firing battery platoon is a [cannon crewmember], because three of the four sections are composed of cannon crewmembers, the fourth section is composed of fire directions controllers," Robinson said. "It's very odd to have a [fire directions chief] as a platoon sergeant."
While he was out of his element, Robinson conducted heavy research on his new leadership position to ensure he would perform his tasks properly and give his soldiers everything they deserved from a professional leader.
"From there on out, we put over 600 rounds downrange effectively on targets, and we didn't have any safety incidents or violations," Robinson said.
Being successful in a position he wasn't familiar with wasn't the only thing that landed Robinson the Gruber award, however. In between fire missions, Battery C played a large role in training soldiers with the Afghan National Army. In order to train those soldiers effectively, Robinson had to become proficient in their weapons system and figure out a way to ensure they understood what they were being taught.
"I developed a very good understanding of the [D-30 122mm howitzer], it's a Russian piece and what [the Afghan soldiers] had," Robinson said.
"I took a solid week and brought one down to the gun-pit, and I really just analyzed it and overanalyzed it ... just wanted to really get a good working knowledge of the artillery piece itself before I was expected to train these guys."
After feeling confident about knowing the foreign weapon inside and out, Robinson developed a certification program for the Afghan artillerymen, which gave his platoon the system they needed to gauge how effectively the Afghan soldiers were learning.
"We ended up getting a lot of the Afghan National Army certified to fire live rounds from their howitzer, and eventually, it took a lot of work from the time that we were over there, probably about six months, but we got those guys to fire in support of their own troops on the ground," Robinson said.
Robinson's success with getting ANA soldiers to fire on their own accord captured the attention of his battalion, since one of the big goals of Operation Enduring Freedom is to create a well-trained, governed force in Afghanistan that can deter local insurgent groups from expanding.
Robinson, however, was quick to dispel any notions that his success is his alone.
"I am a firm believer that behind anybody's success there is always someone else; it's never one person," Robinson said.
From the first sergeant and command sergeant major that allowed him to become a firing platoon sergeant, to the ANA artillery commander that helped him keep the Afghan soldiers disciplined and motivated to learn, Robinson says there are many people that helped him. Among those are the soldiers that trusted him to be their new platoon sergeant.
"The soldiers really supported me and made me successful just by doing their jobs," Robinson said. "I was very lucky to have soldiers that were trained, constantly seeking out knowledge. Ultimately, in my opinion, soldiers are always what make senior noncommissioned officers successful."
Robinson also said that none of this would have been possible without his wife, Jennifer, who managed their home and took care of their three daughters while he was deployed.
"[My wife] supports me in everything," he said. "Without her, I wouldn't be as successful as I am in the military. I'm a firm believer that [marriage] is a partnership, not a dictatorship. I don't run anything," he said, grinning.
While Robinson is grateful for being recognized, the Gruber award is not an endgame for him, but rather a mark toward his goals. He completed classes at Tidewater Community College, Norfolk, Virg., and plans to finish out a degree in criminal justice at Liberty University online. Other than that, his plans are to stay in the Army and complete 20 years of service while he "continues to learn."
"I don't believe there is anyone in the Army that knows everything, so I just try to continue to develop myself," he said. "And hopefully one day be a sergeant major, that's my ultimate goal."