Class Of 1964 USAF Academy

History - Colin Keith Robbins '64

KeithPictureSmall.png When I decided to think thru this it really didn't sink in that looking back over the past 50 years is pretty much a review of my life. Duh!! I left for the "Blue Zoo" like most of my classmates when I was 17. My father was a minister. My mom a house wife. I was your typical preacher's kid - a bit rebellious but nothing by today's standards. In reflection, the mid to late 50's has got to have been one of the greatest times to be a kid in America.

Had a few very close friends but not so many at my high school - mostly neighborhood and church friends. So when my folks asked if I would be interested in going to AFA I said sure, why not; never had dreams of being a pilot, but the thought of moving to Colorado sounded fun and while it was a bit scary - why not give it a go. I never dreamt that I could make it thru the barrage of tests and actually get the nomination from Sen. Sam Ervin - but I did. Wow. Really unbelievable. How that decision changed my life forever.

Of course, like most of my classmates the 1st year was hardly memorable - I mean I really can hardly remember anything about it except that I think I was a very difficult doolie to break. Either that or I was really dumb!! Got into all kinds of trouble; must have walked a thousand tours for things I don't remember; I really appreciate how rebellious this preacher's kid was but the class of 61 was going to get rid of that in me or kill me in the process- thank you Andy Banford in particular!!

Learned how to talk 'because they wouldn't allow me to eat unless I got rid of that Southern drawl- wow. !! And then if the military/ physical part of life wasn't difficult enough - the academics were worse. I had decent grades in school - but is was a southern school and I was trying to keep up with Quigs and Ahern, who I thought were just geniuses... it was difficult. I guess the best thing that happening from an academic standpoint was that I spent so many night's under the covers studying with a flashlight that by the time I graduated my eyesight had deteriorated to the point that I couldn't go to pilot school. That may have saved my life as so many of '64 went to Nam and didn't come home.

There were some fun times once that 1st year was behind us: the trips to DC for JFK's inauguration; singing at the National Cathedral; the Summer '62 exchange visit to Central and South America; I found a picture recently while downsizing of a group of 6 of us in Bogota; We were all dressed for a dinner/dance where they would invite the lovely ladies; we called ourselves the "Suave Club" I'll bring the pic to the reunion - for you guys to reminisce.

As I said above - no pilot school so Joe Martin and I went to Majorca for 2 weeks after graduation and drank our way from one end of the island to the other. Had a great time. But then it was to work. I was assigned to the Flight Dynamics Lab at Wright -Patterson AFB. Great job for me; numbers, planning, systems; it was just perfect. Some really smart people to work with and as luck would have it, my future bride worked there in the Lab for 16 engineers. Stunning!! We've will have been married 50 years next year.

I really liked the job and the people and I'm sure my boss encouraged me to start work in the field of Operation Research-I think that was his discipline, so I started graduate school at night at a branch of Ohio State there in Dayton. I wasn't able to finish it because my time to go to RVN came; so I left in the spring of '67 to join my buddies in Saigon.

Once again great job; worked for Gen. Momeyer at 7th AF; my job was to keep track of aircraft losses and try to figure out how many planes we would potentially lose if we flew the missions we had scheduled for the next day. You got to visualize this: In the AM, go brief the Gen and his staff; give him my opinions based on the statistics involved; then go the Officer's Club and have lunch or dinner with some of my classmates and friends that would be flying those missions. To this day I can still recall how uncomfortable those conversations were; those guys were so fearless, so engaged, courageous and immortal; yet I knew that some would not be back for dinner tomorrow night. I will always remember that experience.

I had plenty of excitement during the Tet period; only got shot at a few times when I was trying to make it back from downtown Saigon to my Apt - some nights a little late and Papasan had already locked the gate; one night I had to climb over the fence; shots in the air; wow - didn't do that again. Maybe as I was aging some of that rebelliousness was starting to re-emerge.

I also remember some great times at that Hotel Downtown Saigon at that Club on the roof - I think it was an Army deal but they used to have some great bands there; will always remember that group and that song; "Black is Black". I wanted to go home so bad. But those evenings helped all of us forget the mess that was going on elsewhere; and compared to what many of my classmates and the other guys went thru over there my time was a cakewalk.

So I decided that my time in the Air Force was over; couldn't fly and just couldn't live with the thought that my progress in life might be a function of how old I was vs what I could do; so I processed out at Travis in late 68. Came back east and moved to Columbus Ohio to finish up my Masters; graduated in 69 at Ohio State. And shortly thereafter our son Joel was born - what a great day. What a fantastic son and father he has turned into and I am so pleased that all the mistakes I made as a father he is not making any of them with his family. After graduation I took a job down in NC with a division of Olin Corp; I must have wanted to go back down south. Once again- had some really bright people working with me and after 10 years there I had grown to a point that there were no more operations jobs that I wanted to do there and I felt it was important that I get some sales experience. So my boss told me I should apply for a Int'l Sales & Marketing job at Winchester up in CT.

Sounded good to me and my wife said why not; she was always willing to do whatever was needed to help me advance - I always appreciated that. I got the job and off we went to CT. Again another great decision; the job was very stretching; traveled a lot in Europe and S. America; not great for the family but great for the career. Leaned a lot about selling; the people - relationship side of it that was invaluable for me the rest of my business career. But I soon learned that Winchester was doomed and whenever John Olin passed away the Division would be sold or closed.

So I started looking for another opportunity. Let me digress a minute: I've seen over the years and certainly as I look back over my life that a successful career whether it be in business or the military or whatever is the process of either creating or responding to opportunities and making the very best decisions you can at the time. I really believe my experiences at the academy gave me the tools to look at those situations and make more good decisions that bad ones and I really believe that is why most would say I had a successful business career.

So I took all that experience and training, particularly the business planning experience that I got at Olin, and decided to take a job as the Sales Manager of a small company on Long Island called Photocircuits, a printed circuit board company. I had wanted to get a job in a fast growth industry, with a company that was in a leading position in that industry. Photocircuits fit that description exactly and I got the job in the fall of 79.

The family moved to NY. There's a lot of wisdom in the saying, "If you can make it there you can make it anywhere". Again, lots of really smart people that were driven to succeed. What a great experience not only for me but the entire family. And as they say - the rest is history. The management of the company was determined to make Photocircuits the best manufacturer in the Printed Circuit Industry. In 86 - we did an LBO and separated from the parent company and the 4 of us managed to get %100 equity in a $17MM company by putting up $1MM and Citibank loaned us the balance of the money we needed.

Over the next 20 years we grew the company from $17MM to $420MM; became the largest PCB manufacturer in North America and the market share leader of PCB's for the auto industry. What a fantastic experience. Again, as I think back on my time at Photocircuits the reason that I was able to help that company grow was the focus, "can do anything" attitude, discipline that I learned at the Academy. There were many times when it just didn't look like we could achieve that goal in front of us but time after time by being focused and disciplined in how we approached, it we got it done.

My wife, Cheryl and I now live south of Atlanta; I still have a small consulting business and she runs a Poker Company here on the south side; Aces & 8's. We have fun at that. We have 2 lovely granddaughters that live near us. We are going to spend more time over the next few years travelling, spending time with the kids and trying to relax a bit more.

Many thanks to all of those that have made this story possible - too numerous to mention. But those of you who touched my life know who you are and I will be eternally grateful.

June 15, 2014

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