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.
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
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
"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."
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?"
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.
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
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