Editor’s Note: Early print and online versions of this story incorrectly referred to Dale Brownie as an officer. He is an enlisted man. The story below has been corrected.
BANGOR, Maine — Dale Brownie was 17 when he enlisted in the U.S. Air Force during the Vietnam War.
He logged 14 years of active duty all over the globe and then — just like that — left the armed services.
For the next 14 years, Brownie toiled in the private sector, although he wasn’t exactly sitting behind a desk. He spent time as a technician for the Royal Saudi Air Force and working inside the air traffic control tower at Heathrow International Airport in London.
But he always felt something was missing.
“I realized that I really enjoyed the military,” Brownie said. “I didn’t feel complete without it.”
The Compton, Calif., native, who now lives in Stetson and is an enlisted man in the Navy Operational Support Center in Bangor, has become a walking, talking endorsement for military service. There is passion in his stories; pride in his posture; patriotism in his veins.
It’s that type of attitude that recently earned Brownie the honor of Navy Region Mid-Atlantic Reserve Component Command Sailor of the Year for 2009. Next month, he will compete against four other sailors for the distinction of Sailor of the Year for the entire U.S. Navy, an honor that would automatically raise him to the level of chief petty officer.
The 54-year-old Brownie likes his chances.
“It’s not necessarily the volume of things you do. They are looking for leadership. They are looking for someone who sets the right example,” he said recently from his office in Bangor.
Brownie, who joined the Navy Reserve in Bangor in 2003, said there were two things he was most proud of during 2009.
First, during a 70-day tour on the USS Cole, he achieved the rank of warfare systems specialist, which involves a grueling written test and what he called a “murder board” of officers asking psychological questions. To put it in perspective, most officers need a full year to prepare to earn that mark. The shortest time it has ever been done is three months. Brownie set a record.
“They told me when I started that I would have to earn it,” he said with a smile. “But, if you want something bad enough, there is a way to get it done.”
Second, when he was working in a shipyard in Newport News, Va., fellow technicians were ready to scrap a $100,000 piece of electronic equipment because they couldn’t fix it. Brownie took a look, diagnosed the problem and fixed it.
Dustin Smiley, commander of the Navy Operations Support Center in Bangor, said Brownie’s service extends well beyond his drive to succeed personally. He is the command career counselor for the Navy center in Bangor and has extended those services in a statewide capacity
“That’s a real fun part for me,” Brownie said. “Showing these officers a way to succeed and meet their goals is a great way to give back.”
He doesn’t pretend that the personal recognition isn’t a nice validation, “but, it’s not really about me,” he said. “I don’t want to get too political, but things like this are good for the Navy and for the country. When morale is good, work is good.”
Now settled in Maine, Brownie has become involved with the Bangor Band (he plays clarinet and trombone) and co-founded the Stetson Historical Society with his wife, Julie, whom Brownie credits for supporting his military career.
“I couldn’t have done it without her,” he said.
Although, it was Brownie who, 10 years ago, made his best decision. He and Julie met in the 1990s in Saudi Arabia, where she was working at a hospital. When her job ended in 1999, she gave her husband-to-be an ultimatum.
“It was, ‘Meet me in Maine,’ or, ‘Have a nice life,’”