Bobette Brown, a U.S. Army veteran and motivational speaker, isn’t afraid to speak about her wounds, the physical and mental pain she’s experienced in life. Whether recounting a knee replacement surgery, sexual assault and harassment she experienced in the military or a five-day stretch of sleeplessness from her trauma, she believes that keeping secrets doesn’t do anyone good.
“You don’t have to look like what you’ve been through,” Brown tells the crowd at a Got Your 6 Storytellers event in New York. “See today, you can choose to take your experiences and go from scars to beauty marks. And those battle wounds can become badges of honor. It’s all your decision.”
Known to some of her fans as Lady Bobette, Brown now works as a “transformational architect,” helping to push others forward through difficult experiences through her speaking, coaching and consulting business. NationSwell caught up with Brown to ask about her service as an airborne paratrooper and advice for bouncing back.
What does it mean to be a veteran?
To me, a veteran is someone who has willingly sacrificed and served the United States of America and its citizens. Choosing to serve speaks to the veterans level of commitment, boldness and audaciousness.
What inspired you to serve your country?
I don’t have a heart-wrenching response to this question. Honestly, I decided to join the U.S. Army because I wanted… “Independence.” I wanted to leave my parents’ home and go “be all that I could be.” The Army was very familiar to me, having grown up in the military environment. When the recruiter sweetened the deal by offering me a signing bonus if I went to Airborne school, I jumped at the opportunity.
How can someone support veterans?
Look for daily opportunities to give back and show appreciation to veterans. As much as I am grateful for the public holiday to acknowledge veterans every November 11, I think veterans should be celebrated throughout the year. Veterans are men and women who worked daily to ensure the safety and security of the U.S.A. If there is an opportunity for to volunteer, visit or validate veterans – just do it. Why wait for a “special day?”
What 3 words describe your experience in the service?
Adventurous. Fulfilling. Inspiring.
What is the quality you most admire in a comrade?
Integrity. It speaks to the character, honor and resilience of the service member. We love the slogan “Army Strong,” but the reality I’ve learned is that we are only as strong as the weakest link.
Who are your heroes in real life?
My dad, the man I am named after, Robert “Bobby” Greene, is my hero. He is a highly decorated career officer, Army Ranger, Jumpmaster trainee, Purple Heart recipient and Vietnam survivor. He served in the United States Army for 20 years. When we talk, I often ask him to share stories of his military career and lessons he learned. He is an arsenal of wisdom. He loves his family and has been married to the same woman, my mother, for over 56 years. They are an example of resilience in military families.
Who was the most inspirational person you encountered while serving?
Command Sergeant Major Daisy Brown. She had to be one of the most inspiring women I have ever met. She broke the ceiling as one of the first African American women to hold such a high rank. Yet, she still remained humble and could always find a reason to laugh. A few years ago, we lost contact. I’d love to know what she is doing now.
If you could change one thing about your service, what would it be?
Nothing. Everything I learned and experienced has made me who I am today. I would not want to change any of it.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
I do not know if I can narrow it down to one, greatest achievement, especially as I reflect on surviving those 20+ mile rucksack road marches with 30 to 45 pounds on my back. I am also proud that I successfully completed jump school and made numerous jumps without breaking a limb. I can remember the number of people who started airborne training with me but did not finish.
How does being a veteran help you to tap into your resilience?
The years of discipline and training in the military have been crucial to my ability to rebound from numerous personal obstacles that I endured throughout my life. Life is filled with stressful experiences, but when I remember the many obstacles I endured and bounced back from, it continues to serve as motivation and a reminder — if I did it before I can do it again.
What is the key to thriving after experiencing a difficult or traumatic experience?
Finding and getting help from a licensed therapist and staying committed to the course. I went to several therapists in the Veteran Affairs system before I finally found the perfect therapist for me at the Vet Center. A good therapist will challenge you to get better. She or he will challenge you to uproot some extremely painful and traumatic events. There were times when I did not want to go back. But I kept reminding myself, there would be a time when I will have to encourage others to keep going. How would I be able to do that if I gave up? So, my desire to help others really helped me to thrive. Also, I cannot downplay the key importance of having a supportive circle of family and friends.
Why is it important to let our fellow comrades in life help push us through difficult times?
They remind us that difficult times won’t last forever. In spite of all that we’ve experienced our comrades are there showing and reminding us of another reality. We can choose to live life to the fullest or we can allow it to suck the very life from us. Comrades challenge us to go the extra mile, while reminding us they are also running in the same race.
Why shouldn’t people conform?
I like to say that being and staying “authentically you” should be one of your core values. Why be a cheap copy, when you can be a truly amazing original?