The Rob family is just one of countless families across the country that claim multi-generational military service. The Robs can trace their family’s service, specifically in the Army, back three generations and across two lineages (see the service summary at the bottom of this story). The family’s service spans over 80 years and four wars: World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War and Afghanistan. Their tradition of multi-generational family members serving forms the backbone of today’s post-draft United States Army. Often referred to as “The Warrior Caste” by several leading scholars, “The military family connection may be more significant than any other variable in determining propensity to serve.” (Schafer 2017).
Major General Alex B. Fink, Chief Marketing Officer of the Army, provided insight from a recent survey that stated “many young people today do not know anyone in the Army and are unfamiliar with the jobs or benefits it offers” (Baldor 2023). “New recruits are the children of old recruits. In 2019, 79 percent of Army recruits reported having a family member who served. For nearly 30 percent it was a parent – a striking point in a nation where less than 1 percent of the population serves in the military” (Arango and Philips 2020). Retired Lieutenant General David Barno, U.S. Army, had two sons in the military. He told Time Magazine that this multi-generational phenomenon is the “family business.” (Thompson 2016).
Dave Philipps and Tim Arango, writing for the New York Times, revealed that “Students growing up in military communities are constantly exposed to the people who serve” (2020). Moms pick up their sons from day-care in flight suits, and dads attend school functions in camouflage. “The military families who have borne nearly all of the burden, and are the most clear-eyed about the risks of war, are still the Americans who are most likely to encourage their sons and daughters to join.” (Arango and Philipps 2020). These recruits are vital to our national defense whether the motivation to serve is for our nation or to uphold their family legacy. The down side to this “family business” is that it limits the talent pool and the diversity of backgrounds in the military and could ultimately lead to a civil-military divide.
During his interview, Colonel (Ret.) Sam Rob emphasized that military exposure in one form or another is the major component that influences recruitment, be that family or familiar extensions. His father served in World War II (WWII), his father-in-law in the Korean War, and his brother in Vietnam. According to Rob, “Most of the men [where we lived] served in WWII. It was unusual when one of my friend’s fathers didn’t serve.” Rob pointed out that in his father-in-law’s high school yearbook from 1945, over half of the book had been devoted to the military, with an extensive ROTC section. The other thing he noted growing up in the post-WWII era was that kids routinely “played army” and watched popular military shows on TV like Rat Patrol, Baa Baa Black Sheep, McHale’s Navy, MASH, and Hogan’s Heroes’. Back then (in the 1950s), the military was simply part of the American culture.
Rob stated his reasons for joining the Army came from a sense of duty, the idea that service was an adventure, and a rite of passage as well as a way to defray the costs of college and law school. As he noted, not having a six-figure student loan debt hanging over his head allowed him to enjoy a better quality of life. Rob and his wife, the late Colonel Edyie Rob, didn’t just join the Army, but made a career out of being lawyers in the Judge Advocate Generals Corps, with over 55 years of combined service.
Rob also discussed how the Army provided a great lifestyle for his family, which his two sons recognized by following in their parents’ footsteps. Some postings allowed them to live on base and attend school on base. There were travel opportunities, a good pension plan, health benefits, housing allowances, and a sense of community and belonging. Physical fitness and camaraderie were also promoted. Rob stated that there were never specific conversations with their sons about joining the military, “It was an unspoken understanding that they would go into the military, not necessarily for a career, but as a duty.” Both of the Rob sons attended Princeton University on ROTC scholarships and are currently on active duty. Because of technology, his sons have been able to keep in touch with friends and family.
Rob has three generations of military service, just in his family. He witnessed a myriad of other senior officers encouraging their children to join the military because of all the benefits associated with a military career. In some cases, the tradition of service in the lineage of prominent military families has created a “military royalty” as sons and daughters have gone into the “family business” thus making the military more insular. Some famous examples of this are the MacArthurs, the Pattons and the Abrams. While there is both recognition and appreciation for multigenerational family service, there is an increasing dependence on this small segment of American society (veterans and their dependents) to meet the requirements of an all-volunteer military.
Colonel Edyie Rob’s last assignment was as senior legal advisor to the United States Army Recruiting Command. Her husband related Edyie’s view that recruiting is easier in a bad economy, but even then, talking to a recruiter alone is not enough exposure to motivate service. After talking to a recruiter, potential enlistees then go and talk to their family and friends who, in the absence of military experience themselves, may rely on misinformation and misconceptions about military life. As Rob related, “The military doesn’t always get the best publicity.” Additionally, speaking with former soldiers, depending on their rank, where they served, and their branch (infantry, transportation, etc.) may present very different conversations and perceptions of military service.”
Rob sees the challenges Army recruiters face with getting young Americans to serve. Numerous studies show the generation the Army is trying to recruit suffers from anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues as well as being physically unfit or overweight. In addition, the negativity that permeates today’s media and internet outlets has caused today’s youth to lose faith in America and its institutions. As Rob noted, “The loss of faith is not the fault of our youth, but is the responsibility of we adults who run the country and have given them less to believe in. I think in this current divisive political landscape it’s hard for kids to trust any governmental institution and, in particular, the military with its unique service requirements involving separation from family and friends and the danger of war.” Rob went on to say, “It was different for our sons. They grew up as so-called ‘Army brats.’ They didn’t have to leave home in some small town surrounded by family and friends. They grew up on Army bases so the Army, in a sense, was their home.”
While Rob does not profess to know the solutions to address the military’s current recruiting shortfall, he does see the silver lining in the cloud, so to speak. “I think,” he said, “that it is much better to have difficulties recruiting in a time of peace, or what passes for peace in this current turbulent world, than to be engaged in a war like World War II when Americans either volunteered because they recognized the danger to the world or were, like my father, drafted by the millions.”
As an answer to the problem, the Army began the Soldier Referral Program in January 2023 awarding recruiting ribbons to those who encouraged new enlistees to join the service. The program also gives a promotion to young soldiers, in the three lower ranks, if their referral enlists and goes to basic training. “By March (2023), the program had produced nearly 5,300 referrals since it began” (Perez).
Family Service Summary:
Frank V. Rob – was drafted in 1943 and served in an antiaircraft unit in the European theater of operations until the end of World War II in 1945.
Lewis Meyers – enlisted in 1951, was commissioned thru Officers Candidate School (OCS), and served as a platoon leader in the 180th Infantry Regiment, 45th Infantry Division in the Korean War from 10 March to November 1953. He retired as a lieutenant colonel in the 11th Special Forces Group, US Army Reserves in 1987.
John V. Rob – Frank Rob’s oldest son, enlisted, was commissioned thru OCS in 1966 to 1971, and served as a helicopter pilot with the 229th Assault Helicopter Battalion, 1st Cavalry Division in Vietnam from June 1968 to June 1969.
Sam J. Rob – Frank Rob’s second son, was commissioned thru ROTC in 1976, and served on active duty for 31 years (including service in Afghanistan). Retired as a colonel in 2010 from the Judge Advocate General’s Corps. Sam married Edyie Meyers in 1991.
Edyie M. Meyers Rob – Lewis Meyers only daughter, was commissioned thru ROTC in 1981, served 24 years on active duty. Retired as a colonel from the Judge Advocate Generals Corps in 2005. Edyie married Samuel J. Rob in 1991.
Samuel C. Rob – Sam and Edyie’s oldest son, was commissioned thru ROTC in 2018 and is currently serving on active duty as an engineer officer assigned to the 25th Infantry Division at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii.
Jacob T. Rob – Sam and Edyie’s youngest son, was commissioned thru ROTC in 2021 and is currently serving on active duty as an infantry officer assigned to the 3rd Cavalry Regiment at Fort Hood, TX.
written by Shelly Eberly – Education Assistant and Sam Rob.
Interview with Sam Rob March 3, 2023.
Baldor, Lolita C. “Army sees safety, not ‘wokeness,’ as top recruiting obstacle”.
Green, Kimber. “What’s Wrong with Military Service as a Family Business?”
Paulo, Suzanne. “Should The Military Be A Family Business?”. 9/2/2020
Perez, Zamone. “100 soldiers awarded recruiting ribbon for getting others to enlist”. www.armytimes.com 5/18/2023
Pew Research Center. “The Military-Civilian Gap: Fewer Family Connections”. 11/23/2011
Philipps, Dave and Arango, Tim. “Who Signs Up to Fight? Makeup of U.S. Recruits Shows Glaring Disparity”. www.nytimes.com 1/14/2020
Schafer, Amy. “Generations of War, The Rise of the Warrior Caste & the All- Volunteer Force”. Military, Veterans & Society. May 2017.
Schafer, Amy. “The Warrior Caste”. Slate. 8/2/2017.
Thompson, Mark. “Here’s Why the U.S. Military Is a Family Business”. Time. 3/10/2016.