First of all, Robin Brown is one of three Veterans spotlighted in the 30-minute documentary, Adventure Not War. I watched it and consider myself a movie aficionado -it’s fantastic. Google it - it’s also free. It is inspiring, to say the least. In this interview we talk about Robin’s long and complicated transition process from the military - one that took her 13 years to find a career that she loves. And she did it - she’s a relative rarity in that - she found a career that she LOVES, and it shows in this conversation. She talks about how the attributes that made her successful in the military were a liability in the civilian world - how she had to adapt her communication and response to corporate culture in order to be successful. We talk about her job in public service and why this sort of career may be very fulfilling to other veterans.
Robin Brown is the Executive Director at Grand Junction Economic Partnership, a non-profit organization that is your first point of contact if you are looking to expand or relocate your company to the Grand Junction, Colorado area. She served as an Army as an Aviation Officer flying OH-58s for 8 years, where she deployed twice to Iraq- first as an AS3, then as a Company Commander of an attack helicopter company. She is also a self-proclaimed "Army brat from a family of Army brats,” and her husband served as an Army pilot as well.
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Info about Robin
Transcript & Time Stamps:
Joining me today from Grand Junction, CO is Robin Brown. Robin Brown is the Executive Director at Grand Junction Economic Partnership, a non-profit organization that is your first point of contact if you are looking to expand or relocate your company to the Grand Junction, Colorado area.
She served as an Army as an Aviation Officer flying OH-58s for 8 years, where she deployed twice to Iraq - first as an AS3, then as a Company Commander of an attack helicopter company. She is also a self-proclaimed "Army brat from a family of Army brats,” and her husband served as an Army pilot as well.
In 2003 in Iraq, your helicopter was shot down. Can you tell us a little bit more about that experience?
It was a normal day like any other. We went out to do a convoy security mission. On our way back to the base, we were shot down by a shoulder fired missile. My co-pilot and I survived. Once we were on the ground, we got away from the airplane and got to a safe pick up point about five kilometers away. Our sister ship stayed in the area and provided coverage for us. Eventually two Blackhawks picked us up and brought us back to base. We ended up being grounded for a few days but then we were back to flying.
Your time in Iraq is featured in the book Band of Sisters. What was it like to have your life documented in that way?
The 82nd Airborne Division had put me in touch with the author right after I got home from deployment. She came up and spent a few days with me and I told her the story over and over again. We took a deep dive into everything that happened during the deployment. In a way, it was very healing because I got into all the details of my experience. It took about two years for the book to come out. When it finally came out, I had forgotten a lot of what had happened to me during deployment so it was neat to be reminded of that. I don’t mind telling the story. I’m very lucky that I had no post traumatic stress issues afterwards.
What was your transition out of the military like?
Even without any kind of visible or invisible wounds from war, it was very difficult for me. I just was completely unprepared for leaving the military. I had never written a resume or interviewed for a job. I was on a ROTC scholarship during my undergraduate years so I knew what I was doing after I graduated. I realized that what I had done in the military doesn't always translate into the civilian world. I loved being in the Army. The only reason I got out was because my husband and I wanted to have kids. But a lot of what made me very effective in the military made me a bull in a china shop in the civilian world. You can’t just bark orders at people in the civilian world.
In 13 years after the military, I held about 15 jobs. At one point, I even enrolled in auto mechanic school. I was a wedding planner. I installed flooring. It took me 13 years and I’ve finally found a job that I love. I feel as fulfilled as I did in the military.
What advice do you have for people about how they can find what they are passionate about?
By the time I found this job, I felt like everything before had prepared me for this. I did also have the luxury of having a husband that was paying the bills during the time in which I was soul searching and figuring out what was right for me. A lot of people don’t have that.
My only disappointment is that I spent so many years trying things that didn’t work before I finally found this job.
I wish I had been better prepared. I had embarrassingly bad interviews with big companies that hired veterans because I was not prepared. So I do wish I had paid more attention to thinking about how I could translate the skills I learned in the military to the civilian sector. I wish there was more of a process in place to sit me down and lead me through what I should expect during the transition and job search process.
The first two years after the military were what my husband refers to as my “dark years” because I just wasn’t finding anything. And then that lead into me being willing to take anything which was not fulfilling at all.
I think things started turning in a positive direction for me when I realized that I had loved the service part of being in the military. So I started seeking jobs where I could continue to serve the community. And that got me on the track to where I am today.
Can you talk to us a little bit more about your current role?
I work for the Grand Junction Economic Partnership. There’s a population of about 150,000 in this area. We get paid to develop the economy of the towns here. We recruit new businesses to this area and grow already existing businesses. We look to increase the average annual wages for people in these areas.
A few years ago, our town leadership came to the conclusion that we needed to diversify the business offerings in this area. So the municipalities have had to work together to accomplish that goal.
We reach out to business owners and manufacturers to find out what they like and don’t like about doing business here. We then use that information to make this a better place for business to be and grow.
What changes have you had to make in order to succeed in the civilian sector?
You have to be careful about who you give a hard time to. In the military, we’re used to constantly joking around and giving each other a hard time. In the civilian world, you do have to be more careful about that because not everyone will have the same sense of humor.
I had to learn how to temper my personality, especially in meetings. I think if you asked people that I worked with, they would say I am very direct and perhaps a bit overbearing at times. So I’ve learned to be very careful about how I communicate and word certain things. Even in emails, I need to be careful about how I word things.
You went back to Iraq a few years ago to take part in the filming of the documentary Adventure Not War. Can you talk a little bit about that?
The process was amazing. It’s probably one of the greatest gifts I’ve been given. Because I had lost so many friends there, I had such a negative perspective of Iraq. I thought the people were terrible. When I was there during two different deployments, I assumed that everyone wanted to kill me.
Two weeks after I was shot down, there was another female commander that was shot down in the same location and she died. I carried a tremendous amount of guilt from that.
When the filmmaker called me and asked if I wanted to go skiing in Iraq, I initially didn’t want to go. But the more that I thought about it, I realized that it was a really great opportunity. Stacy Bare, the filmmaker, is one of the funniest people you could meet.
The day we flew into Iraq was in February of 2017. The experience was amazing. I felt very safe and the people were incredibly friendly. We ate extremely well. We climbed the tallest mountain in Iraq and that was very exciting. I was able to leave all the guilt and darkness on top of that mountain and came home much lighter. Stacy described it as “re-writing” the ending of the story.
You have your own publishing company. What has that been like?
It was a step in the journey to where I am today. Previously I had been the Director of Development for a local theater. I then became the Event Director for our town. I then opened the public relations company to promote Western Colorado outside of this area. I thought that a good way to do this would be to launch a regional lifestyle magazine which I did.
Ultimately when my current position came open, a lot of people encouraged me to apply for it. I ended up getting the job in late 2017 and have been in it ever since.
In the military, there are so many times when you are put in a position where you just have to figure it out and get a job done. So you should apply that at your civilian job search. You might not have done an exact job but you can still succeed in that position if you have a passion for that work.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with our listeners?
We all did amazing things when we were in the service. So have confidence in yourself that you can do the same thing in the civilian sector. Keep searching until you find the right job for you.