A love of aviation ignites the career of a Texas A&M Forest Service employee

Buster Robinson’s love of aviation began as a child.

Texas A&M Forest Service Incident Veteran and Aviation Operations Officer Buster Robinson stands near the helicopter.
Texas A&M Forest Service Incident Aviation Operations Officer Buster Robinson turned a childhood love of aviation into a 10-year military career flying Chinook helicopters for the Army National Guard. (Photo courtesy of Texas A&M Forest Service)

“I think I got the aviation bug when I first flew commercially around the age of 4 or 5,” said Robinson. “I think that was the first time I said, ‘I want to be a pilot’.”

This childhood interest led to a 10-year career in the Army National Guard as a Chinook helicopter pilot.

Today, Robinson coordinates the aircraft activities of the Texas A&M Forest Service as the agency’s Air Operations Officer. He is one of 43 veterans working for the Texas A&M Forest Service.

The Journey to the Pilot

Robinson began taking flight lessons after college, but eventually costs forced him to quit before earning a private pilot’s license.

After joining Texas A&M Forest Service as a ranger in Palestine, Robinson’s interest was reignited working with Chinook flight crews fighting wildfires in the state. He said those connections helped him get a sense of what it would mean to join the National Guard and get accepted into flight school.

“It just worked,” he said, thanking the Texas A&M Forest Service for putting his time away from work. “The Texas A&M Forest Service really took care of me when I was away for a long time. I never worried about coming back and not having a job anymore. They went beyond that. I was able to make a dream come true and had the agency’s support to make it happen. This agency has a special place in my heart.”

Robinson’s military career, which spanned from 2008 to 2018, included a year in Afghanistan as well as deployments fighting nearby wildfires, floods and hurricanes.

“It was a rewarding experience and a really good opportunity,” he said. “I loved it. It was a lot of fun but also very challenging.”

A change of direction

Robinson’s devotion to his young family led to his decision to leave the National Guard.

“There is no such thing as a part-time helicopter pilot,” he said. “And you can’t be in two places at once.”

Robinson said he could draw a direct line from his military experience to his role with the Texas A&M Forest Service.

“It gave me the tools I needed to transition there,” he said.

John Wegenhoft, director of human resource development for the Texas A&M Forest Service, said hiring service workers is a strategic investment that makes good business sense.

“These employees come to the workplace with a proven commitment and commitment to a good cause, and they know that gain rarely comes free,” said Wegenhoft, who served in the US Army for 26 years and retired as a lieutenant colonel. “Veterans are a foundation for building and sustaining mission-driven, service-oriented organizations.”

Texas A&M Forest Service interim director Al Davis, a retired US Marine Corps colonel, said military experience lays the foundation for the agency’s ingrained culture of service.

“It’s about service, commitment and leadership,” Davis said. “These things resonate with veterans no matter what they did in the military. It’s all about caring about people and focusing on the mission.”

Robinson said Veterans Day is an important occasion for him because not every generation of veterans is valued.

“It means a lot that people appreciate the sacrifice that goes into military service,” he said. “I always feel good when I hear ‘thank you for your service’.”