"The message today is to spread the word of diversity, inclusion and overcoming obstacles."
That overarching statement framed the remarks of Chief Warrant Officer 4 Phillip M. Brashear, 80th Reserve Command CWO, during his Feb. 21 talk at an African-American/Black History Month Leader Professional Development event in the Kenner Army Health Clinic breakroom.
If the name of the guest speaker rings a bell, that's no surprise. He is the son of Master Chief Carl Brashear, the highly decorated Sailor and master diver who was the subject of the movie "Men of Honor," starring Cuba Gooding Jr.
Kenner staffers packed the room during the lunchtime presentation that included audio recordings, videos and other visuals depicting the career of the guest speaker's late father. Brashear said he wanted the audience to get a clearer picture of his dad to understand the type of man he was and the determination he had.
During the event, Brashear spoke about motivation, diversity and overcoming obstacles, citing the hardships and hatred his father endured while in the Navy. He has talked about his father's legacy extensively ever since the movie came out to make certain people got the point of the overall story.
Brashear cited the five "Carl Brashear hurdles," as he labeled them. They are race, poverty, illiteracy, physical disability and alcoholism. He spoke about how individuals can overcome these obstacles if they remain steadfast in their determination to do so. Societal biases have changed, making it easier to get help and community support; far different than the hurdles his father faced during his military service.
In reference to resilience, Brashear singled out the incident during a shipboard operation when his father lost a leg and the Navy sought to medically retire him. His father wanted to prove he could get fit and stay in uniform. He showed the Navy he was still capable.
The guest speaker talked about a few particular pictures of his father carrying heavy weights wearing is prosthetic leg for a medical board. "I know we don't treat veterans like this today," he said. "This was a man fighting for his life and trying to save his career, walking up steps with hundreds of pounds of weight on his back in dress shoes. Do we treat service members like that today? No. The fact my father endured that makes my belief in him even stronger and makes the story even greater."
Brashear said his father proved to the military he could do it. "I don't care what color you are or nationality. For anyone that would have been hard, but he did overcome it. The Navy had to congratulate him because he did make it back to diver status. He made them eat their words when they put him back on active duty status."
Master Chief Brashear was not only the first African-American Navy diver, but also the first amputee to return to full duty status. His son explained there are many amputees coming back from war and continuing to serve their country because of the example his father had made.
The Army chief is now a reservist and a civilian employee with Defense Logistics Agency -- Richmond. Over his nearly four decades in the military, he flew helicopters for 27 years. He said he enjoys sharing life lessons from his father as well as his own accomplishments to promote motivation and inspiration during speaking engagements.