UNDISCLOSED LOCATION - Many people live their lives searching for the reason why they are here, wondering what makes them important, or how they can make a difference. For most people, it can be a life-long struggle, but can offer an opportunity to help others find their life's purpose. For U.S. Air Force Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Bruce Brewer, who has seen some people go through the best and worst the world has to offer, his purpose is simple: "faith, family, friends and freedom." These four words describe the lessons he has learned in a lifelong journey full of moments that could make anyone question their beliefs.
U.S. Air Force chaplain Lt. Col. Bruce Brewer, 380th Air Expeditionary Wing chaplain, stands in front of a helicopter at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia on November 8, 2013. During his deployment, Brewer traveled with the commander to various sites of geographically separated units under the 380th AEW. (U.S. Air Force photo by Jacob Morgan)
Brewer has worked on critical care teams where he held the hands of dying service members far from their loved ones, providing the last loving face they may ever see. He has counseled battle hardened survivors, who are back home suffering from the psychological scars of war. But there are great moments too. Just recently, Brewer saw his 11 children, including his two newly adopted daughters blow kisses over an Internet connection while on his ninth deployment. Through all the lows and the highs, Brewer said there is one overarching lesson to be learned.
"There are no textbook answers for the big moments in life," said Brewer. "When I have seen people at the end of their lives, they are not talking about their bank accounts or what car they drive. They want to know if their life mattered and that they have made a difference in others' lives."
Thirty years ago, when Brewer was 20 years old, his father, Ivan, was diagnosed with leukemia. Brewer said he would watch people come to the hospital to comfort his father Instead, they would leave with their spirits lifted; this was the effect that his father had on others.
"Even though he was dying, he left a legacy," said Brewer. "He spent his last days writing letters to family. This was his way to be present in our lives for the big moments ahead He wrote a letter for me on my wedding day that was given to me by my mother six years later. He also wrote letters to each of his grandchildren giving words of wisdom. He did all of this, not thinking of himself, but thinking of others. He thought of my children before they were even born."
Brewer said he was touched by his father's faith and the difference he made in others' lives, so much so that it was the driving factor behind becoming a chaplain. As a result, Brewer's purpose in life is driven by his father's example and how he honored his faith, family, friends and freedom.
Today, the Brewer family consists of Brewer, his wife, Cindy, and 11 children - six biological sons and five adopted daughters, the most recent additions, Heavenly and Honesty, ages 6 and 8, were adopted Oct. 23, 2013, while Brewer was deployed with the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing. He provided sworn testimony over an Internet connection while the rest of his family was in attendance at the courthouse in Provo, Utah.
At home, all of the children speak at least two languages as Cindy is a German professor at Brigham Young University and has spoken German with the kids since birth. They have children in preschool, elementary, middle school and college. Brewer said that the family basically runs him rather than the other way around. Every child in the family pitches in; they use an online chore management application tied to rewards for completing tasks.
"Having 11 children doesn't necessarily drop the focus on any of the children", said Brewer. "Instead you have more family members focusing on each other."
His oldest son Kenneth is a Harvard University graduate, speaks many languages and is currently working on a Ph.D.
"The Brewer household is pretty crazy and a lot of fun. There is always stuff going on, day-to-day living is like a full-scale production," said Kenneth Brewer, who now lives in New Haven, Conn., attending Yale as a biochemistry student. "Even though he has deployed so many times and I have 10 brothers and sisters, my dad was always there. He is a little bit crazy for having 11 children, but I think my dad ... knows what is important in life."
"I would not have 11 children if I didn't feel God had a hand in it," said Brewer. "If you told me you had 11 children, I would think you're crazy too; but I feel that each and every one of them is meant to be in my home and that we are truly blessed."
In Provo, Utah, Brewer works as a full-time readjustment counselor at the Veteran's Administration Veterans Center there and part-time as a chaplain with the Utah Air National Guard. He counsels more than 20 clients a week including members who have seen combat in almost every conflict from the Vietnam War to current operations in Afghanistan. Although he wears a chaplain's hat in the Utah Air National Guard, he does not when he works for the VA.
While on active duty, he has seen the physical wounds of war, some ultimately resulting in death. Back home as a VA counselor, he sees psychological wounds, said Brewer, who holds a Ph.D. in counseling psychology and has 21 years' experience as a chaplain. Some of the situations he has seen people go through have put him at a loss for words.
"Imagine being a chaplain, and an experienced counselor and not having anything to say," said Brewer. "Through my deployments and time at various hospitals, I find myself asking, what matters to these people? In the event of a sudden loss of a loved one, or serious combat wounds -- what do I do say to someone in that situation?"
According to Brewer, he looks back on his childhood, his family today and the adversity he has seen others overcome. The lessons he learned with his family and on active duty have helped him counsel various service members and veterans who needed help.
"My experiences have only increased my compassion and awareness for some of the worst that our service members can experience," said Brewer. "What it has really taught me, is that these people are not numbers and it has made me realize even more that the intangibles are what make the difference in life."
"My dad really taught me a lot about work-ethic and organization," said Kenneth Brewer. "His work is an important part of his life; you know when he is doing a great job at helping people because that is when he is the happiest. He is a great example of an involved father."
According to Brewer, he tries to tell others that life is about making a difference in whatever way one can. One small act can make the day for someone else. Sometimes the most meaningful thing one can do is to be with someone during their darkest hours and help them through that pain.
"I get my satisfaction vicariously by seeing others succeed. What guides me are the intangible things, when we thought about adopting, it was not about the money or social standing. When I counsel someone who truly needs help, it's not about their rank or their possessions," said Brewer. "A lot of the things I do can be a tremendous sacrifice in time and money, but I have seen people who have sacrificed their lives. When I am on my way out of this world, I know what legacy I want to leave."
By USAF Jacob Morgan
Provided through DVIDS
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