Mental strength leads Airman through tough times

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Jordyn Fetter
  • 35th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
(This feature is part of the "Through Airmen's Eyes" series. These stories focus on individual Airmen, highlighting their Air Force story.)

Surviving an unstable upbringing in Pittsburgh, she never expected to be grabbing onto the Eiffel Tower in Paris at age 21. What started as watching scenes of this historic landmark in movies led her to envision a life beyond her childhood confinement. This was it, the height of her bucket list.

"I guess my bucket list needs to get longer," said Senior Airman Augustine Thompson-Brown, a 35th Medical Operations Squadron mental health technician.

Thompson-Brown's childhood perpetuated dreams of something far beyond her life in Pittsburgh.

"I spent most of my life homeless," she said. "Both of my parents were drug addicts and we moved around a lot. We'd sleep outside, in abandoned houses and sometimes stayed with family when they were feeling compassionate."

Thompson-Brown had a limited perspective about the world until she joined the Air Force at age 18 and moved on from the challenges she grew up with.

"You don't realize how limited your perspective is when you're in these small cultural bubbles," she said. "I didn't realize there was this whole world out there."

After permanently leaving her biological parents at age 7, she stayed in foster care until she was adopted at age 12.

"My great-aunt was able to adopt me, but not my brothers," she said.

Despite losing connection with her brothers, Thompson-Brown said she was relieved to move into her adopted mother's home.

"I was finally able to celebrate Christmas, birthdays and other holidays," she said. "I had my own room and was able to collect assignments I got A's on and certificates."

Things changed when she began dating someone during her senior year of high school.

"When my adopted mother found out my boyfriend was white, it caused a lot of animosity between the two of us," she said. "Her opinions came from growing up in a segregated South Carolina in the 1940s."

Although Thompson-Brown understood her adopted mother's past and views, she disagreed and the two stopped talking.

"Because we had opposing views, the subject turned out to be a bigger issue than it should have been," she said.

As tensions rose, she was inspired to join the Marine Corps by a recruiting video and from being part of Navy junior ROTC.

While going through the Delayed Entry Program, the issue with her mother steadily got worse.

"It went from not talking to having to pay rent to live with her," she said. "Soon after that, she told me I would have to move out when I turned 18."

Unfortunately, Thompson-Brown's 18th birthday came in April, two months before high school graduation. This meant she had a few months to figure out where to stay in order to graduate.

"About one month before my birthday I came home and there were moving boxes on my bed," she said. "It came as a surprise because she hadn't mentioned it for a few months."

Not letting the severity of the situation faze her, she was determined to move forward without question.

"I went into game plan mode to figure out where to stay and what to take with me," she said. "I tried not to be overly upset so my adopted sisters didn't have to feel affected by it."

While searching for a solution, a teacher offered Thompson-Brown a place to stay until she graduated high school.

"I stayed there until I was supposed to ship out, but two weeks before I was supposed to leave I found out my departure date was wrong," she said.

When Thompson-Brown discovered the information was inaccurate, she began searching for other falsities communicated to her.

"If I was living at home, it wouldn't have been as big of a deal," she said. "I told him it needed to be straightened out, but he told me I couldn't do anything because I was homeless; I told him I would join the Air Force."

The recruiter tried to persuade her otherwise, she said, by threatening to hold her name in the Marine Corps DEP a year from when she initially joined to prevent her from joining another military branch.

"The teacher I was staying with told me if I wasn't joining the Marines and didn't have a backup plan, I couldn't stay there," she said.

Despite the challenges, Thompson-Brown resolved to continue with her plan to join the Air Force and moved out of her teacher's home. In the following six months, she moved about 18 times with only two suitcases filled with clothes and $20.

"Everything I collected over the years was gone," she said. "Even now I don't have my high school diploma or family photos."

About four months after deciding to join the Air Force, she received mail from her mother's home.

"One piece of mail said I had been released from the DEP three months before," she said. "I waited three months for no reason."

She immediately began the Air Force enlisting process and left for basic military training three months later.

To make it through this difficult time, Thompson-Brown said she didn't once think she would fail. It wasn't an option to her.

"I've never been one to let other people tell me I can't do something," she said. "If you tell me I am incapable of doing something, then that's exactly what I'm going to do."

Her outlook on life is encompassed by a quote from actor Will Smith that says, "I'm not afraid to die on a treadmill.”

"It basically means if the two of us are running on treadmills, either I will die or you are going to get off first," she said. "No one is more motivated or committed than you are. When that becomes your life, that's how you approach everything."

Even as a child, Thompson-Brown's biological mother told her she was never stuck in one situation because she is her only obstacle.

"Thompson-Brown is destined for greatness and that allowed her to bounce back," said Tech. Sgt. Jerome Selman, the NCO in charge of alcohol and drug abuse prevention and treatment for the 35th MDOS. "Her back was against the wall, but she made options. Resiliency is an understatement."

She is now working toward her bachelor's degree with the goal of becoming an Air Force judge advocate and working with the Special Victims' Counsel to provide legal assistance to victims of sexual assault.

"To go from having nothing at all, to hanging off the Eiffel Tower in Paris, that's a huge leap to do on my own," Thompson-Brown said. "No one can tell me I can't do something."