TAJI MILITARY COMPLEX, IRAQ –
U.S. Army Reserve Staff Sgt. Thomas Browne was 7 years old when the rebels killed his father.
His was a large family and they lived in a rural area of Liberia, Africa. There was his mother, Patricia Wahblo, six sisters and more than a dozen nieces and nephews. His father, Col. Hehezekiah Browne, supported the family through his job as a colonel in the Liberian Army and head of the presidential secret service.
Browne spent his youth at school and playing with his friends. He took part in track and field sports, but loved soccer and became good at it. Sometimes his father would join him in a game.
“My childhood was good up until the civil war happened,” he said
Browne’s life since then has taken him across the Atlantic Ocean twice. Once when his family were able to emigrate to America from a refugee camp and the second time came last year when he deployed with the Army Reserve to serve in Operation Inherent Resolve at Taji, Iraq.
His long journey, in many ways, started with his father.
“I think of the past occasionally,” he said. “Sometimes you get angry and don’t understand why it happened. Sometimes I try to block it out.”
Col. Browne was a disciplinarian but worked hard to provide for their extended family. He was often gone for work, but his presence remained for the children in the priorities he set for them. They knew how important it was to him that they did well at school and learned their lessons.
“He was a go-getter,” Browne said. “Education was his biggest push.”
The unrest began in 1989, breaking out in open warfare that December. The Browne family fled their home and moved to a border community called Gulley Town. Col. Browne, however, remained at his post, helping guard the Liberian president.
In 1990, the rebels ambushed the president and his guards. The president was tortured and murdered. There were no known survivors.
The Browne family fled the war and crossed into the Ivory Coast, then later moved to Ghana, where they settled into a refugee camp. There, they suffered with their fellow immigrants. Food shortages and water rationing were facts of life while disease was common.
“There were days when you only got one thing to eat,” he said.
Then-U.S. President George Bush sent the U.S. Army and U.S. Marines in to bring some stability to the region and assisted the evacuation of refugees. The American service members made an impression on Browne even as some of his family managed to emigrate to the states.
His older sister, who made it to Philadelphia under an asylum program, was able to bring the rest of the family over in 2000. They lived in there first, then later Browne moved to Johnson City, Tennessee.
As he grew up, he decided he wanted to become a voice for the helpless. He sought and received an internship with the Johnson City Police Department. It would be the start of his civilian law enforcement career.
“It’s in my DNA,” he said. “I love to serve. I think it’s my calling … when I don’t do it, I’m not doing what I was put here on this earth to do.”
And to further add to his work, he married in 2007 and five years later joined the U.S. Army Reserve. Through the military, he earned his U.S. citizenship in 2013 and through his wife, had two sons and one daughter. They moved their family to South Carolina the year after he became an American.
Browne said his wife supports his chosen careers – both as a police officer and Soldier – even with their inherent risks.
“She still worries occasionally, but she knows … God is in control of everything,”
Thirty years after his father’s murder, armed conflicts remain a part of his life.
His unit, the 207th Regional Support Group based in Fort Jackson, South Carolina, now serves as the Base Operation Support Integrator for several locations throughout Iraq. It provides life support and other necessary functions for Coalition Forces and civilians at the bases – thereby making the mission of defeating Daesh extremists possible.
U.S. Army Sgt. Maj. Thomas White, who is the lead NCO at Taji Military Complex, said Browne is doing an outstanding job and works well with his peers and customers. He said Browne’s life story is inspirational.
“It could have gone a lot of different ways,” White said. “He’s giving back. He’s paying forward. I think that’s a great thing.”
As the billeting NCO, Browne spends his time supervising the housing and laundry services for Taji. It’s a job filled with challenges, issues and effort, although it has not gone unnoticed. He recently earned promotion to his current rank.
When not conducting billet inspections, safety inspections and health and welfare inspections, he is filling out reports. Browne also enforces housing policies across the complex and supervises the laundry contractors serving Coalition Forces.
He said he doesn’t mind the constant work.
“It’s an honor,” Browne said while sitting at a desk surrounded by notes and whiteboards covered with housing stats. “This right here cannot compare to anything else.”
After his deployment is completed, he plans to travel back to Liberia. His father’s body was never recovered and Browne wants to find it with the help of family members who still live there. Even if he cannot locate it, he wants to have a headstone made for him.
Those are plans for the future. For the present, Browne is enjoying his chance to serve his adopted country. He said even if he never becomes a millionaire, this experience will make up for it.
“I think this is my moment to forever cherish,” he said. “I don’t think there’s anything greater than this.”