FORT LEE, Va. – On a cold, windy day at Fort Lee, a noncommissioned officer marches a formation of Ordnance trainees from dinner to the classroom – the place where he has taught more than 1,200 wheeled vehicle mechanics annually.
Staff Sgt. Gustavo Brambila is a Reverse-Cycle Training instructor assigned to Delta Company, 16th Ordnance Battalion, 59th Ord. Brigade. He spends his nights teaching the basics of transmissions, drivelines and troubleshooting procedures to future wheeled vehicle maintainers. His day begins at 5 p.m. with classroom preparation and ends at 3:45 a.m. after completing physical readiness training with his Soldiers.
This NCO’s success story goes beyond the responsibilities he has been entrusted with – instructing the Army’s next generation of Ordnance professionals. Several years ago, he underwent a life-changing experience that shaped how he leads Soldiers today.
“November 12, 2012, is a day I’ll never forget,” Brambila recalled.
He remembers grabbing his driver to protect him and then waking up in the aide station hours later, tasting blood and dirt.
The Soldiers were just outside of Forward Operating Base Shank, Afghanistan – commonly known as “Rocket City” – when the artillery explosions occurred. The concussion from one of the blasts caused swelling in the NCO’s brain, and he was later diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury. As a result, Brambila, an airborne paratrooper assigned to Bravo Company, 173rd Airborne Brigade Support Battalion, was no longer physically fit to jump.
“In an airborne unit, if you can’t jump, you’re useless … or at least that’s how I felt,” Brambila said.
His medical care team sent him to a Warrior Transition Unit in Vicenza, Italy, to begin his recovery and the process of being transitioned out of the Army. Brambila remembers his nurse telling him, “It will get better. You won’t ever be the same again, but it will get better.”
“Those encouraging words helped me realize there was light at the end of the tunnel,” Brambila said.
As a result of that desire to continue his military career, Brambila was taken on as cadre at the WTU. His leader seemed to understand that, given time for rehabilitation, Brambila would continue to be successful in the Army.
“I’m glad the Army is putting people first,” Brambila acknowledged. “Leaders in the trenches have had that perspective for a while, so I am glad the Army has made it a priority at all levels.”
Brambila noted that teaching Soldiers has been one of his most rewarding positions in the Army. He said he appreciates the opportunity to guide and mentor the next generation of leaders, shaping them with his knowledge and experiences.
There’s no doubt, either, that Ordnance trainees think highly of Brambila. Their appreciation is frequently noted in end-of-course surveys. Some of those responses are as follows.
“Staff Sgt. Brambila really takes the time to make sure we understand the trucks.”
“Staff Sgt. Brambila is so approachable. He doesn’t mind talking to us about real-life issues.”
“He loves his job, you can tell. Staff Sgt. Brambila always has a ready smile and a joke to keep us motivated.”
The students aren’t the only ones offering positive feedback. “The Soldiers trust Staff Sgt. Brambila because he is always open and transparent with them. They react well to that,” observed 1st Sgt. Nestor Grisales, Delta Company’s lead NCO.
The litany of compliments goes on.
The Soldier who once doubted his usefulness to the Army is now one of the top instructors within the 16th Ordnance Battalion. Brambila has come a long way thanks to leaders who encouraged him and invested in his future.
Brambila understands that the Army’s greatest asset is its people. His unique perspective has made him a more empathetic and understanding leader who Soldiers immediately respond to.
“If you put Soldiers first, they’ll put you first,” Brambila reflected, “and when they do that, they make the impossible possible.”
He is someone who learned this firsthand.