Dr. Dana Robinson-Street, 50, of Columbus is a 26-year veteran of the U.S. Navy who served on the destroyer tender, USS Samuel Gompers, during the Gulf War of 1991, including the combat phase of Operation Desert Storm.
She was inducted into the Ohio Veterans Hall of Fame in 2018.
Born and raised in Chicago, Robinson-Street was the youngest daughter in a blended family of 13 children, she said.
After graduating, she would start jobs and find a reason for disliking them, she said. So she selected the Navy as a job she couldn’t quit, enlisting in 1988. Her father, however, was apprehensive and didn’t want her to join.
When she shipped out for Desert Storm aboard the Gompers, “I really didn’t know what to expect or what we would be facing,” she said.
“You heard about the tragedies of war. I had family members that had been to war in Vietnam, so honestly, I was very afraid,” she said. “The thought that I left home against my father’s wishes was really something that was becoming real to me, and I worried and I wondered if we would come back.”
The Gompers was one of the first Navy ships to add women to its crew. The ship wasn’t too bad, she recalled, with single-person rooms with a TV. Many of the men aboard had not worked alongside women, she said, but life on a ship developed a camaraderie unlike land-based duty stations.
She served on the Gompers as an enlisted radioman specialist, maintaining communication with other military vessels and units.
During shore visits, female sailors conformed to local customs, she said, always wearing long-sleeved and long-legged attire and never traveling alone.
The Gompers meant a lot to her.
When it was decommissioned, the Gompers was sunk with missiles and bombs during a Navy fleet exercise in 2003.
When the ship was destroyed, “I felt like a huge part of history was going away. ... I really hated that that happened,” she said.
She also served in Guam and spent 11 years in Japan. The Japanese were friendly, she said, and it was “interesting to get to learn about living in a foreign country.”
Part of military life, she said, involves developing pseudo families with fellow personnel and growing accustomed to people coming and going as they are assigned to different locations.
After leaving the military, she said, the change in lifestyles can be challenging.
“Transitioning from the military for me was very hard,” Robinson-Street said. “As military members, we are less than 1% of society. ... When we leave the military and were returned back to the 99% of people who haven’t served, we’re ... strangers in a familiar land. ... It’s a strange feeling because ... you’re very happy to be with those you love and those you miss (and had) all these thoughts about ... while you were gone. But then for you, you feel out of place, and so that’s pretty hard.”
She tells the story of one man she calls “an example of an everyday veteran ... an example of what we do as military members.”
He survived combat that killed multiple members of his platoon during one deployment, she said. Another man that he had considered a father figure was killed. During a third deployment, he almost died several times when a femoral artery was severed in combat. Then the man who was transferred to take his place also was killed.
Although the man was a survivor, she said, he felt “it was his fault that all of these deaths occurred. ... He had so much to be thankful for, but in his mind, it was very hard for him to be thankful.”
He is typical of those in the military, who swear to support and defend the U.S. Constitution and “support and defend it with every aspect of us,” she said.
“We leave our children behind. We leave our family members behind, our spouses behind, our history. We leave it behind to support and defend this country,” she said. “That is what inspires me every single day. ... The people I served with are some of the greatest people that you’ll ever meet in this world, and those are the same people walking around Columbus, Ohio, and the state of Ohio. They are people that will sacrifice everything for us and for one another and for those that we don’t even know.
“For me, advocating for veterans just means that I’m continuing to give back to those that I know are sacrificing their lives for us in this country. ... It bothers me, and it saddens me to know after serving, some veterans are faced with so many tragedies, like suicide, homelessness, unemployment. ... I definitely feel that as a society, we have to find a way to make sure that we are doing those things for those who have risked the most.”
She is active in a number of veterans organizations, including Women Veterans Rock, the Ohio Veterans Hall of Fame, Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion, Dog Tag Inc. Alumni and the Scooters for Veterans campaign.
Women Veterans Rock is a coalition of women’s veteran organizations and advocates supporting female veterans and military families in terms of housing, employment, education and financial status, she said.
Her Scooters for Veterans campaign provides motorized chairs for mobility-impaired veterans.
Dog Tag Inc. educates disabled veterans on all aspects of running a business.
Robinson-Street has made annual visits to Washington, D.C., in support of veterans, she said.
Ohio has only two veterans homes, she said, and she believes a third should be developed in central Ohio.
The state has 867,000 veterans, she said, and the two veterans homes can house only 888.
Sixty percent of Ohio’s veterans are over age 60, “so we’re at a time where there is a need. ... It’s been proven that veterans’ – who live in veterans homes – lives are improved because they give them veterans-centered care,” she said.
Veterans benefit from contact with other veterans who can understand their experiences, she said.
“All you have to do is go into any VA (hospital) in any state and just look around. ... You’ll see veterans that are sitting there, talking to one another, having lunch with one another and just spending time with one another,” she said. “The only thing they have in common is the fact they are veterans. .... I can walk into any grocery store or gas station, and if there’s a veteran there and I identify that I’m a veteran, it’s almost like an instant friendship.
“If we take veterans and bring them back to veterans, then they can talk about their experiences to people who know what it means. ... At the most crucial part of our lives ... we would have the opportunity to be comfortable at a place we find comfort,” she said.
Being a member of the Ohio Veterans Hall of Fame is an honor, she said.
“It’s hard to convey in words how special it is to be honored for those things you would do without any recognition as a veteran. I am so honored to serve veterans,” she said. “I have stated I would serve veterans for the rest of my life, and to be inducted into the Hall of Fame and to be acknowledged for those things that I’ve done, for me it’s just such an honor and a privilege.”
Her advice for struggling veterans is, “You’re not alone. There are people out there just like you and ... you can make it. Just give it a day at a time, just like you did when you were on active duty. ... Hold your head high and reach out if you need a helping hand. We are here, and we love you and we support you.”
Robinson-Street retired from the Navy as a lieutenant and has a doctorate in nursing practice, among other degrees.
Her decorations include two National Defense Service Medals with six overseas service ribbons, five Navy Good Conduct Medals, the Sea Service Deployment Ribbon, the Southwest Asia Service Medal with Bronze Star, the Navy Unit Commendation, the Navy Meritorious Unit Commendation, the Joint Service Achievement Medal, the Joint Service Commendation Medal, the Military Outstanding Volunteer Service Medal, the Navy/Marine Corps Overseas Service Ribbon, Kuwait Liberation Medals from Kuwait and Saudi Arabia and the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal.
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