Toney Brooks, a 65-year-old lead equipment specialist at the Yuma Test Center, or YTC, at the U.S. Army Yuma Proving Ground, or YPG, in Yuma, Arizona, feels lucky to be alive. At 36, Brooks had two heart attacks, had an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator device, or ICD, inserted in his chest, and recently underwent surgery to switch out his ICD's seven-year-old battery.
In 1994, during a particularly rough period in his life, he went into ventricular tachycardia, or V-tach, for 17 hours. V-tach occurs when the heart's lower chambers beat faster than normal, and blood isn't being pumped properly to the rest of the body. While in the intensive care unit, he learned he had suffered a previous heart attack six months earlier. Cardiologists surgically implanted the ICD to keep his heartbeat regulated.
While the ICD is a life-saving device, and he's thankful for it, Brooks says it does come with disadvantages. One is false alarms, which he has experienced four times since receiving the ICD. The ICD constantly monitors the heart's rhythm. If it detects a potentially dangerous one, it sends an electrical shock to the heart to reset the rhythm and bring it back to normal. The electrical shock can feel like a sudden jolt or thump in the chest. Brooks says it can be startling, uncomfortable, and emotionally distressing when delivered but not needed.
Brooks was born at the Valley Forge Army Hospital in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, in 1958 and comes from a military family with a long and rich history of military service. His father, Ernest, was a U.S. Army infantryman and mechanic who fought in World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. He retired as a sergeant first class after proudly serving his country for 21 years.
Brooks and his son both served as sergeants in the Army. Brooks served for three years, and his son served for seven. His brother served in the Air Force for 23 years and retired as a master sergeant.
His uncle served one year in the Navy. Both his father-in-law and brother-in-law served in the Marine Corps—his father-in-law retired as a major after serving 28 years, and his brother-in-law was a staff sergeant who served for 14 years. Recently, Brooks' nephew graduated from the Marine Corps boot camp in July 2023.
Brooks says military service is in his blood. Shortly after graduating from Kofa High School in Yuma in 1976, he joined the Army. He completed boot camp and his 12-week advanced individual training, or AIT, at Fort Knox, Kentucky.
Because he participated in his high school's Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps, Brooks entered the Army as a private first class. After graduating with honors at the top of his AIT class, he was promoted to corporal.
Brooks was assigned to Company B, 2nd Armored Battalion in the 68th Armored Regiment at Harold D. Smith Barracks in Baumholder, Germany, from 1976 to 1979, as a tracked and wheeled vehicle mechanic. He was responsible for maintaining and repairing the Army's tanks and armored personnel carriers.
Brooks developed a love for automotives at age four when his dad started teaching him about cars. In high school, he was a student who excelled at both sports and academics. A member of the National Honor Society, Brooks graduated number 17 in his senior class of 513. He played football and ran track, but above all, he looked forward to his automotive classes, where he learned the ins and outs of auto body and fender repair, collision estimating, and paint mixing.
During the summers, he furthered his automotive interests and skills by working at a local truck stop servicing 18-wheelers. He pumped fuel and repaired and replaced tires. So it wasn't surprising to anyone when he followed in his dad's footsteps and enlisted in the Army as a vehicle mechanic.
His love for vehicles continues today. He's the lead equipment specialist in the Ground Combat Directorate's Maintenance Division at YTC, where he has worked since 1980. He's responsible for tracking government vehicles and equipment to ensure the required preventative maintenance and repairs are being performed.
Brooks has lived in Yuma for 59 of his 65 years. He was six when his dad received orders to YPG, and they moved to Yuma from Schofield Barracks in Hawaii. He's never left and can't imagine living or working anywhere else.
Brooks has been happily married to his wife of 43 years, Nancy, the sister of his best friend in high school. They are each other's best friend and share many things in common. They are both half-Japanese, believe in "until death do us part," and come from military families. He's an Army brat, and she is a Marine Corps brat.
Brooks says his wife has the kindest heart of anyone he knows and has always supported him and his family through good times and bad times, especially when both his parents died. He says she never hesitates to step up and help out during times of need.
After his father retired from active duty, he returned to work for the Army, but this time as a civil servant. He worked for 18 years and retired a second time at age 62. In February 1994, he developed terminal cancer. When his dad returned home from the hospital after being diagnosed, Brooks' wife went over to see him and his mother every day to help out around the house and to give his mom a break and time to herself. Brooks says she was never asked to do it—she just did it without question. Brooks buried his dad with military honors on his dad's birthday, April 1, 1994. His mother passed away a year later, in February 1995. During times like these, Brooks had to rely on his wife's quiet but incredible strength. He says he doesn't think he could have pulled through any of it without her by his side.
Brooks is no stranger to tragedy or trauma, but he's a survivor, just like his dad. He survived two heart attacks that three separate cardiologists told him should have killed him.
Brooks plans to retire, but not until he reaches 50 years of civil service and earns his 50-year pin in February 2028. Until then, he intends to keep living and loving life and cherishing time with his family.