Sharon Robino-West Honored Veteran Continues Service 9/6/18 09/06/18 2:59:29 PM
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Sharon Robino-West Honored
Veteran Continues Service Addressing Women’s Needs
By Lorraine Boyd
The Daily Record
This is the story of a promising beginning, a tragic turn, an awakening, courage, hard work and triumph.
You know the old saying, “It takes one to know one.”?
It was never more true than when describing Sharon Robino-West.
Since her service, the Marine, who completed her tour of duty in 1984, has spent her time back in Omaha reaching out with understanding and advice to other veterans, especially female veterans, in an official capacity.
She was honored in June by the Women’s Center for Advancement at their annual Tribute to Women, one of 10 women singled out for “their achievements and their dedication to bettering the lives of women and children in our community.”
Not only is she uniquely qualified to assist women who are, or have been, in the military, she also understands the effects of trauma on them.
She enlisted in the Marine Corps at 17, right out of high school. After boot camp at Paris Island, South Carolina, she was sent to technical school in Twentynine Palms, California. She spent most of her four-year tour in North Carolina in an artillery unit as a Communicator with the 10th Marines.
Near the end of her tour, her marriage to a Marine had just ended when a fellow Marine sexually assaulted her. She did what most of those in the military do – nothing. She didn’t feel she could go to her superiors for help or support. It took her 30 years to publically address that wound and get help. She uses that experience and what she’s learned to help others now.
“I had a great experience, for the most part, in the Marines and my unit was like family,” she said. “I will always be proud of being a Marine and feel it is the greatest leadership training I could have had right out of high school.”
Not only is she a veteran and a rape survivor, she is also the mother of a combat veteran. Her son Eric served in Iraq and was classified as 100 percent disabled when he returned home. He lost 11 of his friends there and suffers from PTSD as well as a traumatic brain injury. As a result, he suffered from substance abuse and was incarcerated. He now lives in Maine where he volunteers at a greyhound shelter. He is also the father of Sharon’s only grandchild. Her other son, Matt, is a manager at TD Ameritrade in Vermont.
She knows well the challenges that veterans often face, especially transitioning back into civilian life.
Women’s ProgramWhile there are a number of programs for male veterans, Sharon helped create one of Nebraska’s first veterans programs for women.
“There was little going on for women veterans specifically in Nebraska, other than what little work the VA could accomplish here,” she said. “There was not a women veterans clinic set aside at the VA at that time; there was no counseling set up specifically for the needs of women veterans. There was no one really advocating for the voice of the woman veteran.
“I was asked by the Women’s Center for Advancement (WCA) to join them in establishing a program for women veterans and their family members. We began by building from the basic tenets of safety and support that the WCA offers in cases of domestic violence and sexual assault but we also extended the efforts into areas such as women veterans transitioning from the service and their needs,” Robino-West continued. “Also, we addressed the needs of active duty women who may have needed assistance but didn’t feel they had all the right tools that they needed on base. We worked with the base in a limited capacity at that time. We found that by asking women, ‘Have you ever served in the military?’ we were able to capture women who also had services available to them at the VA but did not recognize that fact and weren’t utilizing the services.
“They had been told in the past that if they were a woman, they weren’t a veteran, or if they hadn’t deployed, they weren’t a veteran. We had to set that myth straight to begin with, then offer the wrap-around services of the women veterans program.”
The program is still thriving at the WCA today, she noted with pride. She left WCA to become program manager for the At Ease program at Lutheran Family Services of Nebraska, which provides therapeutic support for active duty personnel, veterans and their loved ones.
“In my role with LFS, I managed the day-to-day work with the veterans and family members who reached out to us, did outreach in the community and work with women veterans.
“I also got to be part of innovative programs for veterans, such as the new Veterans Block at the Douglas County Department of Corrections” where she spent time leading skill classes and Veteran Writing Support Groups.
“It allowed me to continue my military service even today,” she said.
Serving VeteransShe left the LFS At Ease Program to work with the Department of Veterans Affairs as a Community Employment Coordinator in the Omaha area.
It seems fitting that the veteran would wind up working at the Department of Veterans Affairs, where she now “assists homeless veterans in finding employment.”
“This includes those who may have just transitioned out of the military and are struggling, those who may have mental health or substance use issues and those who may be in reentry due to their untreated struggles while in the military, such as combat PTSD, TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) and all that goes with it,” she said.
She explained that she spends “most of my time meeting with employers and out in the community carving out jobs for these deserving veterans and looking for opportunities for our veterans wherever I can find them. I love the work.”
WritingOne of the tools she uses to assist veterans in handling their fears is writing.
“I have always been a writer (and an avid reader). As a young child the highlight of the month was the walks my mom made to the library with my three siblings and I, lined up like little ducks carrying our books from the Willa Cather branch.
“I learned to work things out through writing, take a departure from the everyday grind and also create characters that were like someone I aspired to be someday. I loved writing poetry the most as a kid.
“I find that writing is not only a cerebral activity but also a physical one. When a person feels that they are in a situation where they feel powerless, picking up that pen or getting on that computer and pounding it out is very therapeutic. When the writer goes back and rereads what they’ve said, it may help work things through and provide a feeling of self-efficacy. It can even be a physical release.
“And a writer can always rewrite the ending or give a particular situation closure. This is very helpful, especially for veterans who have experienced combat, women who may have suffered abuse or anyone who has been through any type of trauma that they have never worked through completely. Even journaling helps.”
She said she used writing not only to begin her own healing, but also to cope with her worry over her son serving in combat.
Robino-West, who earned a bachelor’s degree in marketing and a master’s degree in leadership through Bellevue University, recently had one of her written pieces, "Into the Unknown," performed by actress Alfre Woodard during the Writers Guild Initiative’s “2016 Fundraising Gala for Veteran Writers” in New York City, which she attended.
“That was absolutely amazing. She read it so beautifully,” Sharon said. “I was so honored.”
Sharon started out writing about her experiences in the Warrior Writers Workshop in Lincoln. When she discovered the workshop (which now has programs in Omaha, Lincoln and Grand Island), she said, “This feels like home.”
She went there to write her son’s story and found the experience became a bit of a coffee klatch, where you could let down your hair. “The peer support there is therapeutic for me. Writing is my healing place.”
Sharon was featured in the NET segment “The Warrior’s Pen” in 2015, discussing the importance of writing and the veteran experience. She also published a nonfiction piece called “I Honor You” in the online journal, As You Were: Volume II, a publication of Military Experience and the Arts, in 2015. Plus she presented “Healing the Unspeakable” at TEDxOmaha.
Women in the Service
Sharon said that while there still needs to be more of a culture shift, the situation in the armed forces is “getting better for women veterans. We need to stop treating women in the military as separate and unequal, which is beginning to happen in most branches of the service. Unfortunately, it does still happen in subtle ways. I would like to see men in the military acknowledged for their strengths and women acknowledged for theirs. If a male or female can pass the required training and testing for a particular billet then they should be acknowledged for what they’ve earned and are capable of.”
When she’s not inspiring others, she is traveling with her husband and sons, doing crazy things like sky diving and road trips, photography and, of course, writing.
“You can usually find me anywhere that isn’t too far from water or the outdoors,” she said.
And no matter what she’s doing, her life motto is familiar and true to any Marine.