In October of 2010, Retired Colonel Benjamin F. Robinson retired from a second career in civil service. The following week, Robinson walked through the front doors of the American Red Cross and said he was ready to volunteer. No time for relaxing – he had work to do.
“There was no way I could sit at home and watch As the World Turns. I always said if I had the opportunity to pay back the Red Cross, I would,” Robinson said.
It all started in the early sixties when he was stationed in Germany. His mother, back home in Georgia, fell ill. The doctors had not given her much time to live, so the Red Cross was contacted to help relay the emergency message to him. After receiving word of his mother’s condition, Robinson was granted leave. Within 72 hours, he walked into the hospital and stood at his mother’s bedside.
“My mother hadn’t spoken in two weeks. When I walked in the door she said, ‘There’s my baby’… I didn’t know how the Red Cross did it, but they got me there,” he recalled.
It was his presence, he believes, that aided in his mother’s recovery. “My mother lived 30 years longer than the day the doctors said she was on her death bed. She was afraid I would do something wrong so she had to stick around and watch out for me.”
Sure enough, someone must have been watching over Col. Robinson. While fighting in the Vietnam War, he found himself in the midst of a sticky situation and a rations drop of Red Cross supplies somehow got him back out.
During his military career, not only did he have personal experience with the Red Cross through his mother’s illness, but he was often the colonel who received Red Cross messages for others and authorized the leave for other soldiers.
“My job, when I got the call, was to make sure the soldier was packed up, make sure they had what they needed and get them home," Robinson said. "If the Red Cross called, I didn’t think twice. I just sent them." He was always connected to the Red Cross, but not with the knowledge of how they were doing it. He now understands what it takes to get that soldier home—from the first phone call, to the colonel receiving that piece of paper.
For four years now, Robinson has been volunteering three days a week with the Red Cross Service to Armed Forces, answering those very calls. While he describes it as an intense learning program, he is intrigued by the daily efforts of the surrounding staff and volunteers.
“These people—the concentration, dedication, devotion and patience—they don’t know I’m watching, but I am. I look every day at their professionalism, what it takes to deliver that message, and it’s sincere. If it wasn’t for this service and dedication, some of these soldiers wouldn’t get home.”
It only takes one meeting with Ben Robinson to know why the Red Cross works to bring soldiers like him home.
“I’m pleased to be here. There is no hesitation for me to come here every day. I retired from the Army as a colonel. I fought in Vietnam. I spent 23 years as active duty military and 32 years of federal service. And I guess I’ll spend my next 30 years with the Red Cross.”