Former Soldier pursues childhood dream
July 24, 2008
(Editor's note: The following article is the first in a series about people who have overcome obstacles in their lives.)
As an Army retiree who served in combat and suffered service injuries, he has already accomplished much in his life, but there is no chance he is about to slow down now.
Robbie Robinson, a civilian employee on Fort Drum, served in the Army for 33 years and fought in Vietnam, where he sustained injuries during a mine explosion. But he would not quit, staying in the Army as a small-arms instructor and then an armor instructor working with tanks. He had both knees and a shoulder replaced and still has shrapnel in one leg.
Also while in the Army, Robinson found out he had dyslexia.
"It took me about six months to come to grips with it, but I learned how to deal with my differences," he said. "I used to think I wasn't college material, because it would take me so long to learn things. But when doctors determined I was dyslexic, going to school became a lot easier and more fun."
Robinson uses a program on his computer that reads words to him and types out words that he speaks. He has already earned his associate's degree and is hoping to graduate in December with a bachelor's degree in visual arts from Boise State University.
When Robinson retired from the Army in 2004, he had many dreams he still wanted to pursue, including one that had been growing in him since he was a child.
When he was about 12 years old, Robinson found out he had what he calls "a God-given talent." He was showing off his dribbling skills in a basketball game and missed a layup. His coach took him out of the game, and Robinson found a camera lying around. He started taking pictures of the game, and he said it just felt natural. He knew exactly what buttons to press, what to turn, what to shift, even though he had never been taught.
When the game was over, he left the camera where he found it.
It turned out the camera belonged to his coach, who eventually found out Robinson took the pictures. The coach was impressed, saying Robinson had the potential to do great things in photography. He said it was not just a lucky shot - all of the photos were really good.
The coach bought Robinson a camera and a sketchbook to sketch light sources. Robinson started practicing and has not stopped taking pictures since.
He tried his hand at combat photography while he was in Vietnam, and he said the Army used many of his pictures. It was after the war that he attended school to learn some of the technical details about photography.
He since has started his own photography business called Can Do Photography, named after his belief that people can do anything they make up their mind to do.
"Despite my injuries, I pushed myself. The mission always comes first," Robinson said. "I was in pain, but I pushed through it. I still live with that philosophy today. I brought my reading level from a second-grade to a 12th-grade reading level in two years. Make up your mind to do something, and you should carry it out, all the way through."
Robinson is now working as a Training Support Center photographer for the summer, writing his autobiography and a novel, and is hoping to start on his master's degree in the near future.
He also saves time for his many other interests such as sculpting with clay, painting, working with bronze and studying art history.
"I love to learn about culture and where things and people came from," he said. "I'd like to go to Athens, the 'Cradle of Civilization,' to photograph the pieces we read about. And hopefully one day, my photos will be in magazines and college books."
One more thing he mentioned he would like to do is go to Iraq or Afghanistan and capture Soldiers' stories on camera.
"I know how Soldiers feel - I've been one of them," Robinson said. "Each Soldier has a story to tell, and I'd like to capture it with photography. I traded my rifle for a camera, and I still keep shooting."