Brown, Erroll M. 1950(?)–
Erroll M. Brown 1950(?)–
Coast Guard officer
Erroll M. Brown is the first African American to hold the flag rank of rear admiral in the United States Coast Guard. A career officer who holds four master’s degrees, he stands at the head of the Maintenance and Logistics Command’s 22,000-strong staff, a smoothly-efficient workforce which is responsible for all Coast Guard activity along the eastern coast of the United States. This huge territory translates into a list of difficult responsibilities.
Although the Coast Guard is probably best known to the public for its rescue missions at sea, it also handles such dangerous matters as law enforcement, protection of the environment, and detection operations aboard incoming ships suspected of carrying drugs. Less well-known to the public is that none of these difficult duties could be performed without assistance from the Virginia-based Maintenance and Logistics Command (MLC). One of two Coast Guard backup organizations for operational units, the MLC provides support in fields ranging from law and medicine to warehousing.
Orchestrating the necessary units is an awesome responsibility for Brown to undertake. However, there is no doubt that he enjoys every aspect of his job. A self-confessed detail man, Brown told Ebony magazine in August of 1998, “We take a lot of pride in making sure that the Coast Guard is ready and capable to perform its operations anytime, anyplace.”
Pride in achievement was something that Brown learned early. His grandfather, a major influence in his life, taught him that success in any part of life demands hard work. Brown took this lesson to heart, and paid close attention to his studies while he was a student at Dixie Collins High School in St. Petersburg, Florida. He worked hard at everything he tried, but he especially enjoyed drafting, an orderly and detailed subject in which success could be charted by progressive steps. After-school activities were less restrained. Brown excelled in football, a sport that he still enjoys.
Although he grew up during the tumultuous civil rights era of the 1960s, racial tension did not penetrate beyond the fringes of Brown’s adolescent world. He did not take offense at the small Confederate flags sewn to the shoulders of his football teammates. Nor did he feel any personal insult when the school band struck up “Dixie,” a tune which is often associated with the Civil War-era Southern states and slavery. Instead, Brown avoided trouble and focused intensely on improving his skills as a foot ball player.
During his senior year, Brown began to ponder his future. He did not consider a career in the military until the day he received a postcard in the mail from the United States Coast Guard. However, the Coast Guard became an attractive option when Brown learned that he could earn a college degree while working in a field he enjoyed. Intrigued by the prospect of a career in the
Born c. 1950; married to Monica Hayes, 1974; children: Elise-Estee, Aaron. Education: Coast Guard Academy, 1972; University of Michigan, M.A., naval architecture and marine engineering; University of Michigan, M.A., industrial and operations engineering; Naval War College, M.A., 1984; Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, M.B.A., 1986.
Career: United States Coast Guard, damage control assistant and assistant engineer officer; maintenance type deck officer, Eleventh Coast Guard District, Naval Engineering Branch; engineer officer aboard a Coast Guard cutter; United States Coast Guard Academy, instructor, marine engineering department; military assistant to the Secretary of Transportation; chief, Budget Division, Office of the Chief of Staff, Coast Guard Head quarters; promoted to rear-admiral, 1998-.
Awards: Legion of Merit, Meritorious Service Medal, Secretary’s Award for Meritorious Achievement; U.S. Coast Guard Commendation Medal, Unit Recommendation, Meritorious Unit Commendation, National Defense Service Medal, Special Operations Ribbon.
Addresses: Office —CG Mlclant, 300 E Main St., Suite 900, Norfolk, VA 23510.
Coast Guard, Brown discussed the matter with his father. Encouraged by his father’s favorable response, he made detailed inquiries about admission requirements for the US Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut.
Following his graduation from high school, Brown was completely convinced that he wanted to join the Coast Guard. He hoped to enter the Academy without delay, but encountered an unexpected obstacle when he reported for the rigorous physical examination required for all new recruits. Despite his trim, athletic body, Brown’s teeth were in such bad shape that “he was almost disqualified for the Academy,” noted Coast Guard Captain Robert Bates, who was then the Academy’s assistant director of admissions. As Bates told the Virginian-Pilot newspaper in March of 1997, “In order to pass, he [Brown] spent six months in a dental chair.”
Perfect health was not the only requirement for admittance into the Academy. A potential candidate had to exhibit leadership ability and, following graduation, each candidate must give five years of service to the Coast Guard. Brown easily fulfilled these requirements, and graduated from the Coast Guard Academy with a bachelor of science degree in marine engineering in 1972.
Along with other new graduates, Brown left the Coast Guard Academy with the rank of ensign. He was then stationed aboard the Coast Guard icebreaker Burton Island, where he worked as damage control assistant and assistant engineer officer. This tour of duty was followed by an appointment as the supervisor of two resident inspection officers in the Small Boat Branch. Brown’s next tour of duty was aboard the Coast Guard cutter Jarvis where, as engineer officer, he was responsible for the running and maintenance of the ship’s engine-room. From here, Brown was sent back to Connecticut, where he served as an instructor in the Coast Guard Academy’s engineering department.
Following his assignment at the Academy, Brown served as executive officer aboard the Coast Guard cutter Rush. This position made excellent use of Brown’s leadership skills, by putting him in charge of all the ship’s personnel, its routine, and the day-to-day administration connected with the vessel’s operations. When his tour of duty ended on the Rush, Brown went on to serve as the military assistant to the Secretary of Transportation. He eventually moved on to the become chief of the Budget Division in the Office of the Chief of Staff at Coast Guard Headquarters.
Despite his career demands, Brown continued his education. Education was a key component to his success. “Education is learning,” Brown stated in Coast Guard magazine in 1998,” and experience is the application.” He went on to earn two master’s degrees from the University of Michigan, one in naval architecture and marine engineering, and the other in industrial and operations engineering. In 1984, Brown earned a master’s degree in national security from the Naval War College. He earned a fourth master’s degree, in business administration, from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 1986.
By the mid-1990s, Brown had been a Coast Guard officer for 30 years. Experienced and highly educated, he was ready for his most demanding assignment yet. In 1997, Brown became the commander of the Coast Guard’s Integrated Support Command (ISC) in Ports-mouth, Virginia. The ISC consists of five divisions, which provide medical and administrative support as well as facilities maintenance, supply assistance, procurement and warehousing for the 23 tenant commands that are hosted by the ISC. Without the ISC, 39 Coast Guard units east of the Rocky Mountains would be unable to function.
Supervising the workload of the 1,500 people employed here required a strong attention to detail, as well as excellent decision-making and administrative capabilities. Brown was amply supplied with all of these attributes, but he did not remain with the ISC for long. In June of 1998, Brown made history by becoming the first African American Coast Guard officer to be promoted to rear admiral.
With the promotion to rear admiral, Brown became one of a select group of persons who earn this rank each year. Although a one-star flag is traditionally raised during the promotion ceremony, Brown modestly decided to forego this mark of esteem. Instead, he preferred to have the POW-MIA flag raised in honor of other military personnel who were less fortunate than himself. As his wife, Monica, and his mother attached the shoulder boards of the rear admiral to his uniform, Brown made a modest speech. “I find myself today standing on the shoulders of giants,” he told the crowd of onlookers. “I am truly blessed and grateful to all before me who have labored and suffered.”
Two days later, Brown took command of the Coast Guard Maintenance and Logistics Command Atlantic in Norfolk, a service which was commissioned in July of 1987. He is the commander of almost 22,000 people who belong to both the civilian and military worlds. Brown heads a command that provides fundamental assistance to Coast Guard units stationed in 40 states on the U.S. mainland, as well as others in Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Europe. Whether these commands need help with electronics, naval and civil engineering, personnel management, or legal support and administration, Brown and the Maintenance and Logistics Command Atlantic stands ready to provide it.
Ebony, August 1998, p. 68.
St. Petersburg Times, October 23, 1997, p. 6.
Virginian-Pilot, March 7, 1997, Portsmouth Currents, p. 6.
Additional information for this profile was obtained from “African-Americans in the United States Coast Guard,” at http://www.uscg.uscg.mil/hq/g-cp/history/h_Africanamericans.html; and from the US Coast Guard Fifth District Public Affairs, “The Making of a USCG Admiral,” at http://www.uscg.mil/reserve/magazine/magl998jul1998/adm.html.
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