Wounded warrior shares story of her 'invisible disability'
November 7, 2013
ANNISTON ARMY DEPOT, Ala. -- Joye Brown enlisted in the Army young, just out of high school at the age of 18. She hoped the military would give her two things in exchange for her service - a college education and travel.
"I had no thoughts of danger," she told the crowd gathered in the Berman-Varner House for Anniston Army Depot's Disability Employment Awareness Luncheon Oct. 24.
While she gained the education, experienced the travel and danger, she found an appreciation for having a clear mission and a purpose.
She shared some of her early memories of the Army as she spoke. Those memories included being handed all of her equipment and told to pack it in a duffle that, when loaded, was almost larger than she was and was definitely heavier.
"Basic training was tough, it was brutal, but, I eventually got through it and was proud to be in the Army," said Brown.
She chose to focus on industrial hygiene, a field which caused her to spend time speaking with Soldiers about accidents or incidents which had occurred to determine the root cause.
It eventually became her civilian career as well, when she left the active duty ranks.
Brown also found she enjoyed being in command. She spent time as a company commander and was slated for a leadership role at the battalion level toward the end of her last tour in Afghanistan. Then, her world changed.
An improvised explosive device caused her to fall, injuring her head. She noticed the changes, but was hoping to keep them out of her official record in hopes she could continue to serve and assume command again.
"When you believe failure is not an option, you will do a lot of things to prove to yourself that failure is not an option," said Brown, explaining how she had a hard time proving to herself that she needed help.
The symptoms - seizures and balance issues - showed up during a post-deployment checkup and, instead of being assigned to command her battalion, Brown was transferred for two years to a wounded warrior battalion.
"My time at Fort Benning probably wouldn't have taken two years, but, I wouldn't accept that anything was wrong with me," she said.
Her doctor eventually encouraged her to get the assistance of a service dog.
Meeting Gunny and working with him finally helped her get her rehabilitation on track.
"He helped me understand what I was lacking in my life," said Brown.
Gunny was selected as the dog for her in part because of one session where he sensed a seizure coming on and forced Brown into a seated position several minutes before the incident occurred.
"He was carrying on and acting very out of character," Brown said, explaining how the dog kept pulling her to a chair and pushing her into it.
"Now, he stays by my side 24/7."
Brown retired as a lieutenant colonel from military service soon after and shared with the crowd that she felt like a failure when she left the Army because she wasn't able to achieve some of her goals, such as attending the Army War College or achieving the rank of colonel.
At the time, she had been away from her civilian job as an industrial hygienist at the depot for 10 years for military duty. So, she was also worried about the way she and Gunny would be accepted at the installation.
There have been challenges to overcome, but Brown said her coworkers easily accommodated her and Gunny in the office.
"Being back felt uncontrollable without the rigid structure of military life," she said. "This year has been a very bumpy road, but we have pushed through it."
She said her coworkers have learned to push her a little when they feel she needs it and have helped her when she needed a hand as well.
She encouraged everyone in the audience to not judge people by what they can see on the outside. There are many individuals who have hidden disabilities not always visible to the casual observer.
"People who have disabilities don't choose to have them," said Brown. "It is important to remember that people with disabilities are real people with real feelings, just like you and me."
As he addressed the audience after Brown spoke, Depot Commander Col. Brent Bolander echoed her words, encouraging supervisors and directors throughout the installation to accept people for who they are.
Also participating in the luncheon's program were Rosie Cook of the Defense Logistics Agency, who welcomed the crowd to the event, and Patrick Bernardi of the depot's Directorate of Production, who led the prayer.