Buster Robinson’s love of aviation began when he was a kid.
“I think I got bit by the aviation bug the first time I flew commercially when I was 4 or 5 years old,” Robinson said. “That was the first time I think I ever said, ‘I want to be a pilot’.”
That childhood interest led to a 10-year career in the Army National Guard as a Chinook helicopter pilot.
Today, Robinson coordinates the aircraft activity of Texas A&M Forest Service as the agency’s incident aviation operations officer. He is one of 43 veterans working for Texas A&M Forest Service.
The journey to pilot
Robinson began taking flight lessons after college, but the cost eventually forced him to stop short of obtaining a private pilot’s license.
After joining Texas A&M Forest Service as a forester in Palestine, Robinson’s interest was reignited while working with Chinook flight crews battling wildfires in the state. He said those relationships helped him get a feel for what would be involved in joining the National Guard and getting accepted to flight school.
“It just worked out,” he said, crediting Texas A&M Forest Service for accommodating his time away from work. “Texas A&M Forest Service really took care of me when I was gone for long periods of time. I never worried about coming back and not having a job anymore. They went above and beyond. I was able to realize a dream and had the agency’s support making that happen. This agency has a special place in my heart.”
Robinson’s military career, spanning from 2008 to 2018, included a year in Afghanistan as well as wildfire, flood and hurricane response missions closer to home.
“It was a rewarding experience and a really good opportunity,” he said. “I loved it. It was a lot of fun, but also very challenging.”
A change in direction
Robinson’s devotion to his young family prompted his decision to leave the National Guard.
“There is no such thing as a part-time helicopter pilot,” he said. “And you can’t be in two places at once.”
Robinson said he can draw a direct line from his military experience to the role he performs at Texas A&M Forest Service.
“It gave me the tools that I needed to move over to this,” he said.
John Wegenhoft, Texas A&M Forest Service Employee Development Department head, said hiring service members is a strategic investment that makes good business sense.
“These employees come to the workplace with a record of commitment and dedication to a worthwhile cause and an understanding that gain rarely comes without cost,” said Wegenhoft, who served for 26 years in the U.S. Army, retiring as a lieutenant colonel. “Veterans are a foundation for building and sustaining mission-focused, service-oriented organizations.”
Texas A&M Forest Service Interim Director Al Davis, a retired U.S. Marine Corps colonel, said military experience lays the foundation for the culture of service rooted in the agency.
“It’s about service, commitment and leadership,” Davis said. “Those things resonate with veterans, no matter what they did in the military. It’s all centered on caring about people and focused on the mission.”
Robinson said Veterans Day is an important occasion for him because not every generation of veterans has been appreciated.
“It means a lot that people value the sacrifice that goes into military service,” he said. “It always makes me feel good to hear ‘Thank you for your service’.”