WE SERVED: Brown spends 2 decades as medic
In honor of the 4th of July holiday, the Cherokee Phoenix is reposting past stories from our 'We Served' series. We originally posted this story on Jan. 31, 2017
Cherokee Nation citizen Alva Brown, left, with a security force team in 2003 along the Euphrates River near (An) Nasiriyah, Iraq. Brown, an Army veteran, retired in 2011 after 22 years of active service. COURTESY
CHEROKEE, N.C. – After growing tired of welding, Cherokee Nation citizen Alva Brown wanted to do something more. So he enlisted in the U.S. Army.
Originally from Oklahoma, he joined in June 1982 with paratrooper ambitions.
“My dad use to jump out of airplanes, so I wanted to be a paratrooper and jump out of airplanes. So that’s why I joined the 82nd (Airborne Division), to become a paratrooper,” he said.
Brown said he didn’t know what to expect when he enlisted.
“The only thing I knew about the Army is what you see on TV,” he said. “I was 21 years old. I wasn’t in any kind of shape. When I joined the Army I was just like, I kind of did it on a whim anyhow. I always wanted to but then I just decided to.”
He went through basic training in Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. After basic he was stationed at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio to receive his medical training.
“We called it Club Med down there. It was one of the softer jobs in the Army, or the softer MOS’s (military occupational specialty). At that point it was because a lot of people went to the hospital,” he said. “I didn’t. I went to the 82nd. I went to the infantry. So I was a field medical. I stayed in the field, so that was the easiest world for me was when I went to Fort Sam Houston.”
After his medical training he went to Fort Benning, Georgia, for jump school.
“That was probably some of the roughest training. Coming from San Antonio where I didn’t hardly do anything…you can’t have mistakes because you’re jumping out of airplanes,” Brown said.
He said after completing jump school he felt a sense of pride. “By the time you made it through jump school you’re very proud of yourself because it’s something to be proud of. Not everybody makes it to jump school.”
He said the next four years was spent with the 82nd Airborne Division in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, where he was assigned as a medic to an armored cavalry unit. He said at this point in his career he climbed the ranks. At three years in he was promoted to sergeant.
“Which was a pretty good thing for the 82nd Airborne Division, and especially being a medic,” Brown said. “Honestly, being from where I was in Oklahoma I had really good work ethics. I got promoted to E5 (sergeant) and then at four and a half years in I went to the E6 (staff sergeant). I was tracking pretty good back then.”
Brown was then stationed as a medic in Italy, went to jump school in Belgium and trained with Europe’s airborne unit. He returned to Fort Bragg before eventually being sent to the Middle East in 1991 for Operation Desert Storm.
“I was working the aid station. It was pretty busy. A lot of horrific things. For a kid from Oklahoma it was just completely different. It was pretty nasty,” he said.
He said after eight months he returned to Fort Bragg and was there until 1995 when he decided to leave the Army. At this time, Brown performed various jobs, moved back to Oklahoma, then to North Carolina before moving to Florida.
However, after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, he re-enlisted in the Army.
“Within a year after coming back in we went back to Iraq. This time it was a whole different story. I was with the infantry battalion. We did security missions for the first 45 days,” he said. “For the first 45 days of the war my wife and family didn’t event know where I was at. I had no way of calling them. No way of contacting anybody. The rest of our battalion was still here in the states, and we were over there by ourselves. I was a medic and I was by myself. I didn’t have any upper echelon doctors to work under, but I knew how to suture, and by this time in the military my medical skills were well-advanced.”
Brown said he was back overseas by 2003 and with the group that rescued Jessica Lynch, a prisoner of war, from (An) Nasiriyah.
“Dropped them off at an exit point to go get Jessica Lynch. We went and got her vehicles after,” he said. “Her convoy was shot up outside of An Nasiriyah. They actually got lost. SF (Special Forces) and a bunch of others went in and got her out of a hospital and she was pretty beat up. We took them all in. An Nasiriyah was really a hot spot.”
Brown said although his time overseas were tough the “worst was yet to come.”
“We followed the Marines into Baghdad, and Baghdad was still burning,” he said. “Looting was going on. People had the little Nissan trucks that were stacked with stuff. These guys had nothing. There was no electric. No infrastructure. No government. No anything. It was just a free-for-all.”
Brown said American soldiers also had bounties on them. “It was like $500 to shoot an American. $500 is like, I don’t know, a year’s pay. The soldiers in the Iraqi army got like $36 a month.”
Brown returned home in 2004. He said when he was overseas he fought for “patriotism, the American way and the Constitution,” but while there he was there for the guy next to him.
“That’s really what you’re there for after that point. To take care of each other because it comes to that point where you do take care of each other,” he said.
Later in 2004, Brown took a job as a medic for a unit that was working with weapons of mass destruction.
“We came back to Florida. I was still in, and I found a unit that was doing weapons of mass destruction,” he said. “They did chemical and biological anti-terrorism, and I was like, ‘hey, that’s cool.’ What are you going to do after you’ve been to combat? How are you going to fill that void? So I said, ‘hey, that’s what I want to do. And I want to be a medic for one of those teams.’ So it’s like anything else. You put in an application. I was very fortunate, I got selected.”
Brown retired in 2011 with the rank of sergeant first class. He served 22 years of active service, receiving awards such as the National Defense Service Medal with Bronze Star, Iraq Campaign Medal, Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal and Global War on Terrorism Service Medal.
For the past four years Brown has taught Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps at Cherokee High School in Cherokee.
“I always wanted to teach JROTC. So I got online and found a job in Cherokee, North Carolina. So I was just like, ‘well, I love the mountains anyhow’ and I said, ‘I’m Cherokee’ so I thought that I would fit right in,” he said. “I applied for the job, got hired and just packed up my little truck and trailer and moved up here and been teaching JROTC.”
He said an important lesson he teaches his students is to not have regrets.
“Don’t do something that you’ll regret first of all, but if you have to make a decision, make it the best way you can. Use all the information that you have in hand, and then once it’s made, don’t regret it, ever,” he said. “So that’s the way I try to live my life.”