PANAMA CITY, Fla. – Phillip Brashear excused himself from the room while event attendees watched a 2007 video of his father, late U.S. Navy Master Diver Carl Brashear, as he drove the Firestorm 30 Fire Boat named in his honor. It is just one of several namesakes bestowed in Brashear’s honor, and memories the U.S. Army reserve chief warrant officer four shared during the Naval Surface Warfare Center Panama City Division 2013 Black History Month celebration held in Panama City, Fla., Feb. 5, 2013.
Another memory Chief Warrant Officer 4 Phillip Brashear shared was his father’s belief that “speeches were for general officers, and politicians” and therefore Brashear did not write a speech but spoke directly “from the heart.”
Rather, he eloquently wove an uplifting message of perseverance, and belief in “something greater than ourselves” into his appearance at the Bay County U.S. Navy base.
“My father never allowed us to use the words ‘I can’t’ in our house when we were growing up. We always had to try and if we failed, that’s OK, as long as we tried,” he said. “My father grew up poor, joined the Navy, got an education and beat alcoholism. If my dad can beat that, then you have no excuse.”
It’s that same message that got Brashear through a tour in Iraq as a helicopter pilot in 2006, and the same message he relayed to U.S. Navy sailors on Feb. 4, 2013, during a visit to Naval Diving and Salvage Training Center also in Panama City, Fla.
“There are white people in this room that are not responsible for slavery, but their debt to society is to ensure it never happens again. My dad and other people like him opened the doors for us to go through today. I wouldn’t be here without the Tuskegee Airmen,” said Brashear. “My father put Little Creek, Va., and Panama City Beach, Fla., on the map. These are the places his career endured and his legacy lives on stronger here today where you’re preparing future divers.”
Brashear talked about his father’s youth as a poor, uneducated child who grew up not far from his mother, who was highly educated, his father’s ‘can do’ attitude and how he preferred the use of the word disabled over handicapped. He also unveiled the Hollywood curtain and dispelled a few truthful theatrical inaccuracies of his father’s life depicted in “Men of Honor.”
“Being the son of Carl Brashear has been a trip. I lived like any other kid,” he said, as he paused to praise military wives. “There were three things he shared with me to be a viable citizen in our society: One, we have to work for substance. Two, get an education and that never stops. Three, believe in something greater than yourself. We have to give young people these values. My father is being honored during Black History Month, but we still have a lot in this country to accomplish.”
Brashear has followed in his father’s footsteps, not as a U.S. Navy diver, rather as a service member passionate and grateful about his career.
In September 1981, Brashear enlisted in the U.S. Naval Reserves and served as an engine mechanic at VAW-78 on E-2B and E-2C Hawkeye aircraft. In 1985, he became a RH-53D Sea Stallion helicopter air crewman at HM-18 where he served until September 1989, but it was becoming a pilot that he dreamed about.
“Flying on the back of Navy helicopters was great but I really wanted to fly, but I didn’t have a degree,” he said. “I talked with an Army National Guard recruiter who said if I joined them, they’d sent me to flight school, so I left the Navy and joined the Virginia Army National Guard.”
In 1991, Brashear graduated from the U.S. Army Warrant Officer Flight School Program as a qualified UH-1 helicopter pilot.
In January 1994, he was assigned as a National Guard Technician in Sandston, Va., from April 1994 to May 2001. It was during this time Brashear realized his parent’s mantra of furthering education and he earned his Bachelor of Science degree in organizational management development from Bluefield College.
Between October 2001 and April 2002, Brashear deployed in support of Stabilization Force Ten in Bosnia-Herzegovina and in 2005, served as a Blackhawk Test Pilot in the Virginia Army National Guard and from January 2006 to February 2007, he deployed to combat again in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Halfway through his tour in Iraq, Brashear received a Red Cross message that his father was in the Portsmouth Naval Hospital and was gravely ill. For five days, Brashear sat with him, picked him up while nurses changed bed linens, and embraced each moment of his father’s last days.
“I thought he was going to walk out of the hospital. That Tuesday afternoon, I held his hand as the last breath left his body,” he said.
Brashear returned to duty in theater and, in 2007, he retired from the U.S. Army National Guard and then joined the U.S. Army reserves in April 2009 where he began to fly the Army’s CH-47 Chinook helicopters.
“I still love flying today,” Brashear said.
As Brashear continues to share his father’s story of unity in his role as the Carl Brashear Foundation president, he also serves as a UH-60 Weapon System Support manager at Defense Logistics Agency in Richmond, Va., and serves as a U.S. Army reserve helicopter pilot stationed in Ft Eustis, Va.