Interview with Peter S. Browne, US Marine Corps
Name: Peter S. Browne
Military Branch & Rank: US Marine Corps, Staff Sergeant
Dates of Service: 2006 – present (as of date of interview)
Villanova Degree: M.S., Political Science, 2019
Date of Interview: April 26, 2019
Interviewer: Michael D. Brown
Audio Producer: Laura Bang
Length of Interview: 1 hour, 36 minutes
Transcribed by: Nicholas Coscarelli
Edited and annotated by: Meg Piorko
MICHAEL BROWN (INTRO): Thank you for joining us today. My name is Michael Brown and we’re here today at Villanova University, recording another installment of the Voices of Villanova’s Veterans.
BROWN: Hello, my name is Mike Brown; I’m the Director of Veterans and Military Service Members here at Villanova University. And today is April 26th. I am joined by Pete Browne who is a Villanovan United States Marine Corps veteran. Actually, not a veteran; he’s actually serving so, even better. Today we are going to really be talking about where he started, some of his life experiences, and where he is today and everything in between. We look forward to that conversation so, thanks for joining us today, Pete.
PETE BROWNE: Thank you, Mike. I appreciate being here and it’s great to be back on campus.
BROWN: Yeah, absolutely it’s great having you back on campus. So, talk to me initially about where you’re from. Where were you born, what year was it when you were born, and what was family life like?
BROWNE: I was born June 3, 1982, at Bryn Mawr Hospital down the road. The first town that I lived in was in Browning Lane, less than a couple of miles from here. My parents, interestingly enough, met at Villanova. So, my father had returned from Vietnam; he served with the 101st Airborne Division and actually turned 21 on Hamburger Hill. He has two Bronze Stars with V device. And one of those is dated on his 21st birthday. So, May 30th of 1969 was again my father’s 21st birthday. He was on that hill in Vietnam, and I grew up from a very young age with his picture in uniform on my dresser.
BROWN: Wow, that’s impressive. And so, he got out and came to Villanova?
BROWNE: He was born and raised in Devon. My mom was born and raised in Wayne. So, we are a very local family.
BROWN: And do they still, do your mom and dad still live locally?
BROWNE: Yeah, my parents live in Newton Square, which is the home that we moved to when we left Browning. With season tickets to the Cats basketball as kids and we used to walk to the games from the house. So, I remember the middle 90s, late 90s specifically with season tickets. It was a terrific time.
BROWN: So, your ties to Villanova run pretty deep?
BROWN: Fantastic. Sidenote: maybe your father would like to sit down for interview as part of this?
BROWN: We’d love to have him. So, do you have any brothers or sisters?
BROWNE: I do. I’m the middle of three boys. My older brother lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. And my younger brother is in Summit, NJ. We’re all three Radnor grads.
BROWN: Fantastic, so it’s local and you’re still here. And you’re still in the Marine Corps; we’ll get to that. So, growing up, you’re in high school, and you said you have a picture of your father in uniform. Was service always part of something you wanted to do when you’d grow up?
BROWNE: Absolutely. I have a picture of me as a child with a plastic Kevlar helmet, a Fischer Price fire extinguisher, and a Fisher Price toolbox, and a set of swimming goggles on my face, on the back patio of 104 Browning Lane. And that picture to me is interesting because I was probably four of 5, but clearly, I had grown up with a military understanding, just by virtue of this picture of my father – and movies and service. Also, another thing that kind of stirred the military juices was Memorial Day Weekend of every year. On Lancaster Avenue, there was a Memorial Day Parade. And that parade was special because the Valley Forget military Academy marches – or it used to march, I don’t think they do anymore – at the back of the parade. They would have trucks, motorcycles, a mounted united, and then the formations of the cadets. So, I grew up watching that regimentation, and the pomp and circumstance of a band, and uniforms. There were feathers on their hats and that really appealed to me and I connected it with the military picture of my father. It really was an excitement for me; I enjoyed it tremendously. And that parade is a huge part of my understanding of the military and what I wanted to do in my adult life.
BROWN: And so, it gets to the point where you’re becoming an adult. Did you join the military right out of high school? Did you want to be an officer? What’s in your head as you start to formulate and grow up. As that vision becomes a tangible thing you could grasp on to.
BROWNE: So, when I was Radnor Middle School, I actually took a Spanish class with a two-star Army general who was in the Army Reserves, General … General Katuzny served in Vietnam, ultimately became a two-star in the Reserves, and I looked to him. Again, it was a point of contact with the military, and that regimentation, and the way he carried himself. That was in probably 8th grade or 7th grade at Radnor Middle School. I did not join the Army. I entertained all sorts of services. For a while, I thought I’d join the Army. I had an Army PT shirt I used to run around with. I didn’t know what service I was going into. Ultimately, I think my mom had an impact on me choosing to pursue universities that had Navy ROTC programs because she looked at the Marines as squared away. Strong uniforms, strong culture, and her cousin is actually a Marine – and a Villanovan. … graduated in the late 80s, and I think you should also bring him in [laughs].
BROWN: We’d love to do it.
BROWNE: We’ll bring in Major Felin, United States Marine Corps retired. But she went to his graduation and saw him as a Marine and I think that helped her familiarize herself with the Marine Corps. Ultimately, I bought in and only applied to colleges outside of Radnor that had Navy ROTC programs. So, I was only accepted to Old Dominion University in Norfolk, VA. I didn’t apply to Villanova – who also has a spectacular Naval ROTC program –
BROWN: Indeed, we do.
BROWNE: Because it was too close to home. I had to get away from the Radnor area and I did so about five hours South of here. And I’m happy now that my undergrad is from Old Dominion and that my master’s degree will be from Villanova this May.
BROWN: Well, that’s fantastic. So, it’s Old Dominion; it’s the Marine Corps. When you’re looking back on that, is it something that you are extremely proud of? Would you change anything? Is that course of life exactly what you hoped for and dreamed of?
BROWNE: Everything. I graduated from Radnor High School at the old Pavilion now, in June of 2001. And that date, to me, gives me chills really, because I spent the summer preparing to go to Old Dominion. And I went to Old Dominion in August of 2001, and our orientation for the Naval ROTC program was at the, what is now, Naval amphibious base in Little Creek. Actually, I think it’s called Joint Expeditionary Base, Little Creek Forts Story. And we got on the base, my parents dropped me off, and I began to learn how to march. We had Marine enlisted instructors; they’re called Assistant Marine Officer Instructors. And those Marines were my first interaction with uniformed Marines telling me what to do, and how to march, and how to eat. And how to think, and it was spectacular. I felt so at home. Number 1, down there in the South, on a military base, watching other service members, just driving Humvees. Also, in that orientation week were enlisted sailors and marines that were in the degree-completion program at Old Dominion. So, we had sergeants and staff sergeants, Navy Seal petty officers, who left the Seal side of the military of Marine Corps, and joined this commissioning program. So, it was an amazing interaction where I got a feel for what it was like to be on the enlisted side of the military. And then, just knowing your dates in history. That was August of 2001, and then the world changed less than a month later, on September 11, 2001. When I was in a math class, very close to my dormitory, the teacher was late. She showed up to class and said, “Oh my gosh, something terrible has happened. A plane hit the World Trade Center.” And being a military guy, being a kind of political science undergrad, I was just kind of perplexed what happened. So, I kind of feigned getting up going to the bathroom. I saw the teachers looking at the TV, and I saw the towers with smoke pouring out of them. I rode my bike back to the dorm hat morning and everyone was watching the events unfold. But it was especially impactful to me, as a freshman, because I had done a uniform inspection in my dress whites that morning. I was spending the whole night prior prepping my uniform, and I was going to join the Marine Corps as a second lieutenant, and this event – very quickly recognized as terrorism – at the Pentagon, in Pennsylvania, and of course, in New York. President Bush was speaking that evening, and we were going to war. And the enlisted service members who were there were speaking about their friends who were serving in units. They were given alert orders and there were all sorts of very, very serious conversations related to what events were going to transpire following September 11. And it was just such an education, and also humbling – scary—experience. We were not allowed to wear our uniforms in the weeks prior – I’m sorry, after—September 11 because of the threat.
BROWN: Sure. Were you one who did get to – were you even happier that you were in the military at this point because you could directly change or make an impact on the course of the rest of time?
BROWNE: Absolutely. It was just – it felt like a calling, that I could potentially support my country. And our country at that time was very united, also very focused on the military. One of the things that a ROTC student often gets is a military ID. So, just because you’re a midshipman or a cadet, they treat you like a service member, even before your commissioning day. So, I had a graded military ID card, long since it’s been adjusted and now it has a chip on it for your computer. But I had this military ID card in access to all these bases and stations that were now in full threat condition. There were mounted 50 caliber machine guns atop amphibious assault vehicles at the ground gate of these bases. There were rovers, roving service members with 240 gulf machine guns at the vents line at some of these bases, and specifically Camp Elmore which we ran the O course at Camp Elmore so, it was just a very clear sense of purpose. Also, I was running, working out, I felt very connected and driven. It was just a very wild experience.
BROWN: Sure, you had a purpose. You had a meaning. You had a mission. It’s really what the military does provide. So, you’re going in now as a marine. You still have several years left of ROTC, but as I look at you now, you are not an officer in the United States Marine Corps. So, talk to me about that.
BROWNE: So, I went to Officer Candidate School, actually on May 30th of 2004. It was my dad’s birthday; I drove my ’99 Jeep Cherokee down to Quantico and reported to Officer Candidate School which I had been training for. I was a Naval ROTC nerd; I soaked up all the knowledge and awareness I could of the culture and what I needed to do to graduate Officer Candidate School. I was very nervous and didn’t know what it was going to be like. I had heard what it was going to be like, but I knew personally that you can’t know what it’s going to be like until you’re actually there.
BROWNE: So, day one of Officer Candidate School. It was the most intense experience I had ever been through.
BROWN: Describe that. What was so intense about it?
BROWNE: The speed, intensity, and volume of these sergeant instructors. They’re marine staff sergeants or gunnery sergeants that train officer candidates to lead marines. The mission of Officer Candidate School is to train, screen, and evaluate midshipman or other candidates for possible commission into the United States Marine Corps. Not everybody completes Officer Candidate School. I had a six-week program, and I only made it through three weeks of the program. I don’t say “unfortunately” that I didn’t take it because, in hindsight now, the lessons I learned at Officer Candidate School about speed and intensity – and about what the Marine Corps really represents – that time in 2004 was the height of the Iraq War, which had started in March of 2003.
BROWNE: So, March of 2003 now it’s May of 2004, we were in heavy combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. And the mission of the Marine Corps was really serious. And the instructions, very rightfully so, were holding everybody to account and performance. Physically, I was crushing it. I did 20 pullups and I’m very proud of that. My runs were great, but mentally I was a little weaker than I wish I was. But today, I look at that mental state that I had and it’s almost a good experience because I see how strong I am today.
BROWN: Sure. So, you’re in for three weeks, you realize at that point that you’re just not cut out for OCS. What’s the process like? Do they just say, “See you later?” Do you say, “See you later?”
BROWNE: I actually made the choice at OCS to what’s called drop-on-request “DOR.” And I did that; I knew it wasn’t working. I had an Assistant Marine Officer instructor who was my instructor at Old Dominion. He was, at the time, a gunnery sergeant, Charles Williams. And I talked to him; he was in the squad bay next to mine, training candidates. I talked to him kind of off the record, late at night, a few times. And I joke now when I talked about Sgt. Major Williams that my relationship with him is so strong because he kind of watched me self-destruct. He knew me as a midshipman, and he knew the strength I had and the knowledge I had, and the ability. But he watched me kind of not perform at a level he knew I could perform, and he didn’t just me. He didn’t shame me. He just knew it wasn’t working out and supported me and was totally there for me. I dropped-on-request, and departed Quantico, but knew I was going to finish my degree. I had three years of undergraduate education and had the opportunity to leave Old Dominion and payback my scholarship to the Marine Corps with enlisted service, but I opted to pay it back financially to the Marine Corps, and then complete my degree program instead of going to these military leadership classes in my midshipman uniform. I went in a coat and tie because I had made the decision while I was in the midst of the tumble in Quantico, that maybe being a marine officer wasn’t for me. Maybe I needed to be on Capitol Hill and follow my political-military passion as a political science major, and policy influence potentially. So, I talked to a mentor of mine days after I left Quantico – Dr. Bill Whitehurst. He’s a former Congressman from the 2nd District of Virginia, and he immediately helped to begin my networking process and encouraged me to just keep my head up, and not to beat myself up too bad and just continue to march.
BROWN: Were you beating yourself up?
BROWNE: Definitely. Unfortunately, I did, and that lesson in how hard I was on myself today gives me a lot of strength because ultimately, I got a military ethics research internship at the Joint Forces Staff College in Norfolk, Va. So, I was a military ethics research intern working for a retired Marine colonel at this Joint Forces Staff College. I did a three-credit internship and at the time, I was also networking on Capital Hill trying to figure out where I was going to go and if I could get an internship. I was very active in the College Republicans of Old Dominion, and very connected in the campaign scene down there in Hampton Roads. So, I had plenty of folks to talk to. Ultimately, I did get an internship with Congresswoman Thelma Drake. She had been on Capital Hill for a little while and I started in her office in May of 2005, and I moved into a studio apartment in Alexandria, VA. It was an unpaid internship, and I was barely paying the rent. I have to give my father a shoutout who supported me financially through that expensive Alexandria real estate so I could follow my dream on Capital Hill.
BROWN: And so, you’re doing that. It’s 2005, you have your degree, correct?
BROWN: And you’re sort of figuring out your next steps. But you have an internship, doing something you enjoy sort of following that passion. But it sounds like there’s still something missing.
BROWNE: Definitely. I actively pursued civilian employment on Capital Hill and in the Pentagon, but I didn’t have any military experience. My only experience was as a midshipman First Sergeant of Mike Company, which was the Marine company of the ODU NROTC unit. But me being a midshipman first sergeant is not really military experience; it’s leading and doing some paperwork and doing PT sessions with a bunch of folks at ODU. So, my ability to get a full-time position was difficult, and I ultimately was temping. I got with a temp agency after I left Capitol Hill and pursued just different jobs to kind of pay the rent and kind of find myself. Ultimately, I left this temp agency and decided, hey I like to smile and talk to people; maybe I should work for Marriot International as a front desk person. I kind of networked my way into the Crystal City Marriott at Reagan International Airport. I was at the front desk there starting in January of 2006. I liked it; it was fun to be in the hotel scene, but the hospitality industry still wasn’t for me. I think the biggest watershed moment for me was when I would see enlisted marines walking around the D.C. area. I would almost want to kick them, because this kid with PFC chevrons or sergeant major chevrons had something I didn’t have, and that was the identity of the United States Marines.
BROWN: It sounds like that’s what was missing. To go back to this early, there were things that were sort of paying the rent or meeting some of your needs and hitting some of those passion points, right? You know, in politics, on the Hill. But at the end of the day, what was missing was the Pete Browne identity, the one that you were really striving for. So, you’re at Marriot, how long were you working the front desk?
BROWNE: I was there from January ‘till I started the enlistment process in March. So, about two months, two and a half months. And I went to bootcamp on April 24th, about, of 2006.
BROWN: How old were you at this point?
BROWN: So, you’re an old head walking through Parris Island. But what helped drive that decision to finally say, you know what, I’m going to enlist in the United States Marine Corps. You’d have some rank at that point I guess because you had a degree. But what was the ultimate driver? Was it a decision? Was it a moment? Or was it a culmination of things that made you say, “You know what, I’ve at. I need to find my identity, and this is the path I’m going to take.”
BROWNE: So, I think it was two things. First were the relationships that I was maintaining. Friendships with these service members, marines, that I met in college. They had become second lieutenants by then and were serving in Quantico at the basic school or follow-on duty stations. And I kept in touch with so many of them. And as I was struggling, I called a lot of them and said, hey this is kind of where I am. And the conversation began to move to, “You should just enlist. Like, that’s a great move. You got your degree.” So, there was a lot of encouragement from those marine officers, second lieutenants. They kind of look at them, they call them O1-E. So, you’re an O1, second lieutenant, but you have the “E” at the end of your rank, which makes you a mustang. And these mustang officers supported me and encouraged me and gave me the self-confidence that I needed to make the leap. The other thing – I said there were two things. The other thing was I communicated with my family. I know for a fact that I went home, and I told my mom in the kitchen in our house in Newton Square, “Mom, I’m not happy.” And that was really hard for me to say, but she supported me 100 percent and that was another key part of the jump to speaking with a recruiter, which was very easy because when I talked to this recruiter, I took a phone call from Okinawa, Japan. Lieutenant Collins, who had moved over to Japan and – it’s kind of funny that I was sitting with a Marine Corps recruiter in a McDonald’s and I’m talking to a second lieutenant who’s my buddy. You know, here I am about to become a PFC.
BROWN: In the Marine Corps.
BROWNE: Yes, sir.
BROWN: So, you go down, you enlist, you head down to Parris Island, SC. What’s the date of this?
BROWNE: April of 2006.
BROWN: April 2006, you’re 23 years old. You had an experience already with OCS. Obviously basic training bootcamp is different, but I’m sure there’s some similarities with some of that intensity, some of that, you know, drill instructor volume, if you will. So, talk to me about that experience of stepping on the yellow footprints of Parris Island.
BROWNE: The mission of Officer Candidate School and the mission of basic bootcamp training are two entirely different missions. And I think that is the fundamental thing that I knew going there, because I was friends with drill instructors. And I knew what to expect. So, the mission of OCS I said is to train, screen, and evaluate. The key thing at Parris Island is instant, willing obedience to orders. That is what the Marine Corps holds as sacrosanct. Instant, willing obedience to orders. And I knew all I needed to do was be very loud, very fast, and not quit. And that I would become a marine. I was a little worried about the riffle range. I was a little worried about my eyesight; I had a left eye/right eye dominance problem. So, it’s hard for me to close one eye and shoot. So, I shoot left-handed when I’m right-handed which is difficult. So, I was terrified at the riffle range, but I knew I had to make it. And there was actually a lot of prayer in my life during those 14 weeks at bootcamp. I was very happy that every Sunday were given two hours of religious time. One hour was sort of religious education where you got to watch a movie or speak to a priest, and then you would go to mass. I spoke to a priest every weekend, kind of had a time to have confession, to get a sort of special blessing, and then go to mass and receive communion. And during mass, we sang – we actually belted it out – the Battle Hymn of the Republic. And all the words to the Battle Hymn of the Republic. One of the lines in that song, in that hymn, is “As he died to make men holy, let us die to make men free.” And at that point in the hymn, all the recruits would scream – scream that line. And it was just so visceral to be in a church setting, to be at war in two different countries, and marching, and serving, and about to wear the uniform and earn the eagle globe and anchors, So, that was just tremendous. And I have one other thing that kind of pushed me through. I mentioned the very outset of my life that I had this photograph of my father in his green Army uniform as a specialist with the 101st Airborne, two bronze stars with a combat “V,” in my head. And when I went to bootcamp, I kind of said to myself, “Just make it far enough to get your picture taken. Get there.” And ultimately, I did. And that picture, to me today, is really special because of how I valued and knew that I was going to drive a great deal of self-confidence and appreciation for the journey.
BROWN: Yeah, you made it. You found your identity.
BROWN: And not only did you find your identity, but you also fit into your identity. That’s what I hear.
BROWNE: I became a United States Marine. My DNA shifted because I had earned the eagle, globe, and anchor. And that eagle, globe, and anchor means the world to United States Marines. The world is literally on the eagle, globe, and anchor. So, I was just so proud, July 14, 2006. That was my graduation day. Major General Les Palm was the CEO of the Marine Corps Association. He was the reviewing officer of my bootcamp graduation. And my parents were there; it was special. My little brother, Brandon, was there. I was so almost overcome with gratitude and appreciation.
BROWN: I could imagine. You fought long and hard to get to this point and you made it. It’s sort of the culmination of “here I am.” You’re ready for your next step. So, at this point, you know what your job’s going to be and you know where you’re going next. But you had to go to school first, right? You have to learn like, what your job is. So, you’re a marine, you’re a rifleman. Everyone’s a rifleman, but at the end of the day your job might be a cook or a supplier. So, what is your job next and where are you heading off to learn that job?
BROWNE: Thank you for asking because there’s – I like to run my mouth a lot [laughs]. But I had a choice when I signed the contract, of what I chose to do. I did not choose infantry. My father was in the infantry, and I didn’t think that I wanted to be in the infantry. At that point in time, the surge was being discussed and really interesting career path. I chose logistics. I chose logistics because I like the idea of the movement of personnel and transportation. And really, the Marine Corps chose me for logistics and that was really my ASVAB score, they qualified me to be a logistician. And upon completion of Marine Combat training at Camp Geiger in North Carolina, I went to Camp Johnson which is just up the street. Camp Johnson is named for Hashmark Johnson, which was one of the Montford Points Marines. Camp Johnson is on Montford Point, that is where I went to Landing Support Specialist school to learn how to be a landing support specialist which is also called a “Red Patcher.” So, a red patch is on your camouflage cover, on the very front of your cover there is a square that is red. And you also have a red rectangle on your trousers. And those red patchers are intended to identify you as in charge on the beach. So, there were landing support specialists on Hiroshima, managing the logistics of that landing. And I was very proud to join that line of marines that have worn the red patch. We also were responsible for hitching up loads to the bottom of helicopters. Helicopter support team operations is when a heavy lift helicopter comes down on top of your helicopter support team of a couple of marines and you connect the static wand to ground out the static electricity of the motor blades on this hook. And I have some great pictures of me doing that. We would lift Humvees or containers of water on our wheels. Sometimes, we would do a shotgun lift of two Humvees that were chained together, and then the helicopter would lift off and take those trucks somewhere in a training environment or in a real-world scenario. So, just a very cool position to have – 175 mph worth of downwash, pushing you around this landing zone and hooking up loads and accomplishing a logistics task.
BROWN: How long is your schooling?
BROWNE: That school was I think about a month.
BROWNE: And I made some great friends. … was one of my friends. He didn’t have enough money to buy the tee shirt that we earned graduating from that school. Every class that graduates, the class designs a tee shirt. Sam didn’t have enough money to buy the tee shirt, and I just bought it for him. It was the most no-brainer thing in the world; I gave him ten bucks or whatever. I remember that to this day as a very connecting thing.
BROWN: Did he ever pay you back those ten bucks?
BROWNE: Yeah, well, he did in friendship.
BROWN: Alright, that’s good.
BROWNE: And I tell you, to this day, I think about him often.
BROWN: The best kind of ten bucks, friendship.
BROWNE: Absolutely. Yes, sir.
BROWN: So, you’re doing with school; you’re now heading to the real Marine Corps. Where are you going to next?
BROWNE: I went to Landing Support Company, which was a part of Combat Logistics Regime 27. And I was actually only there for a short period of time. I was there from about September to about January.
BROWNE: 2006 into 2007. Early January, we went to Combat Logistics Battalion 22, which was a part of Combat Logistics Regime 27.
BROWN: Based out of?
BROWNE: Based out of Camp Lejeune, NC. “Luh-jern,” for those of you who are checking my pronunciation.
BROWNE: I was there to prepare to deploy. Combat was just Battalion 22 when it is stateside is a part of CLR-27. But at certain points, it will augment and become under the umbrella of the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit, which is based out of Camp Lejeune. But sails on ships out of Norfolk. So, we began our training workup period, and it was terrific. We trained at Fort A.P. Hill in Virginia. We trained at Fort Pickett. And prepared to deploy on the U.S.S. Kearsarge. The first ship I actually got on was the U.S.S. Gunston Hall. And I was recognized immediately for my work ethic. I was everywhere on that ship in the combat cargo section. So, as a landing support specialist, I was tasked with the movement of vehicles and personnel throughout the ship. I was specifically on what’s called the well deck of the Gunston Hall, and then on the flight deck of the Kearsarge during the deployment. But the well deck and the flight deck, you’re spitting out landing craft out the back of the ship, and then helicopters off the flight deck. They’re full of marines, and those are either landing in HLZ, helicopter landing zones, or hitting the beach and disgorging marines who, in a combat environment, would take the fight to the enemy. In a training environment, we would go set up a combat operations center, things like that.
BROWN: Sure. So, you’re preparing for deployment. You’re on a ship; you’re on two ships now. Are you actually going out on deployment. Is that the next step?
BROWNE: It is. I deployed aboard the U.S.S. Kearsarge – forget what month but – I spent Christmas on the Kearsarge. Thanksgiving, Christmas, and I remember Thanksgiving very much because right around Thanksgiving, there was a tropical cyclone that was nearing Bangladesh. And we were at the time, conducting anti-piracy operations off the coast of Africa. So, if you think Africa, Bangladesh, they’re not really close to each other. But we knew the cyclone was going to hit and we had warning. So, we just turned our ship and picked up speed and, at a very good eclipse, sailed to the Indian Ocean, and provided humanitarian assistance to the people of Bangladesh after this cyclone just annihilated so many grass huts, took lives, and just injured people. So, we were there as life support, as the flag of the United States, supporting the Bangladeshi people in their time of need. One of my missions on the flight deck, and in the hanger bay in the U.S.S. Kearsarge, was using a garden hose to fill five-gallon bags full of water. And we probably had a State Department person there, to help with the diplomatic relations. We had a flag of the United States and a flag of Bangladesh crossed, and we would slap that cross on the bag in the language of Bangladesh and English. It said, “From the people of the United States of America to the people of Bangladesh.” You know, with support or something. And that was one of our little contributions, among sending the medical teams and other engineers to support rebuilding. Or just immediate life support; I don’t think we were at the rebuilding phase yet. So, that was just powerful to fill those tri-walls, you know just large brown box, with gallons and gallons of water and blankets. The World Food Program gave us biscuits, and we were just giving these high-energy biscuits to people that were starving. Interestingly enough, some of these Bangladeshi people had never seen a doctor or a dentist. So, even though it was a tropical cyclone, you still had an impacted tooth or something. So, our dentists and our corpsmen were able to triage and treat them – whether it was for a broken arm or getting your cavities filled. It was just a very enriching experience.
BROWN: It sounds like something that had a lot of meaning to you and enjoyed it.
BROWNE: Oh, absolutely.
BROWN: You made a big impact.
BROWNE: Oh, yeah, on the tail end of that deployment, we were extended a couple of weeks because we had to provide security for the visit of President Bush to Israel. He was going to Jerusalem, and we provided air support to the Security Service and his entire presidential detail. We pulled into Haifa, Israel, and that’s actually where I got to visit the Holy Land while we had some time off. I went to Nazareth and Jerusalem, and got to visit the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. And the church where the loaves and the fish miracle occurred. To see the Sea of Galeae. It was a very profound experience on a deployment. During these deployments we had time to have what’s called “liberty.”
BROWN: Some “R&R,” if you will.
BROWNE: Yes, absolutely.
BROWN: What is your rank at this point?
BROWNE: I was promoted on that ship during that deployment to Corporal, E-4. I was promoted to Corporal; I have great pictures of me getting promoted on this ship in the office of our combat cargo detachment. So, I was now a non-commissioned officer in the United States Marine Corps, and very proud.
BROWN: Absolutely. So, that’s one deployment. Are you there for how long?
BROWNE: I think that deployment was about six or seven months.
BROWN: OK. Now you came back home?
BROWNE: I came back home and we kind of did our leave period where we get about two weeks of vacation.
BROWN: Did you come to Newtown Square?
BROWNE: I did. I came home and my parents actually met me in North Carolina. So, there were there when I got home and we rented a home, and it was a terrific homecoming. But the follow-on from my return from deployment once I got back to the battalion was to join the operations section, S-3 Operations. And I immediately, pretty much, began training for another deployment, because you get your vacation, but pretty soon you’re going to need to ramp back up. There was a little bit of hangtime there, where we were supporting basic logistics operations at Camp Lejeune. But pretty soon we were in full workout phase again, going back to Fort Pickett. Going back to A.P. Hill and training aggressively. Going back to Norfolk to get back on the ships. And by now, this was very familiar. So, I deployed on the U.S.S. Ponce. Again, another ship, a different class of amphibious ship. This was the smallest class of ship in the Marine Expeditionary Unit. But that was in 2009. We went to Jordan. We did Operation Infinite Moonlight. We pulled into Amman, Jordan. Correction – no, we pulled into Aqaba. Aqaba, which is in the south of Jordan. Up through the Red Sea after going through the Suez Canal.
BROWN: How long of a journey is that?
BROWNE: Oh, gosh, it took like at least a week to get across the Atlantic. And then you go through the Straits of Gibraltar, into the Mediterranean, down to the Suez Canal, up through the Red Sea, to Aqaba. Disembarked the ship and did a convoy up to the Al-Qatraneh desert, very close to the border of Iraq. And did training with the Jordanian military. It was just so amazing to be in this country. One of the most surreal things was to hear the Islamic call to prayer from the minaret, which was right next to our tents. At this time, I just really appreciated the beauty of that. But it was also a reminder that we were in a Muslim country, and I never experienced that in Radnor [laughs]. So, it was definitely a cultural awakening. And I think I’m a stronger person having experienced that and appreciated it.
BROWN: So, what’s the mission while you’re there? You say you’re training, but what does that look like? What does that feel like? What are you living in, tents?
BROWNE: We’re living in tents. We’re operating out of the Combat Support Operations Center, the CSOC, or the Combat Logistics Operations Center, CLOC. And doing support to the infantry, to the artillery section that was a part of the battalion landing team. And then we also have the aviation combat element. And we were supporting them with fuel, with food, with engineering support. Whether it’s air conditioning or heat, or shower facilities. Just basic life support, basic logistics functions. And this training that we were doing was not to go to Iraq or Afghanistan. It was more in order to provide joint training with Jordanians, with Turks, with Greeks. And it’s that joint international military cooperation that those units such as the Marines Expeditionary Unit are so good at. They foster international security cooperation that is so vital to NATO and kind of global peace and security.
BROWN: Sure. What’s the climate like?
BROWNE: Gosh, hot. We went to Kuwait, and Kuwait is hot [laughs]. It is, I mean, 110 with a flap jacket and the Kevlar. I’d never experienced heat like that before.
BROWN: What does it do to you, your body?
BROWNE: I mean, you have to hydrate. You’re literally losing fluid through sweat. It is so imperative because you’re wearing all this gear to hydrate. Otherwise, you’re going to get a headache; you’re going to be disoriented. You could even have heat exhaustion, heat stroke. So, hydrate, and then chow. I mean, you got to eat. You have to fuel your body to tolerate that. There’s heat rash as well. So, you’re wearing all this equipment, you’re carrying a weapon, you know an M-16 service riffle. If you’re carrying that on your back with a flap jacket, it’ll rub. And there’s rubbing that causes heat rash and causes blistering.
BROWN: Did any of those things affect you?
BROWNE: I did. I, from time to time, had significant heat rash. But the benefit of a Navy corpsman who let me take my blouse off and kind of air out a little bit. You know, those kinds of measures are helpful to treat that.
BROWN: Sure. What’s food like?
BROWNE: While we were in Kuwait, we benefited from the largess of the Army, which was for the Marine Corps is terrific. The Army has what’s called “D-facs,” which stands for dining facilities. And it was like being at the King of Prussia food court which, for us having come off the ship, is insane because we don’t eat like that on the ship.
BROWN: What do you eat like?
BROWNE: It’s not terrible, but it’s not great. You ask what we eat like, one of the things that’s kind of unique to the ship is there’s pancakes sometimes every morning. I was also, growing up in my family, we had maple syrup. But it was a good maple syrup from Vermont. My dad had connections or a client of his that gave him good maple syrup. I was kind of raised on the good stuff. And, on the ship, there was a tray of maple syrup in the line. And sometimes, that tray would sit there for a while, and it would develop a skin on it of maple syrup. And I never ate it because it just turned me off –
BROWN: It wasn’t from Vermont [laughs].
BROWNE: [laughs] Yeah, it wasn’t the good stuff, and I was spoiled. I was just too spoiled to eat it. And when I came home, eating pancakes with real maple syrup is a thing. So, you know, I had these memories of being on the ship.
BROWN: Sure, so did they have real maple syrup at the D-fac?
BROWNE: You know, I don’t think so, no. I think they also had the tray. So, just funny. But at the D-fac, they did have a Baskins Robin and a Green Bean Coffee. They had free packs of gum, free Cliff Bars, free trail mix, free whatever. And you’re filling your pockets with this stuff because you’re not going to get it anywhere else. You’re lucky if you get a Gatorade. You know, in the Marine Corps, these Rip It’s. Rip It’s are little energy drinks you get over there. They’re not good for you, but –
BROWN: But they’re effective.
BROWNE: They’re effective. Coffee and Rip Its, and water because you don’t want to dehydrate yourself again. Just such an interesting experience. One of the other things I want to talk about, being on that ship that still affects me today: I tear up recycling because we had to separate our trash. When you get rid of waste on a ship, it has to go through processors. And there’s a machine that melts the plastic and you create these little plastic disks of all your recyclables, and then those go in a container. You send them off the ship; you can’t put them over the ship. So, you have these paper bags that are “paper,” “plastic,” and “metal.” And then you have your kind of food waste and other stuff that either can get thrown over the side or can get recycled or put down a garbage disposal. But we would always tear up our cardboard because, whether it was mail or MRE boxes, or things like that. Because if you put a whole entire empty box of soda or MREs in a paper bag, it just doesn’t work like that. So, I still to this day have a habit of tearing up all of our recycling, which is just awkward and funny. But I’m quite efficient.
BROWN: Sure, it’s something that stuck with you.
BROWNE: Yes, it did. Another thing that’s really funny is that we’re sitting here at a table today at Villanova. My mom and everybody always ask me, “Hey, what’s it like to sleep on a ship and to be on these spaces?” and I told my mom, “Actually, it’s kind of like sleeping under the coffee table in the dining room.” Because that’s how much space I had above my head. It’s like sleeping under the coffee table I had in my dining room. I had a rack above me; I had a rack below me. And if I got up too fast on some of those ships, you could hit your head.
BROWN: Absolutely. So, you weren’t sleeping at the Marriot anymore? [laughs]
BROWNE: Absolutely not. [laughs]
BROWN: And you weren’t eating real maple syrup.
BROWNE: No, but you joke about the Marriott. I had what’s called “mental escapism” when I was deployed. And I would kind of transport myself to these very nice hotels I would stay at. And once I got a little more financially stable, in my time in service, I would come home with a cardboard box and almost disposable income because I really wasn’t buying anything crazy. So, I would go to the Ritz Carlton by myself, or for dinner or a party, and I would stay and really kind of live large because I had lived under a coffee table on a ship, sweating. So, on my last and latest deployment, I actually sent a letter to the CEO of the Ritz Carlton. I said, Dear Sir, I just want you to know I’m out here on this ship and I’m so grateful for these memories I have of your terrific properties in Charleston, NC, Naples, FL or Philadelphia. Barcelona, Spain. We went to Barcelona to visit my brother who was studying abroad. Actually, before one of my deployments, I went to Spain and then a couple weeks later I was sent through the Straits of Gibraltar, which was very unique. But we stayed at the Hotel of the Arts for two nights there in Barcelona. It was just a wonderful experience. But I sent this letter to Herve Humler and told him how much I enjoyed the ability to escape to the Ritz, which is kind of funny because I was an enlisted sergeant or a corporal sending this letter. He actually wrote back to me. He wrote back to me, and he sent me a letter and copied every General Manager of the properties I mentioned. And he included a pair of Ritz Carlton cufflinks. So, I was very appreciative, and it was fun. But it is a unique, fun story.
BROWN: Yeah, that’s great. So, now you have two deployments under your belt. Both very different, but like any deployment, you ramp up and you ramp down. So, you come back home. Are you still back in North Carolina?
BROWNE: Yes, I always returned to North Carolina, either by way of Norfolk or by way of the beach. Onslow Beach, NC or Morehead City Port. Morehead City Port is where we embark on our welling stock, wheeled vehicles, or tracked vehicles. So, always coming back to that area. Having gone to college in Norfolk, my experience sailing in and out of Norfolk was terrific because it was like going back to Old Dominion. So, I really appreciated that very beautiful space between Camp Lejeune, NC, Jacksonville, NC, and Norfolk. So, I transitioned to talking about turning off the Ponce. I got home for vacation, and I only went home for a weekend, and it was the Army v. Navy game that weekend in December of 2009. So, I got home, and went to that Army v. Navy game with my parents. And I went back to Camp Lejeune because I wasn’t ready to take my two weeks yet. I had some stuff to do down there, and then came home for Christmas. You know, Christmas was my time, and I came home for New Years. But in between, I would go back to North Carolina. So, it was the Army v. Navy game, Christmas, and New Years that I was home. But then I went back, and January of 2010 an earthquake hit Haiti. It was a 7.7 earthquake, I think. It destroyed the country. Hundreds, thousands, killed. Buildings flattened. Haiti was in dire need of immediate assistance. And my unit was trained and on standby. We were what’s called “GRF.” A specific time you are deployed and come home, you’re still on the list as “GRF,” which is “global response force.” So, if anybody needs the Marine Corps, we’ll answer that 911 call – from Haiti to anywhere else. Or the President of the United States who sends his 911 call to the rescue. And I told my parents at the time that we got the order and we’re leaving to get back onto the ship and go to Haiti. We left, and the building was on fire. We were leaving with such urgency, and such a purpose, because we were still ready. Like, we were still trained. We had all this experience, and we were what the Marines call “a full up round,” and hit the beach with the reconnaissance party to survey what beach we were going to land at, where we were going to set up our facilities – our operating post. The morning that we hit the beach, I spent the night on that Humvee. In the front seat of a Humvee. It was a rough night’s sleep, but that next morning, I was shaving in the rearview mirror of this Humvee, and the ground started to go. And I didn’t know what was going on. I didn’t cut myself, thankfully. But very quickly I realized it was an aftershock; and it was a very large aftershock. I had never experienced that before. So, sensationally, I was just in shock. Like, we just had an earthquake. It was like a 6.0 something aftershock. And the entire time that I was there, we were experiencing aftershocks. We were not allowed to go into any hardened structures.
BROWN: So, talk to me about your thoughts and feelings, and what you’re seeing and smelling. You said you’re one of the first to arrive. There’s a lot of destruction, a lot of cries for help. Talk me through that.
BROWNE: It’s chaos. Haiti is a very poor country as it is. A very Catholic country. Haiti knows the Marine Corps. The Marines have been going to Haiti for decades. We’ve been there to help with chaos related to politics, and political instability. We’ve been there to help with natural disasters such as this. So, we were there in a humanitarian crisis capacity. And the Haitians knew the Marines. They knew the United States of America. It was absolutely amazing to see how they reacted to our Humvees. Our commanding officers said that if anybody fires a shot – we did have ammunition – but the guidance from the CO was that if anybody fires one ground, this is a failure. We were trained in nonlethal force and crowd control, and things like that. We did it extremely effectively, whether it was with concertina wire or to stop looting of the trucks that we had, or charging of helicopters that were coming. We had supply chains; we had like a working party going off the helicopter – marine to marine to marine – passing MREs, passing again, these World Food biscuits I mentioned previously. Or anything. We went to Guantanamo Bay because we had given all our supplies out. We had to go back and get more from Guantanamo Bay and push that out. So, one time we were at the back of this helicopter getting water out and I thought the Dasani factory was at the other end of the helicopter, because we were pushing that much water.
BROWNE: It was just amazing how many miles we traveled. I think our area of operations was almost a hundred miles, between Carrefour, which is right outside Port-au-Prince, and then Petit-Goâve was the farthest that we went. But Léogâne was another city and we had LZ’s – the LZ Mongoose was one of the landing zones that I remember. Just such a powerful experience because we knew we were doing good; we knew we were supporting people in need. We had a cook who actually signed onto the meeting; he signed onto the mission. His family was actually in Haiti during the earthquake. We had to be careful because we knew they were there. And we actually – he was able to call them on a cellphone, and we brought them into our camp. It was his wife and child. So, this Marine was able to hug his kids and they slept at a tent in the back of our camp, but that’s the connection to the Marine Corps. You know, there’s so many Haitians, Haitian Americans, who supported us. They spoke Creole, or patois, and it was just so powerful to see that interaction from a medical treatment, logistics, providing that compacity. One of the other things that I just want to really convey. One time we were driving in a Humvee, and I did see a woman with a child on her arms. And we were driving by and weren’t supposed to throw food out the Humvees because it’s a security threat. It’s also safety because people would run, potentially get hit by the trucks. We didn’t want any injuries. But we were driving at a speed that was pretty slow and I had an unopened MRE, and I was able to just hand it out the window to this woman holding a child. An infant in her arms. And she almost had an expressionless face when we were approaching her, as I handed the meal out the window. And she took it. I could just see gratitude wash over her face. I knew she was going to feed her baby; she probably wasn’t going to eat it. She maybe ate some of it, but the majority of it was going to go to the child, or to her nourishment so she could feed her child.
BROWN: So, it was a big impact. It sounds like, from your point of view, a successful mission. One you’re proud to be on.
BROWNE: Absolutely, and what a demonstration to me. I was so happy with that mission, both in Bangladesh and in Haiti, because that’s what the Marine Corps does so effectively. At the time, we were very engaged in combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, but at the same time, the Marine Corps was serving in an expeditionary capacity, supporting humanitarian assistance operations across the world. And I just think it’s so important for people to see both sides. That yes, we have a tremendous amount of lethality in our force, but we also have a tremendous amount of benevolence and capability to support. We sailed so many ships down there to Haiti, very quickly, within 72 hours or so we were there.
BROWN: And it is an important reminder that the Marine Corps is touted for their ability to close quickly on the enemy and kill them, but they are also quite the humanitarian force.
BROWN: So, that’s deployment three. How long were you there?
BROWNE: So, I was in Haiti for about two months, two and half months. I sailed down on the U.S.S. Carter Hall and sailed home on the U.S.S. Batton. It’s interesting, I’m just going to dive down into deployment four because I deployed on the U.S.S. Mesa Verde, along with the U.S.S. Batton for my fourth deployment. My fourth deployment is interesting because we did again the whole workup cycle, training cycle. But we were supposed to leave in July. We didn’t leave in July; we left in March. We left in March because Muammar Gaddafi was going to, or considering, genocide or something terrible in Libya. Libya was in complete chaos. They were trying to overthrow the dictator who had been in power for decades. And we got the order to get ready, get set, go. And we left in March. We were, again, supposed to leave in July. We were completing some of our training that we hadn’t finished off the coast of North Carolina. They wanted us to just get on the ships and get ready to go immediately. And very soon after crossing the Atlantic, we were through the Straits of Gibraltar, and off the coast of Benghazi.
BROWN: So, you’re very familiar with the Straits of Gibraltar at this point. [laughs]
BROWNE: Absolutely, in and out, in and out, in and out. So, 2-4-6, six passages through the Straits of Gibraltar on a Navy ship and then many straits through the Suez Canal. But we were off the coast of Benghazi about a mile, maybe two nautical miles. And again, this is before Benghazi was known for the embassy bombing, or attack. We were communicating with people on the ground. I’m not going to say who they were, but I think it’s easy to imagine. We did have some folks on the ground who were keeping an eye on how things were developing. Our mission off the coast of Libya was what’s called, the tactical recovery of aircraft and personnel: TRAP. TRAP is one of the unique missions of the Marine Corps and the Marine Corps Expeditionary Unit. Scott O’Grady was rescued by a TRAP force of the 22nd raid expeditionary unit, years prior to me fulfilling the same mission off the coast of Libya. We were doing training missions there to prepare to rescue any pilot involved in the campaign in the skies over Libya to stop wholesale slaughter of innocent Libyans. And support the people. So, we were supporting our own NATO allies and our own pilots. So, anytime a pilot went down in Libya, we’d be prepared to pick them up within hours. We had training missions that I was building, confirmation briefs filled with missions. You get different reports. You get the moment the aircraft is getting down, and then immediately you’re spitting up this cycle. There’s something called the Marine Corps planning process. MCPP, is what they kind of use as a nickname. I became so intimately familiar with the Marine Corps planning process. You have something called COA-DEV, COA-DEV, war gaming. Course of Action Development, Course of Action Development, war gaming. You are planning an operation, and we use this Marine Corps planning process very effectively to make sure that we are prepared for what we are about to do. Whether it’s assault, an enemy position or town, or to support the rescue of a pilot. Or to conduct humanitarian assistance.
BROWN: Sure, so it’s really a planning process for whatever. It’s the Swiss Army knife of planning.
BROWN: What year is this, that you’re off the coast of Libya?
BROWNE: It was 2011-2012. I came home from Libya. The first time I ever came home early, I came home on advance party because I knew I was going to transition off active duty. I knew that I was interested in returning to the Radnor area as a reservist. I knew I was going to transition off active duty, join the Reserve, and get a civilian job, and kind of start a life. I didn’t feel living in the barracks by myself as a single sergeant was going to be my future. And I really didn’t see myself serving – or continue serving – on active duty as a recruiter or something like that. I wanted to get my master’s degree. I wanted to meet a woman, buy a house, and get a civilian job. Really take off—
BROWN: Live the American dream.
BROWNE: Live the American dream and begin true adulthood.
BROWN: Sure. So, at this point, you’re coming off Libya, what’s your rank?
BROWNE: I am a Sergeant.
BROWN: OK, and what does that mean? For the lay people out there in the listening world who may not know. Does that mean you’re in charge of ten people, 15 people, zero people?
BROWNE: I was in charge of the kind of operations management of this landing forces operations center when we were afloat. And then when we were ashore, I was in the tent that was the combat service support operations center. I had several servicemembers, enlisted servicemembers, who were junior Marines. They were serving in a watch capacity, monitoring chat screens online, monitoring radios, monitoring the flow of communication. And keeping the printer full and making sure the place was swept out, and access was controlled. You can’t just have anybody walking in and out where the commanding officer is having a meeting. When I had to set up those meetings, whether it’s the projector or the screen, or the tables. It was a lot of grunt work. You have to set up the tents too. So, I was in charge of a lot of those logistics.
BROWN: You said you wanted to move back to the area, to have a life, to live the American dream. Is that truly the deciding force to get off of active duty, or is there something else pushing you to say, “You know what, I’m done with this active-duty stuff?”
BROWNE: Candidly, I knew that I wasn’t going to meet the woman that I kind of wanted to marry—
BROWN: Hoped for.
BROWNE: That I hoped for, in Jacksonville. You know, it’s a Marine town. I kind of wanted to come home and put the roots down, put the roots back down, that I had had when I was a child. And I knew that the culture and the lifestyle of Philadelphia was a rich culture, and that I had connections to, and that I wanted to re-establish.
BROWN: Eat some real maple syrup again.
BROWNE: Absolutely, absolutely. But better for the experience of understanding what it’s like on the ship. So, knowing both sides of the coin.
BROWN: And you wanted to get your master’s degree, which is hard to do as an active-duty, enlisted personnel.
BROWNE: Absolutely, and I knew that Villanova was in my future. I was focused on using my G.I. Bill at Villanova because I earned a G.I. Bill while serving on active duty. And I was, fortunately, able to pay for the master’s I’m going to get in May. I began looking for a job while I was still deployed, and I connected with a group called the Greater Philadelphia Veterans Network. Mr. Alex Archawski is the head of that. I connected with this group, and when I got home, ultimately, they connected me with a mentor who was assigned to me in navigating the transition between active duty and civilian employment. So, I spoke to this mentor. He said to me, he said, “Hey, what do you want to do?” I said I wanted to work for the Navy as a government civilian, but that’s too hard to do because of the red tape and the bureaucracy. I can’t do that. He said, “Don’t sell yourself short. I think you have a lot of experience that is worthwhile. And I think you could bring a lot to the government. I know some people, let me see if I can make some phone calls. But in the meantime, continue your job search elsewhere.” And I was fortunate with the network that I connected and that my family has. I was able to get a lot of irons in the fire very quickly and soon had job offers. I actually turned down one job offer very quicky in my search because I knew it wasn’t what I wanted. My dad actually was upset with me because I turned it down so quickly, but I knew what I wanted. So, my mentor, Juan Dominguez, who now works for Comcast. He got me involved in something called “Take a Vet to Work Day.” And there was a uniformed Navy supply officer, Andre Sudowski. At the time Lt. Commander Sudowski, who brought me to Naval Supply Systems Command, weapons systems support, for “Take a Vet to Work” Day. I met, at that time, Captain John Titus, who’s also with Comcast today. But at the time, he was on active duty prior to leaving active service. I met him while he was still in uniform and introduced myself. I gave him the rundown. The person he saw sitting in front of him was still a Marine, but an energetic jobseeker with a ton of enthusiasm for the Navy and Marine Corps. And I think he helped me to score some resume help. And ultimately, job help, landing a position as a logistics management specialist. GS-7911, with what is Naval Supplies Systems Command Weapons Systems Support. GS-7 for a year, GS-9 for a year, and GS-11 on the promotion scale. So, I was just so tremendously fortunate. I took that job on September 24, 2012. I bought a house in March of 2013 in the East Falls neighborhood of Philadelphia. My transition into NAVSEA-CWSS was just absolutely spectacular. I had a team leader assigned to me. He sat right behind me, and trained me how to be a logistics management specialist with the Navy, buying and managing parts for the H-60 helicopter, that I had land on top of me as a combat cargo lance corporal aboard the U.S.S. Kearsarge. So, I had an intimate familiarity with this helicopter after having it a couple feet above my head on the Kearsarge.
BROWNE: So, it was just spectacular. Brian Palko was such a mentor. Bill Bartmann was also in that team. Bill Atkinson, these were all the people that ultimately were in my wedding. So, I’m going to get to that point now because I think you’re going to ask how that developed. So, I was with my friends and living life as a single guy, and it was terrific. But I still wanted to meet somebody. And fortunate for me, I found a group called Team Red, White, and Blue, a veterans group association committed to enriching the lives of America’s veterans through physical and social activity. And they put me on the street in Philadelphia for a circuit course we did with United Fitness and the Be Well Philly section of the Philadelphia Inquirer. This circuit course ran throughout the city, and we did pushups and sit-ups at Rittenhouse Square and at the Logan Fountain, at the art museum steps. And it was a great experience, but that was my first event with Team Red, White, and Blue. And that afternoon I met Army captain Lara Gibbons who was, at that time, transitioning off active duty herself, and not sure if she was going to join the reserves or not, but thinking she was going to get out of the Army. And I met Lara and knew right away that this girl was special. It was amazing.
BROWN: Even though she’s in the Army.
BROWNE: Even though she was in the Army. She’s an Army nurse; she’s an athlete, and she went to the University of Scranton, a Catholic Jesuit institution. So, it’s been so funny in my relationship with Lara as we got to know each other because we quickly realized all the points of departure we have. She went to a Jesuit institution; I am a proud Augustinian fan here at Villanova. And she is a Giants and Mets fan; I’m a Philly’s Eagles fan. She’s in the Army; I’m in the Marine Corps. She’s on the officer’s side, I’m on the enlisted side. It’s terrific, but we also looked at all the points of connection. Catholicism, service, health and wellness, athleticism, sport. It was very special. I proposed to Lara in Central Park during Fleet Week, May 22 of 2015. I put my uniform on that afternoon and went out to dinner with my brother and sister-in-law. Then, during Fleet Week, we toured the ships in Manhattan and really enjoyed the opportunity to see Manhattan in uniform. We got married on June 11th, 2016. Six-11-16. So, our little palindrome of a wedding date, which was terrific. We had a terrific bridal party. I mentioned my friends from NAVSEA-CWSS who were at my wedding. It’s just terrific, absolutely amazing how my service background is connected with my now family background. Lara is the middle of five children. She is one of three Army officers in her family. And at our wedding, we had a sword arch, and that sword arch consisted of my friends from Old Dominion and Lara’s two brothers and one of her friends from her time stationed in Germany. So, we had Marine Corps and an Army sword arch.
BROWN: That’s fantastic.
BROWNE: It was spectacular. The senior non-commissioned officer in charge of my sword arch was Sgt. Major Charles Williams, who watched me self-destruct at OCS and then watched me rise from the ashes, deploy four times, and marry the woman of my dreams. And was right there with me. Today he is the Sgt. Major of Marine Corps Installations Command down at the Pentagon, and still a tremendous friend. I just – to me and my service – and in my time in the military, these interpersonal relationships and friendships have just been so powerful and I’m happy that I’m able to have the opportunity to say their names on this podcast so that they can be honored, and I can honor their impact on me as a veteran, an American, and a friend.
BROWN: Right, and so what I hear you saying is that you’ve done a lot of the work, but without their assistance at times, their guidance at times, without their shoulder to lean on at times, you wouldn’t be here today potentially.
BROWNE: Absolutely not, I couldn’t have done it by myself. I don’t think any of us can do anything alone, truly. The interpersonal dynamics of military service – life in general – it’s relationships and relationship management. And leadership. To be a leader, you have to be effective at forming and maintaining relationships, genuine relationships. You have to care about your Marines. You have to care about your fellow teammates on a travel soccer team that – Lara’s on a travel soccer team of 30+ years old. She still enjoys it. She played soccer at the University of Scranton and that’s funny to see how your military service, your athletic background – I was a swimmer at Radnor and I’m proud of that background. It’s all tied together. In leadership, being a good teammate, being a good friend, being a good student. [laughs]
BROWN: Yeah. Before we get to Villanova, I want to go back to one quick thing. You met your wife. Talk to me now about what it’s like to be a husband and a dad.
BROWNE: Yeah, so, I mean, marrying Lara was the woman of my dreams. She’s just spectacular. We, again, bonded over that service connection. But then when we had Caroline at Lankenau Hospital, it’s just a whole other level. Because now the two of you are responsible for a young, totally helpless child that’s reliant on you for everything. But Caroline is the most beautiful, cute, energetic, happy reflection of Lara and I. She has our eyes; she has my hair – platinum blonde – and just effervescent. And just the joy and dream of both Lara and I.
BROWN: Sure, so I take it you’re very proud.
BROWNE: Oh my gosh, I miss her when I’m not with her.
BROWN: Right, no, I hear that. I can relate. So, talk to me about Villanova. What’s it mean to you from a big scale, but also you’re a student here about to graduate from Villanova. Your wife here is a student about to graduate from Villanova. What’s that mean to you and your family?
BROWNE: Villanova clearly has an intense, personal connection to me and my family. And that’s all very deep. But also, there’s the military connection that Villanova historically has. General Pete X. Kelly was Commandant of the Marine Corps, and he graduate from Villanova University. He was Commandant of the Marine Corps during the Beirut bombing. And I know that history. I know the history of General Zinni. I know the history of Admiral Fox Fallon. And I appreciate that so tremendously because of my allegiance to what I call, the blue-green team, which is the Navy and Marine Corps. I’m not leaving out the Army, per se. I guess I kind of am, but I appreciate the Army and the Air Force, and the Coast Guard. But my identity, Pete Browne, is blue-green, Army-Navy. And I’ve always appreciated that. I participated in military excellence competitions while I was a student and midshipman at Old Dominion. We came up here to Villanova to partake in the … And we actually had like a pasta party, or a hoagie – a ten-foot Wawa hoagie, that we would have at my house. And we’d bring the whole unit of Old Dominion’s NROTC to Newtown Square and break bread together after competing. And it was just amazing to have Navy Seals and former members of the White House Communications Agency like, in the house in Newtown Square. We don’t have a uniformed presence in Radnor, specifically, but to bring the military to Radnor and expose my family and my community to uniformed service members is just an amazing experience. And I knew after establishing myself, buying a house, that I wanted to begin grad school. I actually started grad school here in August 2014, the same month I met Lara. So, I have been with Lara now through dating, engagement, marriage, the birth of our first child, and the entire time, I have been studying and in grad school. So, it’s been a long journey. I took my time; I focused on my political science master’s degree, and I also achieved and earned a certificate in non-profit management. The certificate in non-profit management is near and dear to my heart because of my involvement with the Greater Philadelphia Veterans Network and Team Red, White, and Blue.
BROWN: Sure. Well, I appreciate you coming on here today, telling us your story. And being a part of the bigger Voices of Villanova’s Veterans. I think it means a lot. I’d love to have your wife sit across from me; I’d love to have your father come sit across from me. For your mother’s cousin come sit across from me. To have all those folks be a part of it because I think there’s value in telling those stories. You don’t often have a lot of time to do this in a regular sitting. You know, we’re not sitting in a coffee shop, sitting and talking about your life and military service. Usually we have things to do, but this is great to be able to do this in a controlled environment and hear your stories. Is there anything else you want to add, before we part ways, that you think the audience would like to hear?
BROWNE: Mike, I want to say thank you very much to you and to what you’re doing to stamp this up in veterans’ affairs and in veterans’ familiarity at Villanova. I really appreciate it and look forward to continuing my involvement and my family’s involvement in Villanova’s Veterans’ Affairs. Nova Nation!
BROWN: That’s right. Well, thanks much, Pete. I appreciate it. And that’s it – that’s a wrap.
BROWN (OUTRO): That concludes this installment of the Voices of Villanova’s Veterans, a joint project of the Villanova University Office of Veterans and Military Service Members, and Falvey Memorial Library’s Distinctive Collections and Digital Engagement Departments. Thank you for listening. For more information and to listen to more interviews, please visit us online at veteransvoices.library.villanova.edu.
 The Bronze Star Medal with the “V” device to denote heroism is the fourth highest military decoration for valor.
 Unknown phrase. Best guess: Walt Katuzny.
 Unknown phrase. Best guess: Major Felin.
 Mustang: a military slang term used in the United States Armed Forces to refer to a commissioned officer who began his or her career as an enlisted service member prior to commissioning.
 PFC: Private First Class.
 At Parris Island, the yellow prints appeared in a recruiting film dated 1965, showing the footprints on Panama Street in front of the receiving building. According to the National Museum of the Marine Corps, they are there to assist new recruits in placing their feet in the correct position for formation.
 ASVAB: a standardized test that reveals areas of strength and ability in science, math, and language. Taking the test is one of the first steps before you enlist.
 Sergeant Major Gilbert “Hashmark” Johnson was one of the first African Americans to enlist in the United States Marine Corps and one of the first African American drill instructors in the Marine Corps. Johnson was known as “Hashmark” because he had more service stripes than rank stripes.
 Unknown phrase. Best guess: Sam Addison.
 Operation Infinite Moonlight: the U.S. and Jordan began a three-week series of military exercises in June and July code-named “Infinite Moonlight ’96,” one part of a series of joint U.S. and Arab military exercises conducted throughout the region by troops from the United States Central Command. Exercise Infinite Moonlight ’96 was a combined exercise between the 13th MEU(SOC) and Jordanian armed forces.
 U.S. Air Force pilot Scott O’Grady was shot down over war-torn Bosnia and survived by hiding alone in the woods for seven days in June of 1995 before being saved by American forces.
 Advance party: a group sent ahead of a military force to perform reconnaissance.
 On October 23, 1983, two truck bombs struck buildings in Beirut, Lebanon, housing American and French service members of the Multinational Force in Lebanon, a military peacekeeping operation during the Lebanese Civil War.
 Anthony Charles Zinni was a former United States Marine Corps general and a former Commander in Chief of the United States Central Command. From 2001 to 2003, he served as a special envoy for the United States to Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
 William Joseph Fallon is a retired United States Navy four-star admiral who retired after serving for over 41 years. His last military assignment was as Commander, U.S. Central Command from March 2007 to March 2008. ADM Fallon was the first Navy officer to hold that position.
 Unknown phrase. Best guess: MECK.