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Direction, Discipline, Determination: The Story of Carl Brashear
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Master Chief Petty Officer Carl Brashear (center), the Navy's first African-American diver, received an Outstanding Public Service Award in October 2000 from actor Cuba Gooding Jr. and then-Defense Secretary William Cohen for 42 years of combined military and federal civilian service. Mr. Gooding portrayed Master Chief Brashear in the 2000 film "Men of Honor." (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Scott Ash)
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Direction, Discipline, Determination: The Story of Carl Brashear

Posted 2/21/2007   Updated 2/24/2007 Email story   Print story


Commentary by Capt. Shuan Pringle
50th Operations Support Squadron

2/21/2007 - SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- There are many people who come to mind when I think of African-American role models. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Harriet Tubman and George Washington Carver are just a few of the more prominent individuals. 

Role models come in all shapes and sizes, from every race, and from many different backgrounds. They embody a variety of attributes that make them stand out from the rest. 

Three attributes that come to mind when I think of a role model are direction, discipline and determination. I found these three attributes in Master Chief Petty Officer Carl Brashear. 


Master Chief Petty Officer Carl Brashear was born to a sharecropper family in Kentucky Jan. 19, 1931. He enlisted in the U.S. Navy at age 17. 

Although the Navy had been officially desegregated, Master Chief Brashear still faced the challenges of racism. During that era, African-Americans were normally confined to the galley. 

Despite this, Master Chief Brashear decided to become a deep-sea diver. He graduated from diving school and became a U.S. Navy diver in 1954. His dreams however, did not stop there. He wanted to go as far as his abilities would take him -- he wanted to become a master diver. 

All leaders and role models have this innate sense of where they want to go and what it will take to get there. They are driven by an irresistible urge to achieve their goals and arrive at their destination at whatever the cost. This attribute is contagious among those who want to achieve their fullest potential and motivation for those who have not yet started their journey. Master Chief Brashear embodied this trait to the fullest. 


In 1966, two Air Force planes collided during a refueling mission, accidentally releasing a hydrogen bomb into the waters near the coast of Spain. The Navy was called in to search for and recover the bomb. A towing line broke loose during the mission, causing a pipe to strike -- and nearly shear off -- Master Chief Brashear's left leg. He was taken to the Naval Hospital in Portsmouth, Va., where doctors eventually amputated his leg due to persistent infections. 

In March 1968, nearly two years after his accident, Master Chief Brashear had made his way to the Harbor Clearance Unit Two Diving School, preparing to return to full active duty and diving. He would later recount his time of rehabilitation: 

"Sometimes I would come back from a run, and my artificial leg would have a puddle of blood from my stump," he said. "I wouldn't go to sickbay. In that year, if I had gone to sickbay, they would have written me up. I didn't go to sickbay; I'd go somewhere and hide and soak my leg in a bucket of hot water with salt in it -- an old remedy. Then I'd get up the next morning and run." 

It is the daily plotting, the discipline -- one day after the next -- that all role models posses. They do the necessary things day in and day out despite how they feel or how much pain they are in to reach their goals. 

It is during my own moments of personal difficulty that I often reflect on stories like Master Chief Brashear's. They give me the inspiration I need to persevere no matter what. 


In April 1968, Carl Brashear became the first amputee to be a certified diver. Two years later, he became the first African-American U.S Navy master diver. He served 10 more years, exemplifying determination to the highest degree, and became an inspiration to amputees everywhere. 

He never gave up. That type of determination is indispensable. Master Chief Brashear taught us all that with the right level of determination we can overcome just about any obstacle. 

Master Chief Brashear died July 25, 2006, of respiratory and heart failure at the Portsmouth Naval Medical Center, Va. People who knew him described him as a mentor and "the best of the best of what was truly American." Others who did not know him personally might call him a hero, an example or an inspiration. 

I call him a role model.

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