United States Air Force Veteran, Sharon B. Robertson, had a unique upbringing but one that potentially prepared her for life in the military. Robertson had a strong military family background, and by 1970, she was picked to be part of a groundbreaking program that made her the face of women in the Air Force. Here is his story…
Sharon Robertson was born in North Carolina as a middle child with one older sister and a younger brother. Eventually, the family moved to Augusta, GA. Her father was a surgeon in the Army who served in Korea and Vietnam, but he left the family when Robertson was only three years old. Their church pastor helped her mother find work at The Jolley Home, a local home for orphaned children in Atlanta, GA. But Robertson and her siblings had to live in the dormitory with orphaned children, only seeing their mother on weekends. After nine years of living at the children’s home, Robertson’s mother remarried, giving her and her siblings four stepbrothers.
While at the home, Robertson met an elderly couple she referred to lovingly as her godparents. They wanted to adopt her and even sent her to boarding school at Toccoa Falls Academy in Georgia and then onto Toccoa Falls College. The Toccoa Falls Academy, founded in 1911, used to be a training center for the Army during WWII. From living in The Jolley Home to attending boarding school, Robertson stated she got used to moving around, which prepared her for life in a shared space. When she was finishing her freshman year in college, her stepfather passed away, and she returned home to help her mother. While at home and fearing she would be behind upon returning to school, her brother stepbrother Doug suggested she consider joining the Air Force. Each of her stepbrothers was in the military, covering all four branches. Robertson stated, “The idea of being in the Air Force and being able to travel and see the world really appealed to me and if I had to go to any kind of conflict I was committed to that, I wanted to be a part of that, I wanted to be a part of serving.” Robertson continued, “I went down to talk to the recruiter, and he never lied to me and told me just the way it was, and that is how I got in, and it was the best decision I ever made.”
For six weeks, Robertson was sent to basic training at Lackland Air Force Base San Antonio. She was only in her second or third week of basic training when she was told she would have to report to General Carson at the recruiting headquarters. She admitted, “I was terrified because I had only been in the Air Force for three weeks and had to report to a General, and I didn’t even know how to salute or report in, really.” Robertson soon found out that until then, the Air Force used models for all of their recruiting campaigns and brochures, but under General Carson and the new addition of Jeanne Holm, they were going to use real enlisted women to represent their branch. The program intended to put WAF straight out of basic training and into the recruiting program. Twenty-five enlisted women were chosen through academic scores and pictures to interview for a chance to represent Women in the Air Force or WAF, and Sharon Robertson was their choice.
When Robertson joined the Air Force, Major General Jeanne Marjorie Holm had just come in to take over the Women in the Air Force or WAF, a program developed in 1948 designed to bring women into limited roles in the United States Air Force. Major General Holm was the first female one-star general of the United States Air Force and the first female two-star general in any service branch. According to the official website for the Air Force, during her tenure, policies affecting women were updated, WAF strength more than doubled, job and assignment opportunities greatly expanded, and uniforms modernized. She has been an active exponent for expanding the opportunities for women to serve in the Armed Forces and a catalyst for changing their roles and career opportunities within the Air Force. “She wanted to upgrade everything from that post-WWII image,” explained Robertson.
Soon, at only 19 or 20 years of age and straight out of basic training, Robertson found herself traveling all over the country with recruiters representing each branch of the military. She would talk at high schools and colleges across the nation about a career and opportunity in the Air Force, and her face was on the brochure. Robertson stated, “I had always been so shy, and it really brought me out of that, and I so completely believed in what I was doing, and I was so proud to serve and had always been patriotic and believed in our country.”
After getting married, she became pregnant, and at that time, pregnant women weren’t allowed to stay enlisted in the military, so her time in the Air Force was over in two short years. The couple had two sons and continued living in Texas while her husband finished his four-year enlistment with the Air Force. Robertson’s oldest son was born premature and had to remain at Wilford Hall Medical Center for six months. Due to the incredible medical care he received, he had a miraculous recovery.
After divorcing in the late 70s, Robertson moved to Los Angeles, worked in corporate, and did some modeling for a while. Robertson remarked, “I liked being in corporate and worked predominantly in CPA firms.”
Robertson’s oldest son now resides in Florida. Robertson stated, “Both of my sons have excelled in their perspective areas very well, and I am very proud of both of them. They are wonderful, good people.” Her youngest son went into the Air Force right out of high school, eventually earning his bachelor’s degree and master’s degree. Robertson declared, “I am so glad my son chose to do that because it gave him so much. The military with me and what they have done with my family, well, it is near and dear to me.”
During the 90s, Robertson was working in D.C. for Strategic Planning Corporation when she was struck by a bicyclist and suffered a severe head injury. She described, “I flew into the air and slammed my head on the concrete and could have been paralyzed.” Robertson developed aphasia from her head injury, which is a disorder caused by damage to a specific area of the brain that affects your communication and comprehension, impacting your ability to understand or communicate with others. Robertson explained, “When I had the head injury, I lost my self-confidence for a while because I had aphasia and couldn’t speak correctly, I had short-term memory loss, I couldn’t walk well and tended to veer to the right.” Robertson’s accident caused years of recovery, and she explained, “If I had not been a Veteran and been able to use the VA hospital, I would’ve been in trouble. My care would’ve cost a fortune. I only served a short time, two years in the Air Force, and to be able to have the care that I have now, I am just so blessed.”
After recovering from her head injury, Robertson worked at the Phoenix VA Hospital as a volunteer. She became an advocate for patients and even started to give talks on how to recover and overcome traumatic head injuries. Robertson stated, “When you believe in something, it is very easy to talk about, and you find that people gravitate to that.” Robertson continued, “When you have adversity in your life if you can go out and speak about something that you have overcome, it is a responsibility to do so. Those couple years that I was in the military – It was the Air Force that gave me that confidence. They gave me that. It doesn’t matter how long you are in, it gives you discipline, it gives you a purpose, and you feel like ok, I am here for a reason, and my reason was I am here to serve.”
Robertson eventually moved to Phoenix to be close to her mother, who became her main focus for over 15 years. After struggling with her mother’s passing, she moved to Illinois three years ago to be near her son and grandchildren. She has four grandchildren, three boys and one girl, and her granddaughter loved to spend the night with her on Friday nights.
When Robertson moved to Lebanon, Illinois, she was told she needed to meet a local woman named Robin Schultze, who was also an Air Force Veteran. The two became fast friends, with Robertson stating, “She was the flight nurse on Air Force One during 9/11.” Robertson explained, “Robin has become my Visiting Angel through Veterans Care. She is just a fascinating person and has become a lifelong friend.”
With everything Robertson has overcome in her life, she credits God and the Air Force for giving her the strength and confidence to get through. She humbly stated, “I do feel like there are other people who are so much more worthy because this is such an honor, but I don’t feel like I did as much as a lot of people did. But when you make that decision and take that oath, you are in it for the long haul, and you commit to that.” She continued, “To have you guys at Veterans Care, to have the VA hospital which took such good care of me, and I could never say enough about what they did for me. I am so pro Veteran and so pro Air Force. I am just so blessed. My life is so blessed.”
Veterans Care Coordination is proud to recognize Sharon Robertson for her service to our country. We are privileged to have the opportunity to share the stories of our nation’s heroes. Thank you for your service, Sharon Robertson.