FORT BRAGG, N.C. -- Duane Brown's first year as a Soldier was a defining moment that changed the trajectory of the rest of his life. Instead of taking a comfortable desk job in garrison, Brown requested assignment to the 22nd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, a unit set to deploy.
"Are you ready to deploy in less than two weeks?," the branch manager asked.
This was why Brown joined the military-to be a combat correspondent-and he jumped at the chance for a new adventure. Less than a month after graduating Advanced Individual Training, Brown deployed on a six-month rotation to Kosovo.
The Leetsdale, Pennsylvania native has had an illustrious 20-year Army career after joining at the unique age of 31; a little later than most people make the decision.
He already had a Bachelor's degree in English and Journalism from Lock Haven University. He was interested in journalism and had little luck finding successful journalism gigs in the civilian sector. When he found that the Army had journalists he dove head first into the opportunity and found himself in basic training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, in 1999.
Brown radiates a love of life. At nearly six-feet tall, he carries himself with the confidence of an NFL quarterback, but has the body build of a terrifying defensive end. The scruff of a person who is free from 20 years of shaving regulations is visibly seen.
His eyes light up when Army stories are being shared among peers, and a sense of pride exudes from his face when he shares some of his greatest memories. He walks with a stiff hobbling gait, the result of jumping out of airplanes as an airborne paratrooper and spending a career in the military.
He spent the first six years of his career with the 22nd MPAD. After returning from his first deployment he went to Airborne School just as the news hit of the September 11th terrorist attacks.
"Being a part of the only active duty MPAD, I wanted to go back to my unit and do my job," Brown said, his voice engulfing the room where the interview was recorded. "But they told me to stick it out with the training and they never actually got orders to go and cover that mission."
From there, Brown was sent to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and deployed for 18 months over multiple rotations.
"My Soldiers went and pleaded with my wife to let me deploy with them back to Iraq," Brown said. "My wife, being the amazing military spouse she is, understood the situation and agreed to let me go back."
This call to serve with amazing Soldiers is what kept Brown in the military.
"I've always had great Soldiers, and it inspired me to stay in the Army and keep creating great leaders," Brown said. "I love my service almost as much as I loved the troops I got to lead and follow."
Brown eventually became an instructor at the Defense Information School at Fort Meade, Maryland where he taught the public affairs course. A few other notable positions include the Regional Public Affairs Noncommissioned Officer in Charge for the Department of the Army, Film and Television Liaison for the U.S Army and operations NCO, Third Army.
As for advice to incoming Soldiers, Brown has plenty.
"As soon as they get to their unit, observe the leaders around them," Brown said. "Take note of the high-speed individuals and follow their example. Take on as many extra responsibilities as you can. Broadening your knowledge and skill base is key."
As the time came for Brown to begin thinking about retiring, his body was the first to let him know. Jumping out of airplanes and being a high-speed Soldier and NCO has a price to pay on the body. Numerous injuries and eight different surgeries plagued Brown and urged him to bring his career to an end in September of 2019.
"I love my wife and being able to be with her more is amazing," Brown said. "Because after five long deployments and seven special missions, not including all of the TDY's, training and other schools, I was ready to spend as much time as possible with my family."
Brown was methodical in the planning of his retirement and took the time to absorb as much information as possible about transitioning out of the military. This planning starts with the Soldier for Life program.
"The Soldier for Life program was priceless," Brown said. "It's all about the individual. If you choose to be a slug on a log while all that information goes over you, that's your fault."
Helping in the transition process for Soldiers like Brown are civilians like William McMillian.
McMillian is the transition services manager for Fort Bragg Soldier for Life. Getting into the program early and consistently is the number one thing he wishes Soldiers did a better job of doing. The program starts no later than 365 days prior to separating or retiring and can be started as early as 18 months left in the Soldiers military contract.
SFL hosts numerous workshops that educate Soldiers on proper resume building, job interview techniques and education resources. There's always a workshop or event going on within the program McMillian said.
"Our goal is to try and help prepare the Soldier for transitioning into the civilian world," McMillian said. "We connect them with employers so as they leave the military they will already have a job lined up and will not stress about finding employment."
As for the newly retired Master Sergeant, Brown said he feels the Army was extremely beneficial for his life and speaks highly of his experience and the opportunities it afforded him. He was honorably retired, had some amazing stories over the years, and has set his family up for success into the future.
"I gave the military some of my best years, so my current goal is to raise my family and enjoy this life I have created for myself before God," Brown said. "I have great friends and a great network around me. I love my wife with all of my heart and have three healthy children. The Army gives you all of the tools needed and has allowed me to be a great example for my family and the community around me."