When Chaplain (Maj.) Sharon Browne, of 5th Medical Recruiting Battalion, pinned on those golden oak leaf major's rank in a recent promotion ceremony, her flock surrounded her.
Browne's four children took turns placing the new rank insignias on her uniform during the Feb. 9 ceremony, held in the Robert P. Taylor Memorial Chapel on Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base-Fort Worth, Texas. Their involvement is a testament to how Browne's journey to answer "a calling" has also led her family flock to their own successes -- with three following her into Army green as active duty Soldiers and another following her pursuit of higher-education as a recent college graduate.
"I wanted them to be part of my ceremony because I think everything I've ever done in life was and remains focused around them," said Browne, a recruiter with the Southcentral Army Chaplain Recruiting Center here. "Even what I do now as a chaplain recruiter is about them, because I am looking for chaplains who will take care of Soldiers and take care of my children how I take care of other people's children."
Her way of considering others and being genuinely interested in their welfare is much-admired by her children -- Staff Sgt. Amanda Travis, 32, an information technology specialist and former Army recruiter who now works in the Information and Educational Technology Division at the U.S. Military Academy, West Point, Pa.; Sgt. James Travis III, 30, a satellite communication systems operator/maintainer stationed at Fort Stewart, Ga.; Sgt. Joshua Travis, 29, a signal support systems specialist, recently selected for an assignment as an instructor at the U.S. Army Signal School, Fort Gordon, Ga.; and Ashley Travis, 26, who recently completed undergraduate studies at the University of Illinois and will walk across the stage with her diploma in May.
"My mother started her military career as a Non-Commissioned Officer," relayed Amanda, when contacted by email. "As an NCO my mother has always been an advocate at preserving the whole Soldier. Despite how trivial you may think someone's pain is, it is a mountain to them.
"Ensuring that we show empathy for them can make the difference in the quality of work they produce, the morale of a person and organization and most importantly the quality of leader they will grow to become. She has taken that mantra over with her to the Chaplain Corp a place where empathy, grace, mercy, and understanding is expected."
For all of her warmth and understanding, Browne's sense of humor is also a force to be reckoned with, according to an email response from Brig. Gen. Kevin Vereen, U.S. Army Recruiting Command Operations deputy commanding general, who officiated her promotion ceremony. During a previous assignment years ago at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., he and his family attended chapel services led by Browne, whom he wrote, "possesses a sense of humor that is unmatched by any that I have seen."
"That humor takes her ministry to another level and is an invaluable characteristic that captivates both young and old," explained Vereen, "especially our young generation of Soldiers who make up a large part of our Army."
In many ways, Browne's promotion is emblematic of just how far she and her family have come and, above all, how much they've overcome to get there. Their journey was far from a straight shot, and considering the odds, more like a long shot.
"My mom is not one to wear her hardships," Amanda said. She went on to reveal, how her mother "has endured a lot of rejection, heartbreak, disappointment, and struggle. Her vulnerability and humanity enable her to hear a heart cry for help, where a physical sob is non-existent."
Browne enlisted in 1982 and served for a total of 17 years, both active duty and Reserves, as a unit supply specialist and armorer -- experience she now calls "cosmic irony" considering she handled and repaired small arms ranging from .45 mm pistols to .50-caliber machine guns. "According to the Geneva Convention, right now I can't touch a single one," joked Browne.
Her journey also includes a nine-year break in service that Browne said was prompted by her desire to provide a more stable situation for the children, following her divorce from their father.
"Life happened …" said Browne about how she came to the decision after her unit was alerted for a possible deployment. It was a dilemma she says she was not prepared to face again, so Browne ended her Reserve service and moved back near family in New York City, eventually earning a bachelor's degree in religion and history from the College of New Rochelle. There, professors pegged her as a great fit for the seminary. Only, she didn't share their view.
"I was working for the Mayor's Office of Operations at the time … and I was making moves," Browne explained. "All I really wanted to do was to be able to provide for my children, you know. I was in survival mode."
Then 9/11 happened. She said she found herself standing at Ground Zero while heading to work two blocks over from the twin towers. Inspired and understandably changed by the experience, Browne said she asked herself, "Are you doing what God told you to do?"
The answer for her was to enter the seminary, attending Drew Theological School in Madison, New Jersey, on a scholarship paying 65 percent of tuition. While there, she decided to return to the Army, intent on becoming a chaplain. Browne re-enlisted into the Reserves on her 41st birthday, went on to complete the seminary and ultimately earn an active duty commission into the Chaplain Corps in 2008, and now will complete her doctorate degree in May.
Through it all, Browne has been an example of strength, perseverance and grace, said Travis. "My mother's career has influenced me to remember the human that makes the mission happen," explained Travis. "She reminds me that the mission should never cost anyone's humanity."
She definitely has a witness in General Vereen, who observed first-hand the compassion, understanding and passion he said Browne brings to the ministry.
"What is unique about Chaplain Browne is her ability to relate to Soldiers on a personal basis," said Vereen, "sharing her own personal life experiences that resonate with others and in many ways breaks down barriers that sometimes exist between Chaplains and Soldiers, especially when our Chaplains are essential resources necessary in capturing and assessing the 'climate' of our organizations and thoughts, feelings, and attitudes of those Soldiers within our formations -- no one does this better than Chaplain Browne."
In her view, Browne is living the future she imagined when she re-enlisted 14 years ago, and has continued to defy labels as her career has taken her to places she could not have predicted.
"It has been one of the more empowering experiences I've had in my life, because I've realized that who the Army has allowed me to be allows other people to envision possibilities for themselves," said Browne. "So, just the fact that I am a black, female clergyperson, allows folks to say, 'This is something that I can do.'"
With no small measure of pride, Browne recounts having been the first female senior chaplain at base chapels in Japan, Fort Hood, Texas, and Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.
"It's about allowing people to see and access the divine with different eyes," she said.