FORT HUACHUCA, Ariz. — Chief Warrant Officer 5 Phillip M. Brashear, 80th Training Command (TASS), Command Chief Warrant Officer, was the guest speaker at Fitch Auditorium July 7 and July 8.
Brashear told his personal story of diversity, resilience and leadership, lessons he learned from his father late Master Chief, Master Diver Carl Brashear, who’s journey to become the Navy’s first African American diver was featured in the movie “Men of Honor.”
As he discussed his father’s career and the hurdles he overcame to be a Navy diver, Brashear brought up an Air Force mishap off the coast of Spain in April 1966 that would cause his father’s left leg to be amputated below the knee.
After his father’s accident, the Navy was ready to discharge him, but Carl Brashear had other plans, he said.
“He had to get his body in order, he had to get in shape, he had to work out,” he said. “My father had to go through 11 months of training and scenarios … for the Navy, to prove that he could still be a diver.”
He said the Navy conducted an investigation where his father had to physically perform in dangerous situations to prove himself. He had to climb ladders and go up steps in dress shoes with weights, and all with a prosthetic leg.
“The Navy had no choice but to congratulate him and give him his career back,” Brashear said.
Brashear said his father was a fan of boxing, and he had a saying that has stuck with him over his nearly 40-year military career.
“He said, ‘It’s not a sin to get knocked down, it’s a sin to stay down’,” he said. “Whatever life throws at you; you just have to get back up and get at it.”
Brashear said while his father was an exceptional man, there was a crack in his armor.
“Before he retired in 1979, he had to submit himself to the alcohol abuse course,” he said. “He finally cleared and was able to retire with honors with nothing detrimental against his record.”
A few months ago, Brashear had the opportunity to meet with Navy Divers, and put on his dad’s old diving gear. That gear weighs about 300 pounds.
It was an amazing experience, but one he will never do again, he said.
“It was claustrophobic,” he said. “I do not understand how they put those [helmets] on their head and get suited up like that and go in the water and do what they do. It’s phenomenal. I was scared every moment. But I got the chance to do it … it was pretty cool.”
Brashear said his father did not like the word ‘can’t’, and he reminded those in attendance that they could do anything they wanted to do, and to do everything they could while they served in the Army.
“Give it your best shot, never give up. I’m about to take this uniform off but you are still wearing it, so I want you to go out and be the best you can be,” he said. “You guys are the future. Everybody in this room … and we need you to keep it going.”
Brashear’s military career began in 1981 when he joined the Naval Reserve as a Jet Engine Mechanic and Helicopter Crewman. In 1989, he left the Naval Reserve and joined the Virginia Army National Guard, completing Initial Rotary Wing Training to become a warrant officer pilot in 1991.
He retired from the Army National Guard in 2007 but returned to the military joining the Army Reserves in 2009. As a Master Army Aviator, Brashear has more than 2,600 hours flying helicopters for the U.S. Army. He is currently a Department of Defense civilian of the Defense Logistics Agency.