“Army strong.” the latest in a long list of advertising slogans for the United States Army, but what does it actually mean — to be Army strong?
There have, undoubtedly, been a countless number of servicemembers who have exemplified the term.
One of those service members is Master Sergeant Verlean Brown.
MSG Brown enlisted in the U.S. Army Reserves, in 1976, at the age of 24. After 35 years, in 2011, she has called it a career. That career has seen Brown aid thousands of lives through the “I A.M. Strong” program, as well as implementing the Sexual Assault Response Program (SARP). But it wasn’t until after she retired, that Brown came face to face with her most daunting enemy yet… Cancer.
During her career, Brown received multiple recognitions, including the 2009 Army’s Sexual Assault Response Coordinator (SARC) of the year. And in 2010, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder awarded her with the Federal Service Award for the Department of Justice.
The final year of MSG Brown’s outstanding career was spent in Iraq, under the titles of SARC as well as Equal Opportunity Advisor (EOA).
“It was a rewarding time,” Brown said, “but it took a lot out of me.”
However, that time in Iraq, serving her fellow soldiers, coupled with all she had been through the 34 years prior, gave her so much in return. She would be forced to call on the lessons learned, in August 2012, when she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“Coming back from Iraq and experiencing what I had experienced,” Brown said, “being in the military for 35 years, I’m not a person that loses focus.”
When she discovered the disease, Brown’s response was that of calm calculation, something she attributes to her family as well as her time spent as a United States service member.
“I asked for more opinions, and what needed to be done.” Brown said.
The opinions she sought would come from several doctors, as well as a geneticist, and all would have the same recommendations. Brown would follow said recommendations, and have a double- mastectomy (breast removal surgery), along with an Oophorectomy (ovarian removal surgery).
Once again, the Master Sergeant would be forced to harness the powers supplied to her by, among other things, her experiences in the Army.
“I’m going to fight,” Brown said.
And as any fighter knows, they can only be as strong as those who are in their corner. For Brown, her corner was manned by her eight siblings; one of which had previously conquered cancer. MSG Brown would also call upon her deep-seeded spirituality. But she drew inspiration from more than just her bible, also “A Purpose Driven Life,” the book she received from her Army Chaplain.
Along with that spiritual assistance, Brown received financial assistance from the Federal Government, through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. That financial support would completely pay for her surgeries, as well as her pre and PostOp medical care.
But the support didn’t stop there.
“All the assistance I got medically,” Brown said, “was from the Army and the V.A.”
This included personal and mental counseling along with the accompanying prescriptions.
However, the rude awakening, brought on by a positive cancer diagnosis, was a cause for Brown to take a deeper look at what she was doing and what she had done.
“I’ve put my problems aside,” Brown said, “and really focused on Iraq, the program, the soldiers.”
Brown has spent more than three decades helping others, and that hasn’t stopped since she was diagnosed. In fact it has inspired her to reach farther within, and seek out a wider array of people in need.
“I’ve been blessed,” Brown said, “it could have been a lot worse. Now every time I can, I talk to cancer sufferers and provide strength.”
It is my pleasure to inform those of you interested, that as of an August 2013 checkup, MSG Brown was given a clean bill of health.
Throughout her career, Brown has been a beacon. She has been the recipient of several recognitions’ – including soldier of the year – she’s been a guest of Eric Holder in the Pentagon. From her start, helping new recruits learn how to dress, to the implementation of programs to prevent, and provide assistance for the victims of sexual assault, she’s done it all.
Now it’s time to do what may be her calling. To inspire those in need.
“I know how important it can be,” Brown said about the possibility of being an inspirational speaker. “I’ve been in those audiences before, they’ve inspired me, and they’ve encouraged me.”
Her plan is not, merely, to go from base to base talking to service members engulfed in struggle. Brown hopes to inspire by the droves, service members, veterans and civilians alike. And judging by her career path, there is no better option for the spearhead of such an operation.
An operation she hopes to start with this statement to those diagnosed with any ailment:
“Talk to someone, someone who’s been through it – survivors. And get an understanding of your particular disease. Learn how to conduct yourself, to get through. Walk the path of what you’ve learned. Strengthen your body and your mind, so that you won’t be a victim, strive to be a survivor.”