A Son Never Forgets - Carl Maxie Brashear
by U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Elizabeth Breckenkamp
August 3, 2019
“A son never forgets.” You may recall this line from the movie “Men of Honor,” based on the true story of the late Master Chief Boatswain’s Mate Carl Maxie Brashear, the first African-American master diver and master chief in the United States Navy.
April 1, 2019 - Inside The Brashear Conference Center at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story, Virginia, stand a life-size photo of the late Master Chief Boatswain's Mate Carl Maxie Brashear and his diving suit he wore during U.S. Navy Diving and Salvage training in 1948. Brashear is a pioneer in Navy history, becoming the first African-American master diver and master chief. He was also the first person in the Navy’s history to be restored to full active duty as an amputee. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Elizabeth Breckenkamp)
Following in his father’s footsteps, U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer 4 Phillip Maxie Brashear also never forgets.
Like his father, Phillip Brashear joined the military. At the age of 56, Phillip, a UH-60 Weapons System Support manager at the Defense Logistics Agency in Richmond, has already accomplished more than what many of us could hope to achieve in an entire life time, for himself and his father.
In September 1981, Phillip joined the Naval Reserve as a jet engine mechanic and helicopter crewman at the Naval Air Station in Norfolk, Virginia. Eight years later, he left the Naval Reserve and joined the Virginia Army National Guard in Richmond, Virginia. After completing Initial Rotary Wing Training, he became an Army warrant officer pilot in June 1991.
Since then, Phillip has had numerous operational assignments overseas. These include a humanitarian mission to Bolivia in 1998, a deployment to Bosnia after 9/11, and a deployment to Iraq in 2005.
In 2009, Phillip joined the Army Reserve and began his Reserve career with Bravo and Delta Companies of the 5th Battalion, 159th General Support Aviation Regiment at Ft Eustis, Virginia.
In 2018, he became the senior command warrant officer for the 80th Training Command headquartered in Richmond. To date, the master Army aviator has flown more than 2,700 combined hours in UH-1 Huey, CH-47 Chinook, and UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters.
“I still love flying today,” said Phillip. “Joining the Army Reserve is by far one of the best decisions I’ve made.”
Throughout his own life, both in and out of the military, Phillip has dedicated his life to carrying on his father’s legacy. He has passionately devoted nearly every waking moment in sharing his father’s inspiring life story wherever his travels take him.
"Being the son of Carl Brashear has been an incredible journey," he said. "There were three things he shared with me to be a valuable citizen. One, we have to work for substance. Two, get an education, and that never stops. Three, believe in something greater than yourself.”
To his humble surprise, Phillip has become a celebrity himself, travelling internationally speaking about his father’s unique combination of determination, grit, and tenacity to overcome obstacles: poverty, lack of education, racism, physical handicap, and substance abuse.
Phillip has been invited to speak at both military and civilian events around the world. In the U.S., he has told the Brashear family story to conferences, youth groups, museums, Pentagon leadership, and even officials at the White House. He even had the opportunity to meet Academy Award winning actors Robert DeNiro and Cuba Gooding, Jr., who played Master Chief Billy Sunday and his father, respectively, in the movie.
While representing the Army at these speaking engagements, Phillip weaves together his own extraordinary career as a helicopter pilot with his father’s amazing career, empowering and inspiring people along the way.
Not only did Carl pave the way in breaking down racial barriers in the Navy, he also was the first person in the Navy’s history to be restored to full active duty as an amputee. Carl lost his leg as the result of a horrific accident during a salvage operation.
“My father always said that it’s not a sin to fall down, but it is a sin to stay down,” said Phillip. “Don’t ever think to yourself that you can’t do something because of your race or handicap or anything, because my father overcame all of those things and more.”
Phillip continues to carry on his father’s legacy in various endeavors. Of note, he established the Carl Brashear Foundation, founded a veteran’s center in his father’s home state of Kentucky, and played an instrumental role in the christening of the 700-foot U.S. Navy Carl Brashear cargo ship.
April 1, 2019 - This memorial stone, in front of The Brashear Conference Center at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story, Virginia, memorializes the late Master Chief Boatswain's Mate Carl Maxie Brashear, a pioneer in the U.S. Navy, becoming the first African-American master diver and master chief. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Elizabeth Breckenkamp)
The most recent honor came when the Little Creek Chief Petty Officers’ Club Conference Center located here named their building after Phillip’s father. At the flag-raising, a memorial stone contains an inscription honoring Carl’s legacy.
Possibly the most moving line of the Brashear Conference Center memorial inscription reads, “His life teaches us much regarding courage, strength, determination, and the power of a ‘can-do’ attitude and spirit.”
“Regardless of the uniform you wear, leadership is leadership,” Phillip explained at the ceremony. “My father showed how to be a great leader by first being a great follower. This building dedication is another honor to celebrate my dad who lived his life as an example of faith, humility, dedication, and strength.”
April 1, 2019 - (Left to right) Chief Warrant Officer 4 Phillip Brashear, the command CWO for the 80th Training Command (TASS), and his wife Sandra attend the Brashear Conference Center flag-raising ceremony at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story, Virginia, April 1, 2019, honoring his late father Master Chief Boatswain's Mate Carl Maxie Brashear. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Elizabeth Breckenkamp)
So, what does it mean? “A son never forgets.”
“It means a son never forgets the sacrifices others have made for him to follow his dream. And it means that you never forget where you have come from,” said Phillip. “I couldn’t have said it any better.”
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