Sunday, February 17, 2008

After 26 Years, Soldier Still Marches Forward

Sgt. 1st Class Billy Brown, from Hartsville, Tenn., the section leader of the mortar section attached to Company D, 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, talks on the radio to maintain situational awareness during a knock and search operation in Jisr Diyala, Iraq, Feb. 9.

Sgt. 1st Class Billy Brown, right, from Hartsville, Tenn., the section leader of the mortar section attached to Company D, 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, jokes with his Soldiers following a knock and search operation in Jisr Diyala, Iraq, Feb. 9.

Story and photos by Spc. Ben Hutto, 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division Public Affairs Office

FORWARD OPERATING BASE HAMMER, Iraq – For the last 26 years, Sgt. 1st Class Billy Brown has gone everywhere the Army asked him to go. From Fort Benning, Ga., to Germany, from the island of Haiti to the deserts of Iraq, Brown has served with pride and honor.

After his current deployment, Brown, from Hartsville, Tenn., section leader of the mortar section attached to Company D, 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, currently attached to the 3rd Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment, is moving on. He decided it’s time to retire from the Army he has served so faithfully.

“To be honest, I’m uneasy about it,” he said. “I like doing what I do, but I’ve come to a point where it’s time to hang it up. I love sending big rounds down range and doing the math that comes with the job, but it’s time.”

Brown said he has been separated from his wife and daughter since 1999 due to various duty assignments. He is ready to spend time with them again. As understandable as that is, his Soldiers are sorry to see him leave.

“There isn’t much that I haven’t learned from him,” said Spc. Jordan Roedl, from Austin, Texas, Brown’s gunner in the platoon, who has served with him the last two years. “It will be a bad day when he leaves us. He’s taught me everything from the best way to clean our weapons to the best way to can tomatoes.”

Roedl said it was not always easy to serve under Brown, but he can see now that his time with Brown has made him and his platoon mates better Soldiers.

“He’s a very hard, but caring man,” Roedl said. “He expects the best out of us 100 percent of the time. He’s really big on standards. You walk in our living area and everything is dress right dress. Our bunks are all set up the same way. It can be annoying because most Soldiers don’t have to live like that, but he’s not going to drop his standards for anyone. He really doesn’t care what the other sections are doing.”

Brown believes that standards are one of the most important things he can instill in his platoon.

“I’m from the old Army,” he said. “I believe in the hard right over the easy wrong. If you have a standard, it sets a tone. That tone leads to combat readiness.”

Being combat ready was one of Brown’s goals for his platoon since their time at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif., where they trained for their current deployment.

“We practiced everything we are doing now at NTC,” he said. “We practiced room clearance, stacking on doors and a lot of other infantry tasks. We were prepared then to come out here. As a result, they have done well out here. We have done over 100 missions and they really are no big deal to us.”

Brown credits the non-commissioned officers in his platoon for ensuring his expectations are met.

“They have done a great job of maintaining our guys and making sure our guys are prepared and the standards are maintained,” Brown said. “They make sure we are speaking in one voice and act as one. They receive my orders and break them down and make sure everything is executed properly. With a 12 man crew, like we have, everyone has to be on the same page. Our guys are more than flexible because of the effort we put in to make sure that everyone knows what’s going on. We are like a Stretch Armstrong doll; we can be going in 50 ways but still be connected.”

Roedl explained that being a member of the platoon involves more than preparing for missions.

“Being in this platoon involves being a professional every day, but it also means you are a part of a family,” he said. “Sgt. Brown treats us all like we are his sons. He holds everyone accountable for looking out for one another. Rank does not matter.”

Brown feels that his Soldiers view each other as family.

“The team is a very tight-knit group,” he said. “They are very good about taking care of one another out here. I’ve been blessed with a real good group. For most of them, this is their first deployment away from home. They’ve performed well, though. They are by far one of the better groups I have served with. They have actually made it really hard to leave when I get back.”

Roedl said that Brown expects a lot from them, even when they don’t feel they can handle what he tasks them with.

“He trusts each of us with a responsibility that other leaders would say was above our pay-grade,” he said. “He always sets us up for success and expects us to succeed.”

Sometimes, however, Brown’s Soldiers don’t succeed. When that happens, Roedl said, Brown turns mistakes into a positive training experience.

“He has taught me how to stand by my decisions,” he said. “Early on, I made some poor choices, but he turned them into a learning experience. He never labeled me a dirt bag. I lost rank, but he didn’t hold it against me. He made me work to get it back. He refused to grant me a waiver when I thought I had earned it back, but looking back on it I’m a better man for it.”

Brown has seen leaders ostracize Soldiers who make mistakes and saddle them with negative labels, but he doesn’t believe that writing a Soldier off is effective leadership.

“If I allow that to happen, then the team starts to break down,” he said. “One guy shouldn’t feel isolated. People should pay for their mistakes, but when it’s over, with me, it’s over. “

Brown believes that being a good Soldier starts by making sure the man in front of and behind him is alright.

“It’s really about guys looking after guys,” he said. “When that happens, teams take care of other teams and squads take care of other squads and it just builds.”

That simple philosophy has made the men that serve under him fiercely loyal to him.

“Everybody says this, but I would follow him into battle any day,” said Roedl. “There are a lot of things that people don’t know about him. He has a rough exterior, but once you get to know him you realize that he cares about Soldiers and just how high his morals are. He’s a strong leader.”

The 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment and the 3rd Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment are assigned to the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division from Fort Benning, Ga., and have been deployed to Iraq since March.

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