REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- Deployments to a wartime environment are life-changing experiences for both servicemembers and civilians.

For Maj. Gen. Heidi V. Brown, that life-changing experience is engraved on her heart and daily strengthens her resolve to be an Army leader who can be trusted by those she leads.

"Trust is the centerpiece, absolutely, of leadership," Brown said, listing such leadership qualities as loyalty, respect, humility, honor, duty, personal courage and integrity.

"To be a good leader, you have to trust and, more importantly, others have to trust you."

Brown, director of Test for the Missile Defense Agency, spoke about her leadership philosophy March 21 during MDA's Senior Leadership Series. Her presentation was titled "Leadership: One Soldier's View." Nicknamed "Wonder Woman," Brown used the cartoon character's image to show the elements of the leadership philosophy she follows in the uniform of a Soldier.

That philosophy, first developed while she was a cadet at West Point, has been put to the test several times during her 32-year Army career in the male-dominated combat arms branch. But Brown got visibly emotional while recounting for her audience the leadership challenges she faced as commander of the 31st Air Defense Artillery Brigade during the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

"I will tell you nobody comes back from combat the same," she said.

The brigade included the 5th Battalion, 52nd Air Defense Artillery Regiment and the the 507th Maintenance Company. As the brigade executed a rapid advance from Kuwait to Baghdad, the last unit in the column -- the 507th -- made a wrong turn and was ambushed by Iraqi forces during the Battle of An Nasiriyah. Eleven Soldiers (nine from the 507th and two from the 3rd Infantry Division) were killed in the ambush, five were injured and six were taken prisoner, one of which was the well-known Pfc. Jessica Lynch. All prisoners were later rescued.

"It affects you personally as the commander because when you lose Soldiers you are responsible," she said. "As the commander, I had to do the memorial services, and I wrote the parents of these Soldiers to tell them how sorry I was. I was forever changed."

Later, when the ambush was investigated, Brown discovered a breakdown in trust.

"I trusted another commander to hand me his Soldiers and I believed, I trusted, they were trained," she said. "I found out after the investigation what had occurred and what hadn't, and, yet, as brigade commander I had signed off on all the training for my Soldiers. That training didn't happen for the 507th, but I didn't find out until afterwards."

As a result, a new training validation system was incorporated into the brigade.

But there were other combat issues that arose during her command. The 5-52nd shot down two friendly aircraft in a friendly fire incident, killing several pilots. And the Air Force shot a missile at one of the brigade's batteries.

"The Army changed significantly because of what occurred," she said.

Brown comes from an impressive line of Army leaders. Her father retired as a major with a Silver Star for his service in World War II. She has two brothers and two sisters who have enjoyed successful military careers, and a third sister who became a teacher. Brown will officiate at the April promotion ceremony of her sister, Lt. Col. Anne Brown, a nurse at Fort Bragg, N.C.

"There was a feeling of service in this family, as well as a desire to serve," said Brown, who was a member of the second class at West Point to accept women.

"I am my parents' daughter. We believe in service to our nation, one way or another. … They probably gave me the willpower, the strength to not just serve but to serve in the combat arms branch."

While at West Point, Brown's leadership philosophy began to take shape with such concepts as leading by example, service and sacrifice, courage, don't take yourself too seriously, be able to listen, character and integrity, move to the sound of the guns, beware the traveler, and lead, follow or get out of the way. Required to memorize Schofield's Definition of Discipline, it became the principle by which she would lead.

"We all know the good and the bad," she said. "We do learn more from the toxic leaders than from the non-toxic leaders. But the toxic leaders fail to inspire their subordinates."

Those who trust their leaders will be more willing to do whatever those leaders ask, she said, and leaders who know how to treat their followers with dignity and respect rather than harsh words and loud voices will instill a willingness to serve in their followers.

"Cadet Brown's command philosophy was to 'Be firm, fair, consistent and with compassion.' I formed that philosophy as a cadet when I was thinking about leadership and how to inspire people," Brown said. "I've used it as a battery commander, a battalion commander and a brigade commander, and it's what I still believe today. Over 30 years later, it's still what I believe."

While loyalty, respect, humility, honor, example, duty, selfless service, personal courage and integrity are among highly coveted leadership attributes, Brown said trust is the most important attribute for any leader. She defined trust as "The feeling of safety that someone will behave the way you expect."

"Trust is necessary to go from compliance leadership to impactful leadership," she said. "Everything is rooted in trust. Trust is the foundation to leadership, the central theme of what leadership is all about. If you don't have trust, you don't have a leader and you don't have leadership."

Brown defines leadership as "The ability to get others to do things they never thought possible." Compliance leadership is based on reward and punishment ("Do it now or else!") and impactful leadership is inspiring individuals to do the right thing when no one is watching.

As a female leader in a profession heavily dominated by men, Brown said there has been more pressure to succeed.

"When you are the first and you fail, chances are you might be the last or the one-and-only for a long time," she said. "I want to make sure I'm doing all the right things and I want to develop a mindset through my leadership that says 'There's no reason women can't do this.'"

In her decisions to pursue Army leadership roles, Brown has followed principles shared by both genders: Do your best and the rest will follow; Set your own goals; Be boundless and courageous; Stay grounded in values, morals and the Golden Rule; Treat others with dignity and respect; Be humble; There are no unimportant jobs or people; and Don't forget your friends and who you are.

"People have given me lots of great advice and I like to share it with others," Brown said.

"It's been my honor to serve and to just have the opportunity to serve for 32 years. Being at MDA has been a phenomenal experience and I've asked to stay an additional year here. I love what I do and who I serve with, and I'm learning something new each and every day."