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By Dolly Rairigh Glass

Team-Orlando-VA-SimLEARN-Harry-Robinson2-WIt’s one of those common sayings, “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” In the case of Harry Robinson, his father’s Navy service inspired his own, and now his son, Andrew, is headed into his second year in the Navy ROTC at the University of Florida. He has aspirations of following in the footsteps of both his father and grandfather.

One of Robinson’s fondest memories of his Navy career, he said, came at his own retirement, which coincided with the Change of Command that would relieve him as the Commanding Officer for the Naval Air Warfare Training Systems Division. In the summer of 2010, Capt. Harry “Smokey” Robinson prepared for the usual ceremonial tasks associated with a Change of Command, with both outgoing and incoming Commander’s families present, but had decided that he would forgo any retirement ceremony at that time.

“I knew the people who were attending the ceremony were very busy and I didn’t want them looking at their watches wondering how much longer they needed to stick around to watch me retire after the Change of Command,” Robinson said. “That day, when the Admiral arrived, he was running a little late, and my anxieties and emotions were already stirring at the start of the ceremony. I looked over to see Anne (Robinson’s wife) and all my family sitting together, except for one empty seat. Andrew wasn’t there.”

What Robinson didn’t know is that Andrew, then finishing his freshman year at Winter Park High School, had been asked by the school’s Junior ROTC Unit Chief Petty Officer if he would like to participate in the Color Guard at the Change of Command. As the ceremony got underway, Robinson looked up to see his Junior ROTC-uniformed son carrying the United States flag.

“It was one of the proudest moments in my life,” said Robinson.

Now, four years later, Robinson is the National Program Manager for SimLEARN – the Veteran’s Health Administration’s Simulation Learning, Education and Research Network – a program for simulation in health care training. Serving the largest integrated health care system in the world, the future home of SimLEARN is a 51,000-square-foot immersive training facility to be located adjacent to the new VA hospital at Medical City in Lake Nona.

The SimLEARN team is looking forward to the completion of construction for the National Simulation Center building, which looks to be sometime in late 2015, but the organization is already making a difference, developing meaningful curriculums and providing invaluable training.

SimLEARN focuses on the “train the trainer” concept. Nominated representatives from the 150 VA medical centers nationwide experience SimLEARN’s immersive training to become instructors, and then take their knowledge and skill back to conduct local training. “It’s a proven concept that is both effective and efficient,” Robinson said. “The curriculum they will use is already developed and the simulation-based training equipment they will use is already procured. Once they complete their training with us, we continue to support them once they are back in the field.”

Additionally, SimLEARN offers individuals the opportunity to train in a group setting. “There’s very little that’s done in the field of medicine that’s ever conducted by just a single individual,” Robinson explained. “It’s a lot of teamwork, a lot of communications, a lot of responsibilities, and just knowing what’s going on. What makes this training even more leading edge is the use of After Action Reviews – the opportunity for us to review the training simulation with the participants and debrief them using the videotape of their training scenario.”

“The advantages of conducting training in a simulated environment is we’re not putting any patients at risk, plus it gives the instructors the opportunity to focus on the specific task they want to train on that day,” Robinson said. “Because the students can repeat the task over and over, they can train to a mastery level.”

As a naval aviator, Robinson is no stranger to instruction through simulation. He primarily flew the E-2C Hawkeye and commanded both an operational squadron and type wing. His combat experience includes strike, close air support, and air superiority missions over Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Former Republic of Yugoslavia.

A Philadelphia native, Robinson earned his commission through the Navy Reserve Officer Training Corps upon graduation from Pennsylvania State University, earning a bachelor’s in computer science, and later a master’s in aviation systems from the University of Tennessee. Currently, he is pursuing a Ph.D. in modeling and simulation from Old Dominion University.

Robinson still enjoys rowing three to four times a week, something he started in high school, and he is an active volunteer for the Central Florida Navy League, where he just handed over the gavel after serving as its president.

It’s evident that Robinson is very proud of the SimLEARN team and how their work is making a difference in the VA healthcare landscape. “It’s very important to concentrate on the basics,” said Robinson. “If you can’t do the basics, then it’s difficult to excel at the higher levels.”

For Robinson and the SimLEARN team, the basics begin with providing immersive training and resources so the entire team of VA healthcare workers — across the country and the 150 Veteran’s Health centers – have the tools and the support to maintain and improve their skillset.

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