May 18, 2021
This month, the Pallas Foundation for National Security Leadership hosted Lieutenant Colonel Gema Robles to discuss her experiences as an Army aviator, lessons learned throughout her career path thus far, and her advice for young professionals entering the national security field. LTC Robles hails from Puerto Rico, currently serves as the Aide-de-Camp to the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and has been selected for command of the 5th Battalion of the 101st Aviation Regiment, which she will begin in fall 2021. Major General JP McGee, currently the Commander of the 101st Airborne Division, offered opening remarks covering the importance of supporting emerging leaders such as LTC Robles. Check out some takeaways from her discussion below.
The evolving role of the Army in national security depends on technology and new talent. LTC Robles noted that while the fundamentals of the Army will not change, she anticipates that technology advances will be continuously leveraged for the Army’s mission, which will cause the Army to lean forward and become less human-intensive. However, despite great advancements in AI and machine learning (ML), LTC Robles acknowledged there will always be - and has to be - a human at critical decision points because computers lack the critical moral judgement capabilities in the gray areas between black and white choices. She believes that the Department of Defense will need to invest in people to continue to mature, particularly in diversity efforts. "Now more than ever we need fresh perspectives because the old way of doing business isn't going to work in the future,” she said.
The people surrounding her allow her to overcome challenges and surpass limits. Arguing that failure and success are not mutually exclusive, LTC Robles pointed to failures as an opportunity for growth because of the chance to learn. Over the course of the career, she has also learned to identify her own limits, particularly the limiting beliefs in her own mind, how to test them, and using colleagues as sounding boards to overcome them. Indeed, her colleagues have helped to build an atmosphere where she feels comfortable testing these limits: "The common denominator across my career has been the people and the feeling that this is where I belong."
She advises young professionals to pace themselves for a marathon, acknowledge everyone is a work in progress, and seek out exposure opportunities. When thinking about advice she would have given to a younger version of herself, LTC Robles referenced a quote from one of her colleagues: "The first people that go through the wall are the bloodiest." No matter what level of energy, experience, and enthusiasm you bring, she noted, you can be a change agent for your organization. With that, she is determined to look beyond herself and pave the way for other women, and advises that other young women in national security take the risk and the chance to chart their own path. "There's progress happening, but it takes someone with courage to take the risk and be the first," she said.
LTC Robles is a native of San Juan, Puerto Rico and currently serves as the Aide-de-Camp to the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The US Army has selected Gema as the next Battalion Commander of 5-101st Assault Helicopter Battalion in Fort Campbell, KY. She previously served as the Division Executive Officer of the Officer Readiness Division, US Army Human Resources Command and the Brigade Executive Officer of the 1st Armored Division Combat Aviation Brigade among other posts.