After 21 years of military service, Cedar Park City Council member Rodney Robinson finds himself in an unusual position – he has no mission.
Robinson, whose final day in the service was on Sept. 30, is dealing with the same challenge thousands of veterans face each year – leaving a profession they have served in since high school and struggling to find a way to translate their years of experience into a civilian job.
"It's very surreal. It's a little scary. It's a little emotional as well," Robinson said. "You've done this for your entire life. Now, the hard part is figuring out what you want to do now."
Serving in the U.S. Army and later in the Texas Army National Guard has been a deeply-held honor for Robinson and a defining aspect of his life. His grandfathers' own service drove his desire to serve.
While serving, he met his wife, Lachelle, while they were both serving in South Korea. They married and later raised their children in the service. They both saw friends seriously injured or killed while on active duty. During his time in the National Guard, he discovered and fell in love with Cedar Park, which he now calls home and serves as a city council member.
The men and women who shared his experiences in the military are like a second family to him, Robinson said, particularly when he later took on a leadership role.
"I love to lead, to teach, to mentor fellow soldiers. It's my passion," Robinson said. "They're my brothers and sisters in arms...it's an experience you cannot share with someone unless you have also gone through it."
Military service creates a unique dynamic where his desire to prioritize his family, including ensuring he is around to see his children grow up, forces him to have to leave the second family he made along the way. He said the choice has been very difficult but he feels its something he must do for his children. His wife, Lachelle, is still serving but will follow him in leaving the service next year.
Despite how difficult the decision has been for Robinson, he’s still optimistic about the future because "the glass is always half full."
Robinson joked he is most looking forward to being able to grow out his beard and hair. He also said he looks forward to the stability that comes with leaving the service, knowing he can put down roots because he won't have to worry about being assigned to live in a foreign country.
Robinson said he is trying out many different job prospects to find one that would be a good fit while still letting him have enough time with his family.
"If you worked as a doctor for years and you retired or left the field, you could still go back into the medical field later doing something else. But as a soldier, I can't go back into the military in the same way. "
He said he would be most interested in finding a job that would let him work with and help other veterans also transitioning out of the service.
When asked what advice he has for other transitioning veterans, he urged them to plan for their departure well ahead of their final day, taking time to research types of professions to find one they might enjoy and taking time to shadow someone in that job "so they can see if it's a good fit."
He said a critical part of the process is the soldier taking time to focus on themselves so they can plan for after the military, something that can be difficult for them because "they're only used to focusing on the mission at hand." He cites his decision to earn his degrees, despite how challenging it was to complete while still actively serving and helping to raise a family, as invaluable now that he is in civilian life.
"We have a saying in the military — no matter how hard it gets, lean forward. Just take it one day at a time," Robinson said.