Dr. Robert Eldridge '90: A Global Citizen

Robb Eldridge at Sendai Airport
Dr. Robert Eldridge, second from left, 10 months after the tsunami at  Sendai Airport in Japan

Dr. Robert Eldridge ’90 says the need for interaction beyond borders and cultures is only increasing due to globalization — the rapid spread of ideas, flow of people, and sharing of technology, goods, and services. 

“We need to not only ‘tolerate’ others, but learn about and appreciate them as well,” Robb said. “In understanding and respecting other countries and cultures, we also come to value ourselves and play a more responsible and interactive role in the global community.”

Robb is currently the deputy assistant chief of staff, G-7, government and external affairs department, of Marine Corps Installations Pacific, in Okinawa, Japan. Prior to his joining the Department of Defense, he was a tenured associate professor at the School of International Public Policy, Osaka University (OSIPP) and director, U.S.-Japan Alliance Affairs Division, Center for International Security Studies and Policy in Japan. His area of expertise is Japanese political and diplomatic history and his research interests include U.S.-Japan Relations, Japanese Security Policy, Postwar Okinawa, and Disaster Preparedness. 

In his role as the deputy assistant chief of staff, Robb was one of the first responders after Northeastern Japan was struck by a magnitude 9.0 earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011.

“One of my duties, in addition to serving as an advisor and interpreter for our commander, was to facilitate the embedding of our Marine staff within the Japanese Joint Task Force responding to the crisis,” Robb wrote later. “I was fortunate that I had known the commanding general on the Japanese side and several of his senior staff for almost a decade, and worked with several of them on other projects in the past. Personal relationships are everything in Japan, and trust and friendships are critical in crises such as these.” 

“Our work in the forward command was to coordinate the U.S. military efforts in support of the Japanese. Eventually some 20,000 American personnel from all the services ended up contributing to Operation Tomodachi, or Friend, over the coming days and weeks. In addition to using special operations to open and operate Sendai Airport, as well as clear it out of all debris, we established an air bridge, flying in provisions and distributing them on the ground. Moreover, U.S. forces helped clean up schools and other evacuation centers.

“I was honored to be a part of it, and proud of the generosity of the United States in responding unconditionally, as well as impressed with my adopted country of Japan for its brave response in the face of nearly 20,000 deaths and an ongoing nuclear crisis. “ 

Since the March 11 tragedy, Robb has taken the lead in two major projects: providing emotional relief to the disaster area by creating a homestay program in Okinawa with U.S. Marines and their families for children from the affected areas, and promoting disaster preparedness and cooperation between the United States Marines and local communities in Japan, especially those areas most vulnerable to a future earthquake and tsunami, forging partnerships through public outreach, personnel exchanges, and participation in disaster drills.

Related to this latter effort, he is translating and updating a Japanese book called Megaquake: How Japan and the World Should Respond. This is just one of several book projects, both historical as well as policy-related, he is doing in addition to his “day” job. 

Before joining the faculty of OSIPP in July 2001, Robb was a research fellow at the Suntory Foundation in Osaka and later at the Research Institute for Peace and Security in Tokyo. He did a unique one-year sabbatical (from September 2004 to August 2005) at the headquarters of U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Pacific, located at Camp Smith in Hawaii, which solidified his respect for the “Corps” and his desire to be a bridge between academia, the military, and global society.

Robb earned his M.A. and Ph.D. in political science at the Graduate School of Law, Kobe University, in 1996 and 1999 respectively, and his B.A. in international relations, cum laude with high departmental honors, in 1990 from Lynchburg College. 

In 2012, he won the prestigious Nakasone Yasuhiro Award, named in honor of a former prime minister of Japan, for his scholarship and policy-related work. He credits Lynchburg College for giving the confidence and tools to participate and excel in the global community.