News: Forever be your own hero
Story by Sgt. Marcus Fichtl
CAMP BUEHRING, Kuwait – Out on a grenade launcher range, Spc. Nina Bray stands out from her fellow soldiers. It doesn’t take an intelligence analyst like herself to notice she is the only soldier with a hair bun sticking out from under her combat helmet or that at 5 feet 1 inch tall, she is noticeably shorter than her male counterparts.
But Bray, currently deployed to Camp Buehring, Kuwait, with the Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 204th Brigade Support Battalion, 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, isn’t afraid of being a little different.
Bray grew up with an independent streak, surrounded by more than a 100 horses at her family’s home in Reno, Nevada. She competed in some of the most difficult endurance horse races, setting records across the United States. As a child, she would wake up early on the weekends and walk with her dad through their neighborhood, where the nearest neighbor was two miles away. Together they would find the most neglected horses and offer their owner what they had in their pocket to give the horse a better life.
One weekend, they stumbled upon an exceptionally beat up horse. Bray and her father walked up to the owner’s door, knocked and when the owner answered the door, Bray told him, “we’ll buy your horse.” The owner thought for a second and replied “well she just had a baby; you’ll have to buy both.”
“Without a hesitation I replied, ‘we’ll buy her too’,” said Bray.
She took $150 out of her pocket and the horses belonged to her.
Her family eventually moved to Texas, but Bray stayed in Reno, not happy with her job, a chance encounter at a recruiting station propelled her into a new direction.
“I actually went in with my friend and he was trying to enlist,” said Bray. “My recruiter made me a bet that I couldn’t pass the pretest for the (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Test), I blew that out of the water. I made myself a promise that if I scored over a 60 on the real ASVAB, I would join.”
She got a 72, a score good enough to qualify her to work in the intelligence field.
She arrived to Fort Carson while the unit was in Afghanistan. When they returned in the middle of 2012, she learned of a deployment to Kuwait later the following year.
“The desert, it reminds me a bit about home,” laughed Bray.
Six months through the deployment, she has briefed commanders on the intelligence situation in the region, traveled across the Middle East, not on horse but in a Humvee 7, and developed herself as a soldier.
And as congress and the Army discuss women’s role in combat, Bray stands ready to fire her M203 40mm grenade launcher across the Kuwaiti desert. Not as an exception, but as reflection of the modern U.S. Army.
“I think having different sexes working side by side balances things out,” said Bray. “The intelligence shop always works on products together. One soldier will approach from one direction, and then I will take it and expand it in a different direction, together creating a better, stronger product.”
To Bray, it doesn’t matter who inspires her, but what inspires her.
“I don’t really have a female mentor, but my drill sergeant, he really helped me a lot,” said Bray.
Words that resonated with her inspired her to get them tattooed on her body.
“Forever be your own hero or be someone else,” Bray’s drill sergeant told her.
“It brought me out of my shell, I’m more outspoken,” Bray continued. “It’s something I follow all throughout life. If I’m going to do something, I’m going to do the best I can and give it my one hundred percent and modify it, if I have to.”
She leads in life just as she leads by example at the range qualifying on both the M203 Grenade Launcher and M320 Grenade Launcher.
And what of the newborn horse, Bray and her father bought years ago?
The mother died a few days later, but the newborn grew up with Bray out in the Nevada. Having a short stature, and technically a pony, but like Bray her size and sex hasn’t stopped her yet.
“I won’t try to be like someone else, I’ll be myself,” said Bray.