It’s less about inheritance than a family’s self-betterment from one generation to another, each laying down track for the next. His grandfather, the first Robert Griffin, was a construction worker who hauled himself out of the New Orleans projects. The second Robert Griffin spent 21 years in the U.S. Army working his way from enlistee to sergeant first class. He and his wife Jacqueline, who also served as a sergeant, trained their son with an Army-inspired creed that hard work and good planning are moral values.
Two weeks ago, RGIII was asked to describe himself to observers at the NFL’s annual scouting combine. “Military kid, both my parents were in the military,” is what he answered. “Mom did 12 years, Dad did 21, served in two wars. Discipline was something that was obviously huge. If you say you’re going to do something, you do it. If you start it, you finish it. ‘Yes, sir’; ‘no, ma’am.’ You’ve got to have that kind of structure in your life.”
A child of Army parents “has to manage some things maybe sooner than they should have to,” Robert Griffin Jr. observed in a phone interview. The Griffins changed duty stations frequently, “and none of them was easy.” They were in Okinawa, South Korea, Fort Carson, Fort Lewis and Fort Hood. While Robert Jr. worked his way up the ranks as a petroleum specialist, Jacqueline held a succession of good jobs in the “head sheds,” the offices of the commanding general at their various posts.
At 11:30 p.m. on the night that Robert III turned 13 years old, the phone rang in the Griffins home at Fort Hood. The Army didn’t care that it was the boy’s birthday. Robert Jr. was being deployed the very next morning to Kuwait, to serve in the war in Iraq. “You’re in charge,” he told his son. “Don’t change anything while I’m gone, and stay away from the TV.” He didn’t want him to follow the war on TV and be frightened. RGIII, without being asked, decided it was his duty to protect his mother and sisters from the news as well. Whenever he caught them watching it, he would flip the set off. Instead the family relied on phone calls from Robert Jr. for their news. Fortunately, Ted Koppel was embedded with his unit, and he borrowed the Koppel crews’ international cellphones to call home regularly.
Shortly after returning home at the end of 2003, Robert Jr. finally decided to retire — Jacqueline had taken her own retirement in 1998 — and the family settled permanently in Copperas Cove, Tex., near Fort Hood, to finish raising their children, Robert, and his older sisters Jihan, a teacher’s aide, and Dejan, a department store manager. The Griffins considered that life in the service had been a worthwhile exchange.