Robin Harder

I grew up in rural south Mississippi and always knew that I wanted to be in the military. After spending some time as an exchange student in Germany, I returned to the United States intending to go to college. I started experiencing some family conflict at home and the Army recruiter called me at the right time. I was an easy sale; if the Army could make me a linguist I would join. I was a Spanish Electronic Warfare Signals Intelligence Voice Interceptor (98G) my first three years in. I then went back to language school and learned Russian. Later, the Army decided to change my job title to a Cryptologic Linguist (35P).

I served in the U.S. Army from December 1994 until December 2014. I entered the Army during peacetime and was always training for war, but never thought about what it would be like to actually go to war. In 2001, as the events of 9/11 were unfolding in the United States, I was just ending my duty day in Wiesbaden, Germany. We all knew that things would never be the same. War was in our immediate future.Robin Harder

After serving at various duty stations without the possibility of deploying in support of OIF/OEF, my husband and I decided that we would volunteer to go to Fort Bragg, N.C., in order to be assigned to a unit that would deploy. We were a dual military couple with no children and we both felt that we should do our part and deploy. Of course, I ended up pregnant and my husband deployed when I was seven months along. He left for 15 months to serve in Iraq and didn’t return until one month after our son’s first birthday. I returned the favor and deployed for 12 months to Afghanistan while my newly retired husband stayed home with our son who was then 2 ½ years old. 

Afghanistan was an interesting place. I was a senior enlisted female Russian Cryptologic Linguist and I felt that I didn’t really have an impactful job. I volunteered where I could to leave the Forward Operating Base (FOB). I was finally given a mission to serve in a remote area called FOB Tillman, which was on the Afghanistan/Pakistan boarder. My team of Low Level Voice Intercept (LLVI) operators and I were attached to an Infantry company who was in control of the FOB.

Arriving on site, I already had two strikes against me before I even spoke to the command. First, I was Military Intelligence (MI). The infantry didn’t think that MI had anything worth contributing to their missions. Second, I was a female. They didn’t want a female with them on missions. I had to prove that MI could significantly contribute to their missions. And I had to prove that, as a female, I could handle anything that they threw at me. 

The missions that this unit went on were all on foot. We did not have vehicles. We walked out of the gate, did our missions in the hillside and mountains of the area, and then we would return on foot. I had to carry just as much gear as the Infantry guys, plus all of my MI equipment. It was hard work, but I was bound to prove that “I could hang.”

There was one operation in which I felt I really earned my Combat Action Badge (CAB). We went out for five days and were attacked on day two. That fire fight last for 14 hours. We had fire support from platoons that came in to help us, as well as the Air Force who dropped two massive bombs, which were “danger close.” I was able to prove to the Infantry unit that MI support was worth it when I was able to give them advance warning of the attack. We were able to get ready and prepare for it in just minutes before the first bullets started flying. Without my capabilities, we would have been caught unaware and who knows how many casualties would have resulted. 

I loved my time serving in the Army. It made me a more confident person. It also enabled me to meet so many diverse people, and see so many interesting places. I decided to retire after 20 years when it stopped being fun. I found that female mentorship was really missing while I served. The higher in rank I got, the less I encountered female peers, much less female mentors. So, before retiring I started a Female Mentorship Program within the unit I was assigned to. It was a huge success and was fully supported by the entire chain of command.

My biggest piece of advice to any female considering joining the military is to take control of their service. Don’t just wait until you come down on assignment. Make phone calls, send emails, and find out what your options are before it’s too late and you only have one choice. After Basic Training, Advance Individual Training, and my very first duty assignment, I got every assignment I ever asked for, fought for, and even begged for. I took control of my career and made the most out of each place I was fortunate enough to be assigned. 

It took me a year post retirement to approach a VFW. I knew that I qualified to be a member, however I had a preconceived image in my head of a smoky room filled with older men who wouldn’t want me to be part of “their” organization. I gathered up the courage to reach out and found everyone to be extremely welcoming. Yes, it was smoky. Yes, it was full of older men. But I found that this older generation of veterans want to welcome the “newer” veterans and have a more diverse membership, they just don’t know how to, or even where to start. I have taken on more responsibilities at the Post, have given the Post a presence on social media, have made the Post smoke-free, and have been the Jr. Vice Commander for the past year. 

There is normally only one other female other than myself at each monthly Post meeting, and I would like to see that change. I am the Founder and President of a nonprofit for women veterans in my city and have been encouraging other female veterans to get involved in their local VFWs. Texas VFW leadership knows that in order to get younger and more diverse veterans to join the VFW, changes have to be made. My VFW, Post 7108, is slowly trying to make those changes.

There are a lot of good people in my Post, however just being accepting towards younger veteran membership will not solve the problem. The problem is making the VFW attractive to the OIF/OEF veteran. And I am focusing on not making the VFW so intimidating, and getting the female veteran in the doors. If their local VFW isn’t seeking them out, then a female veteran just needs to have the courage to go in by herself. If the doors won’t open for us we just have to open them ourselves. That is a big factor in getting those changes to take place. 

Robin D. Harder
Sergeant First Class (Ret.)
U.S. Army
VFW Post 7108


Read More Stories