Robin Akin

photography by Alex Lepe

Robin Akin, U.S. Army Brigadier General (Retired), was the only woman in her Master Parachutist class in 1986. She wanted to be part of the big boys’ network, she says. To her, that meant the elite airborne community. Akin says she didn’t know if she would survive her first week in the Army. When she arrived at airborne school as a brand new 2nd Lt. fresh out of the University of Tennessee, she failed the first

week because she had just had a root canal. Her mouth started bleeding while doing push-ups. “The drill sergeant told me: ‘No, you shouldn’t be doing this. You’re not going to make it anyway; we’re going to put you back and recycle,’ ” Akin recalls. “I told him I wasn’t coming back a second time. I was going to get this thing done. I never knew I had that much determination until that moment in time.”

During her 31 ½ years of service in the military, Akin made 155 jumps. She never lost a soldier. In her journey from a Master Parachutist to serving in senior leadership positions in Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Desert Shield/Storm in Saudi Arabia, Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and Operation Unified Response in Haiti, Akin has been a trailblazer. She grew up in poverty. Early in life, she lost her father, who was a Vietnam veteran. Her work ethic, she says, came from her mother, who held down four jobs to support the family.

In present day, as a director of strategic marketing, Akin says she’s not doing the passionate things that grew her as an individual. “I’m not leading people, I’m not fixing people’s problems, and I’m not the mentor I was for many years. I’m just an average person, and I miss my soldiers and their families. I do have a good boss, but this is not my passion.”

Akin is passionate about helping returning women soldiers. “Many women were sexually molested in service,” she says. “They have marital issues and other problems. They have to find their center of gravity and move on. Many of these women don’t consider themselves veterans, just women who served. We’ve got to fix that paradigm. We need to help them find jobs. With over 2 million people coming back from combat, we have to help them. Over 22 percent of women veterans from current wars live on the streets.”

Being a woman in the military is not easy, Akin says. There was a time when a superior tried to make her go to events where there were female strippers. “I just flat out told him I didn’t want to do it. And, I got a bad rating out of it. I asked to be transferred to another unit and was deployed to Korea. And, well, he made it to Col., and I made it to Gen.,” Akin says laughing. 

She married Col. Greg Akin, who also is retired, in 1989. They are parents to daughter, Alexis, 29, and son, Brian, 24.

“It’s no sure thing to make any rank in the military, and to be a general officer takes someone of talent, intellect and compassion,” Greg says. “What I love most about Robin is her compassion. Her soldiers and her family have always been her center, and helping her family has always been a main driver of what and who she is. Now, about the fact that I was a Col., and in public had to salute my wife, my normal response to husbands who asked about this, is that their wife outranks them too, but mine has been formalized by the U.S. Army and gets paid for it.”

“The only people who call me general now are former soldiers, my son when I’m mad at him and my husband when he gets back from long trips,” Akin says.

Akin’s role model and mentor was her husband’s father, who was a Maj. Gen. He died five years ago.

The family has moved 28 times in 32 years. Akin never served in Texas or lived in Texas. Her husband is an Aggie. “When we were deciding where to settle, my husband posed this question to me: ‘Do you like Mexican food?’ It’s my No. 1 cuisine. ‘Do you like warm weather?’ Yes. Brian was going to Texas A&M. The third question he asked: ‘Do you want to see your son?’ So we’re in Fort Worth. I love Fort Worth. It’s been amazing. Every day is a new adventure, and we’re not ever going to leave.”