EL PASO, Texas — For more than 35 years, El Pasoan and Army Maj. Gen. Heidi V. Brown has broken gender barriers and served as a role model during a history-making military career.
The El Paso Times reports she faced many challenges in the male-dominated Army, but said she overcame them by making the most of opportunities that came her way.
"You just want to be afforded the same opportunities everyone else is afforded," Brown said during an interview with the El Paso Times. "That is the first step. Don't discount me. You can pick me last if you think I'm not good enough. Just pick me and give me a chance and let me show you what I can do.
"That's what all of us want," Brown added. "It doesn't matter if it's gender, race, religion, whatever it may be. Just give me a chance and treat me like everyone else."
Brown, 57, retired from the Army on Saturday.
During the Iraq War in 2003, she commanded Fort Bliss' 31st Air Defense Artillery Brigade and became the first woman to command a brigade in combat. The 31st ADA Brigade is now headquartered at Fort Sill, Oklahoma.
Her most recent assignment was as the director of global operations for U.S. Strategic Command at Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska. She was the first female combatant command operations officer and the first U.S. Army soldier to serve in that position for Strategic Command. A retirement ceremony was held for Brown on Feb. 24 at Offutt before her official retirement.
An Austin High School graduate, Brown was also the first El Paso woman to attend and graduate from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York.
Brown did five tours at Fort Bliss, her hometown installation, including serving as a battalion and brigade commander and as deputy commander for the installation.
Brown said she doesn't view herself as a role model just for women, but for everyone.
"I don't self-limit," Brown said.
Brown will settle in Locust Grove, Virginia, where she and her wife of three years, Laura M. DeSimone, own a house on Lake of the Woods.
DeSimone is director of acquisition with the Missile Defense Agency at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, and still has about six years until she can retire, Brown said.
U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Heidi V. Brown, U.S. Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM) director of global operations, observes U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Timothy W. Garcia, senior enlisted leader of USSTRATCOM global operations, furling of the personal colors during her retirement ceremony in the 557th Weather Wing auditorium, Offutt Air Force Base, Neb., Feb. 24, 2017. Photo Credit: Stephen Cunningham/USSTRATCOM
Brown's initial goal in retirement is to oversee a major renovation of their lakefront home. She is also planning to write a book about her experiences in Iraq called "From Bliss to Baghdad."
Brown had hoped to continue her service with one more assignment, but she had reached her mandatory retirement date based on time in her current rank.
Retirement, though, is "liberating" in a way — to get an invitation, look at her schedule and now be able to do it, she said.
While she is settling in Virginia, she will always consider El Paso, the city where she was born, to be home and "not some place I'm from," Brown said.
She plans to visit often and maintain the many friendships she has made in the city throughout her life.
"There is something about looking out that window and seeing the 'A' on the mountain and knowing that is my high school (Austin High) and all the different memories," she said.
"This is a very special community; I never want them to lose that," Brown said.
She visited El Paso last month as a guest speaker at the Women in Business conference put on by the Greater El Paso Chamber of Commerce.
She talked about successful leaders being those who show compassion toward their subordinates, how prayer and humor helped her through some tough times, and how she would do it all again if she could — only better.
She talked about making her parents — Maj. William G. Brown, who served in World War II and the Korean War before retiring, and Virginia M. Brown, who worked with the Army's Special Services — proud. Her father died in 2002, followed by her mother in 2008.
And she talked about being a soldier who happens to be a woman, "not a woman who happens to be a soldier."
"Old soldiers never die, they just fade away," Brown said. "I completed the journey. I did my best. It has been my honor to have served this great nation. ... My name is Brown, and I will always be a soldier."
Information from: El Paso Times, http://www.elpasotimes.com