NTSA Mourns the Passing of President, RADM James A. Robb, USN (Ret)
The National Training and Simulation Association (NTSA) honors the exceptional life and career of Rear Admiral James "Rookie" Robb, USN (Ret), who recently passed away surrounded by his loved ones. Admiral Robb is celebrated for his pioneering contributions to naval aviation, his leadership at NTSA as well as the National Defense Industrial Association (NDIA), and his profound impact on national security and the field of modeling and simulation through his advocacy and strategic vision. We invite you to read the following tribute from The Golden Eagles, an association formed by a group of early Naval Aviators who were guests of the United States Navy on a cruise aboard USS Forrestal, (CVA-59), September 16-18, 1956. The membership includes pioneers in Naval Aviation.
Rear Admiral James A. Robb, USN (Ret), Golden Eagle
It is my sad duty to inform you that on Wednesday, 1 November 2023, Golden Eagle RADM James “Rookie” Robb, USN (Ret) made his Last Take Off in Emerald Isle, NC, with his family by his side. Rookie was born on 4 January 1951 to a Naval Aviation family. He grew up in many places, as his father moved from assignment to assignment, with Corpus Christi, TX, the closest place to a hometown. He attended Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) and Naval ROTC, graduating with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Mechanical Engineering.
He was commissioned an Ensign on 7 June 1972. August found him at the Primary Training Command, flying the T-34B Mentor, at NAS Saufley Field, FL, immediately followed by Jet Basic and Advanced training at NAS Pensacola, FL, flying the T-2 Buckeye, and TA-4J Skyhawk. He received his Wings of Gold in October 1974 and was one of the first six pilots selected to join the F-14A Tomcat fleet introduction directly out of the training command. Replacement pilot training with the VF-124 Gunfighters was next and, while there, he was handpicked to join the VF-14 Tophatters for the first east coast F-14 deployment aboard USS John F. Kennedy. Thus, the genesis of his call sign, “Rookie.”
Rookie’s nugget tour aboard Kennedy and at VF-14, were eventful and productive, with job assignments as the Line Division Officer, First Lieutenant, and NATOPS Officer. During the turnaround between deployments, he led the first fleet F-14 section to attend TOPGUN. While on his second Mediterranean deployment, he was demonstrating a gun’s defense and departed controlled flight, which quickly progressed into a fully developed flat spin. In a feat of truly phenomenal airmanship and situational awareness, he stayed with the airplane and recovered, the only fleet F-14 pilot believed to have ever done so. In 1978 he was named the AIRLANT Pilot of Year for his pioneering work in F-14 tactics development and assigned to the VF-101Grim Reapers in 1978 as an instructor for F-14 Fleet Replacement pilots. There, he flew the Tomcat and the A-4E/F as an instructor and dissimilar adversary during the air combat maneuvering phase.
According to Rookie, however, his greatest achievement came shortly thereafter when, on 2 June 1979, he married the love of his life, Judy. During this tour he was selected to be the east coast F-14 Air Demonstration Pilot. In 1980 and 1981 he returned to sea duty for Mediterranean deployments, this time as the Operations Officer and Maintenance Officer of the VF-32 Fighting Swordsmen, once more aboard Kennedy. Rookie flew some of the earliest F-14 Tactical Air Reconnaissance Pod System missions in support of the Lebanon Crisis in 1981 and served another deployment aboard USS Independence in 1982. During these tours, VF-32 won the CNO “Battle E,” recognizing proficiency and readiness, the “Safety S,” the Navy’s highest flight safety award, and the Joseph Clifton Award as the best fighter squadron in the Navy.
In May 1983, Rookie was selected to be a TOPGUN instructor, and he spent the summer flying the F-5E Tiger II, first with TOPGUN and then with the Air Force Adversary Instructor Course at Nellis AFB, NV. He was the Officer in Charge of the Navy/Marine Corps Detachment of the 4477 Tactical Evaluation Squadron (TES) at Nellis flying the F-5, T-38 Talon, the Mitsubishi MU-2, the MIG-21C, and its Chinese variant the F-7 until the summer of 1985. The highly classified mission of 4477th was to train Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps pilots on the best ways to fight and win when encountering MiGs in aerial combat. The Air Force selected its MiG pilots primarily from the ranks of the Weapons School and Aggressors at Nellis AFB. Similarly, the Navy and Marine Corps pilots, like Rookie, were recruited from the instructors of TOPGUN. Rookie flew more than 500 hours in the A-4, F-5, F-16N, MIG-21, F-7, and T-38 as an adversary pilot, with 200 missions in the MiG-21 and the F-7 from the test ranges in Tonopah, Nevada.
Immediately following the Adversary squadron, Rookie underwent F-14 refresher training with VF-124 and became the Executive Officer of the VF-51 Screaming Eagles, aboard USS Carl Vinson, and NAS Miramar, CA. Later, as the Commanding Officer (CO) of VF-51, Rookie deployed four F-14s and a KC-130 to Adak, Alaska, in support of Operation Coyote, flying intercept and escort missions against Soviet Bear H aircraft conducting simulated nuclear attack against the U.S. During the 1986–1987 deployment on board USS Carl Vinson, VF-51 also conducted operations in the Bering Sea that winter. In October 1988, Rookie was selected as a Deputy CAG at NAS Miramar and became NATOPS qualified in five tactical aircraft as DCAG-11; the EA-6B Prowler, A-6 Intruder, F-14, S-3A Viking, and A-7E Corsair II. He was a pioneer in developing and refining the DCAG program, flying every aircraft in the Carrier Air Wing and serving until the summer of 1990 when he became the CO of TOPGUN. In this role, Rookie served as Adversary Program Model Manager, working to mitigate F-16 fatigue life issues, and helping to establish the Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor (SFTI) Program. He flew the A-4E/F, F-16C, and F-14 there until February 1990 when he was posted as the Commander of CVW-9 at NAS Lemoore, CA, and aboard USS Nimitz. As CAG-9, Rookie flew Operation Southern Watch combat missions over Iraq in the A-6, F-14, and S-3, pioneering mixed section tactics with the F/A-18C.
In August,1993, Rookie was assigned to the CNO’s Strategic Studies Group 13, at the Naval War College in Newport, RI. Duty in Washington caught up with him in July 1994, when he was posted to the CNO’s staff in the N-3/5 as a Joint Planner. In May 1997 he became the Executive Assistant to U.S. CINCPAC at Camp HM Smith, HI, until January 1999. During this tour, Rookie was selected for RDML and returned to Washington, D.C., as the Deputy Director for Air Warfare, OPNAV N880, where he served until March 2000. As N880, he spearheaded the shift to all precision Naval Aviation munitions, procured the Active Electronically Scanned Array radar for the F/A-18, and started the F/A-18G and P-8 programs.
His next assignment was as the Commander of Carrier Strike Group Seven, at NAS North Island, CA, and embarked in USS John C. Stennis flying the S-3B, F/A-18C/D, H-60, EA-6B, and E-2C. Rookie led the Third Fleet response to 9/11/2001, coordinating the operations of the 25 ships that emergency sortied from San Diego to provide CAP and Cruiser coverage of West Coast high value locations. From October 2000 until February 2001, he was concurrently the Deputy Commander, Joint Task Force Southwest Asia, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, coordinating attacks on Baghdad air defense sites, including first combat use of the AGM-154 Joint Standoff Weapon. From November 2001 until April 2004, Rookie was the U.S. Central Command, Director, Plans, Policy and Coalition Affairs, J-5, in Tampa, FL. He arrived during the initial combat operations in Afghanistan and was a key contributor to U.S. and coalition efforts for the liberation of Iraq and the early counter insurgency fight there. Rookie coordinated Carrier Air integration into Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom and deployed 15 times to Afghanistan, Qatar, Pakistan, and Iraq, in direct support of those combat operations. He was the first Navy Flag Officer into Kabul, Afghanistan, after the fall of the Taliban in December 2001 and was a very significant contributor to Allied and Afghan operations to stabilize Afghanistan and reopen the U.S. Embassy. He also led the U.S. military delegation that negotiated the creation of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) for Afghanistan in December 2001. From April 2004 until March 2006, when he retired from active duty, Rookie was the Director of Readiness N43, on the CNO’s staff in Washington, D.C.
Rookie’s extensive Naval career spanned 34 years of active-duty service, during which he flew 4,820 flight hours and made 1,052 carrier arrested landings. He deployed nine times, flew 40 combat missions during Operation Southern Watch and Operation Enduring Freedom, and commanded VF-51, TOPGUN, CVW-9, and CARGRU-7. His combat awards, include two Strike/Flight Air Medals and the Defense Distinguished Service Medal for his service during Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. Rookie’s enduring influence on Naval Aviation includes his tactics development work in VF-14, adversary flying and leadership of TOPGUN, development of the highly successful SFTI program, and transitions to Naval Aviation weapons and airframes that will be with us for decades to come.
After retirement from active duty, Rookie was named President of The National Training and Simulation Association (NTSA). This non-profit association provides a portfolio of events allowing the training, simulation, and gaming industries to engage national security markets and advance the use of advanced simulation technologies, such as artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and serious gaming, to support training, education, and analysis. In this role, Rookie managed the annual Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation and Education Conference (I/ITSEC), the largest training systems conference and exposition in the world. A keystone achievement during his presidency was the expansion of the I/ITSEC Scholarship Program to include Bachelor’s, Master’s, and Doctoral scholarships. Rookie, with characteristic equanimity, grace, and leadership, dealt with enormous administrative and operational challenges, and unpredictable changes to government conference regulations. NTSA, upon learning of his passing, said, “RADM Robb’s influence extended far and wide, deeply impacting everyone he worked with. RADM Robb’s unwavering dedication to service and his commitment to our shared values have left an inspirational legacy. Known for his tireless advocacy, kindness, and ability to bring together diverse groups toward a common goal, he played a pivotal role in advancing the interests of our warfighters and enhancing national security. His strategic vision has been our guiding light through times of abundance as well as adversity, leaving a lasting imprint on the NTSA and the I/ITSEC community. We honor his memory and enduring spirit.”
Rookie is lovingly survived by his wife Judy, daughters Kendall Valenzuela and Courtney Chapman, son Justin Robb, and their families. He was preceded in death by his son, Kenneth Robb, who was also a distinguished Navy fighter pilot. Arrangements are tentatively planned for Arlington National Cemetery; further information will be provided when available.