Semper Chai: Robin R. Higgins
Editors Note: The following is an excerpt from Howard Leavtt’s Semper Chai , an amazing book that profiles numerous Jewish Marines through many generations. Look for Howard’s new book, OZ – Chronicles of Courage, which talks a good deal about Jewish participation in Iraq and Afghanistan.
A true hero and a remarkable woman in America today, Lieutenant Colonel Robin Higgins, USMC (ret.), nee Ross, was born in the Bronx in 1950. She spent her early days on Long Island and obtained two degrees in English, a bachelor’s from State University of New York at Oneonta and a master’s from Long Island University.
After studying for a time at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, she returned to New York in May 1970 and completed college with a 4.0 average. Following her graduate studies, she taught high-school English on Long Island.
At her father’s suggestion to go into the military, Higgins went to a local Marine Corps recruiting office and was accepted into OCS at Quantico. She was commissioned a second lieutenant and performed duties in communications and in military police at Quantico.
On December 23, 1977, she married Captain William R. (Rich) Higgins, USMC. The turning point and perhaps the most significant event of her life was the calamity that befell her husband, thrusting her name and image into national, if not international, attention. In 1988, while on duty as a lieutenant colonel and leader of a UN observer team in Lebanon, her husband was taken captive by Hezbollah terrorists and later murdered. Since the Hezbollah were fanatically committed to the destruction of the Jewish state, during the period of his captivity, she had to keep my Jewishness hidden. Ironically, it was that very Jewishness that helped me survive.
She continued to perform her duties as a Marine officer during this period, all the while suffering the numbing terror and loneliness of a hostage’s wife. She made diligent efforts to get information about her husband and to obtain his release, enduring extreme frustration and uncertainty. She learned of her husband’s murder on July 29, 1989. Rich Higgins was promoted to colonel while in captivity.
On October 4, 1997, Robin Higgins christened the guided-missile destroyer USS Higgins (DDG-76), named for her husband. During 41st President George Bush’s administration, she was appointed to the U.S. Department of Labor, where she served as deputy assistant secretary and then acting assistant secretary for Veterans’ Employment and Training. While a senior executive at the Department of Labor, Lieutenant Colonel Higgins was an adviser to the Department of Veterans’ Affairs Advisory Committee on Women Veterans and a commissioner on the Department of Defense’s Defense Conversion Commission.
Moving to Florida after leaving the military, she served as director of public affairs for Florida’s state comptroller, and then spent a year consulting, public speaking, and writing on a variety of topics, including media relations, public affairs, and veterans’ advocacy. In January, Governor Jeb Bush appointed Robin Higgins executive director of the Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs- the first Jewish woman to hold that job in Florida. As the Governor’s chief advisor on veterans’ issues, she was responsible for advocacy programs for the state’s 1.7 million veterans. Then in early 2001, she was nominated by 43rd president George W. Bush to serve as the Under Secretary for Memorial Affairs at the U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs. Confirmed by the U.S. Senate in May 2001, she is responsible for numerous burial benefits for the nation’s veterans and oversees the National Cemetery Administration. She became the senior Jewish person ever to serve in the Department of Veterans’ Affairs and the senior Jewish woman in the Administration.
Lieutenant Colonel Higgins is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Marine Corps League’s Dickey Chapelle Award for outstanding service to Marines, the American Legion Auxiliary’s Public Spirit Award for outstanding service to country, and the American Academy of Physician Assistants Veterans Caucus Award for outstanding service to veterans.
She is a member of Disabled American Veterans, the Retired Officers’ Association, the Jewish War Veterans, Gold Star Wives, AMVETS, and the Marine Corps League. Higgins has testified before Congress; appeared on numerous morning and evening news programs; and has had many letters, articles, and opinion pieces published in major publications, all in addition to her book, PATRIOT DREAMS: The Murder of Colonel Rich Higgins