FORT DETRICK, Md. – At the convergence of the Ohio and Big Sandy Rivers – where the Blue Grass State begins to point west away from Ohio and West Virginia – sits Catlettsburg, Kentucky, population 1,780.
The center of Appalachia offers hillsides covered in hardwood groves, with leaves changing annually each fall marking the passage of time – the town’s one time renown as a timber center recedes further into the past as citizens age and the draw of opportunity away from the shores of the Big Sandy River shrinks the population more each year.
For U.S. Army Capt. Brian Robinette, the confines of small-town Eastern Kentucky seemed just a bit too small, despite its bucolic charm – nearing 18 years in uniform, three combat deployments, a rise through the enlisted ranks of Army infantry, with bedrock support from his wife Cristie and four kids, Robinette finds himself a member of a team on the forward edge of U.S. Army medical technology development – trading his M4 carbine and body armor for an office and standing desk, he now helps shape the future of military medical capabilities.
“It impresses me every day to see all the work behind the curtain and the mountain of work that has to be done to deliver a product,” said Robinette, who is currently an Assistant Product Manager with the Medical Devices Assemblage Management (MDAM) Office, part of the U.S. Army Medical Materiel Development Activity at Fort Detrick, Maryland. “This team is the catalyst ensuring that the Warfighter has the necessary equipment and materiel to meet their assigned missions.”
And those assigned missions are ones Robinette knows well. A former infantryman, Robinette enlisted in 2005, moving past a less-than-fulfilling stint as a young college student. In the mid-2000s, at the height of combat operations in Iraq, Robinette followed the passion he carried his entire life and headed to the recruiter’s office – hoping to enlist in the U.S. Air Force.
“Once I made the decision to pursue my dream of wearing a uniform, I went to the Air Force recruiting office multiple times that week,” he said. “I wanted to be a [pararesueman] but there were other plans in store for me. The Air Force recruiter [wasn’t] there and the Army recruiter had observed my efforts. The Army gave me the chance to jump out of airplanes and Airborne was written into my contract. At that point of my life infantry sounded like the adventure that I was looking for, and the rest is history.”
That history includes combat operations with the 509th Parachute Infantry Regiment as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2006 and 2007; and in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan in 2009 to 2010 and again in 2018 to 2019. Robinette credits these deployments with his mission focus and ability to work in a joint-service environment – and for giving him a first-hand understanding of the importance of the work the USAMMDA team does each day.
“Joint-services have always been a part of the battlefield for my entire career,” said Robinette, who now works to identify key shortfalls in military medical capacity and to resolve them as part of USAMMDA’s modernization efforts. “The medical field, specifically the technology associated with it, is changing at a meteoric pace. The Department of Defense must maintain an effort to keep up, just for the simple fact that our Warfighters deserve the very best in medical equipment. Lives will be saved with the efforts within this organization.”
Robinette joined USAMMDA in spring 2021 as an intern with the Program Management-Acquisition Internship Program. As part of PM-AIP, Robinette completed the coursework for practitioner Program Management certification and on-the-job training to learn military medical device product costs, schedules and performance. He now serves as a team member with MDAM, “which provides acquisition lifecycle management of medical equipment, unit assemblages, devices and ancillary medical items to support human and animal patient care, ensuring that the Warfighter has the necessary equipment and materiel to meet their assigned missions,” said Robinette. “The mission is critical to the success of current and future field medical treatment” in the U.S. Army’s echelons of medical care, he said.
As part of USAMMDA, the U.S. Army’s premier developer of new drugs, vaccines, devices and medical support equipment, Robinette applies his experience to help the MDAM team refine its workflow while reaching back through the years to draw inspiration from the Soldiers he served alongside. With a degree in Organizational Leadership earned through the National American University, Robinette went from Green to Gold in 2014, earning his commission through the ROTC program at the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs.
“I served as an Infantryman and held every position through the ranks, up to platoon sergeant,” said Robinette. “A good friend of mine introduced [Green to Gold Active Duty Option] to me while we were recruiting together, and it was kind of funny that I was able to mentally check off everything while he was rattling off what he had to meet to apply. I have always been a strong subscriber to some advice given to me, ‘You will never hit the target if you do not take the shot.’ It was truly a humbling and rewarding experience to be selected to complete my undergraduate degree and commission as an officer in the U.S. Army.”
Today, Robinette’s boots are less worn out and dust covered than the average Infantry Soldier yet he remains humble – his office is tucked away on USAMMDA’s 2nd floor, far from the Soldiers he once led during intense training and life-altering combat. Those Soldiers – “[I] served as an Infantryman and fought side by side with many [Soldiers] far more brave than I … I served in Afghanistan and was given the honor to lead some of the finest sons and daughters of this great nation as a Platoon Sergeant,” Robinette said in summary – are the focus of the MDAM team as USAMMDA continues to focus on medical capabilities modernization.
But for Robinette, his success, past, present and future, comes down to two words: servant leadership, an ethos he learned from the family he credits most for the foundations of his personal and professional accomplishments. Those accomplishments, burnished as they may be, are rooted in the love, care, camaraderie and commitment he’s shared with the family, friends and fellow Warriors who make up the branches of his life – branches not unlike the great Oaks back home in Catlettsburg, Kentucky, population 1,780, where his story began but certainly does not end.
“My late father, Keith Robinette, was an outstanding individual and instilled in me everything that I am,” Robinette said. “One of the pieces of advice that has remained permanent in my mind is: when someone gives you the stage, it is imperative to make sure what you want to be heard is said. I have had an outstanding career and I wouldn’t trade it for another, however, it is imperative that we take the time for ourselves and our families. I love each and every one of you and it is courageous to seek help when needed.”