By David Lias
State Sen. Corey Brown urged the latest crop of graduates from the University of South Dakota to use all of their talents and the tools they’ve acquired during their time at USD to forge a bright future.
Following more than a decade of military service in the United States Navy, Brown returned to his hometown of Gettysburg with his wife, Karen, and their four children: Reagan, Harrison, Madison and Kennedy.
While in the Navy, Brown logged more than 2,500 hours of aircraft commander and instructor pilot time. He completed three deployments to the Middle East, two of which were in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and he has flown both the S-3B Viking and the E-6B Mercury during his military career.
Brown was awarded two Air Medals and two Navy/Marine Corp Commendation Medals for his outstanding service, which includes 318 carrier landings during two deployments aboard the USS Constellation.
And, he almost flunked out of flight school.
“Academics came very easily to me. When I went to ground school, which is basically the book portion where they teach you how to fly, I nearly aced it – there were very few things that I missed,” Brown said. “And I thought, ‘this is going to go very well.’ And then came the practical part.
“I struggled throughout my entire time during flight school learning how to fly. There are some guys to which that just comes naturally to them; there are other folks in which it takes a lot of work,” he said, “and I was one of those guys where it took a lot of work.”
During the last month of his training, he had to complete one more flight.
“I went out on that flight, and I got a ‘pink slip’ – basically I had flunked the flight, and I was on my last straw, so to speak,” he said.
Brown said his commanding officer told him, “I don’t know that you’re going to get your wings when graduation happens next week.”
Brown said he phoned his folks and his girlfriend at the time (today she’s his wife) and told them not to make the trip to Mississippi for his graduation exercises.
“The morning of graduation, I was basically sitting among classmates, just as you are,” he told the university graduates, “and I didn’t know if I was going to get my wings. But my wife did show, and my parents showed up, and, lo and behold, I ended up graduating and getting my wings.”
Following the ceremony, a supervisor told Brown that he obviously understood the ‘book part’ of his training very well. The supervisor added that he had a lot of work to do to master the motor skills to fly, but, he said, “The one thing that I like is that you’ve got good judgment, and that judgment will carry you a lot further than any of the motor skills that you can have.”
Brown was assigned to his first squadron, which soon deployed off of the aircraft carrier USS Constellation.
During his first practice flight from the carrier, conditions were ugly, he said.
“You would not believe that an aircraft carrier can move as much as it can,” Brown said. “When it hits the waves just right, it was moving up and down at least 12 to 15 feet, and I was a little nervous.”
Landing a jet aircraft on a pitching carrier, he discovered, can be quite challenging.
“I went to come down, and I missed, and I had to go around,” Brown said. “That’s not necessarily atypical; that happens every once in a while. So we went around for a second time, and missed.”
He also missed during his third and fourth attempts, and finally landed his aircraft on the deck during his fifth attempt.
“All I wanted to do at that point was go crawl in my room and not talk to anyone, but unfortunately, that’s not the way it works,” Brown said. “After every landing you have on a carrier, you get graded.
“All of a sudden, the captain of the ship came marching into the room, and he said, ‘Son, do you know how much you cost the taxpayers today? One hundred thousand dollars in extra fuel, just so we could get you on board. Don’t let it happen again.’”
Brown said as he was experiencing one of his lowest points in quest to become a military pilot, and was filled with increasing self-doubt about his abilities, the training pilot who accompanied him on his flight also took a moment to speak with him.
He said, “Put down the books; do what you were trained to do, and handle it that way, and don’t be so tense about it.”
Three weeks later, on his next training flight, Brown nailed the carrier landing.
“In fact, once I decided to just use the tools that I had been given,” he said, “I ended up that three week period being the top nugget on the ship.
“Class of 2013, today is the day for you to put down your books. The point is that the answer isn’t always in those books, but your time here has taught you to use as many of the new tools that you’ve received to move forward in life and be successful,” Brown said. “If I can tell you anything, maybe you can learn that quicker than I could. Today, put down the books, and go on a new life.”
Following his service in the military, Brown took on the role of executive director of the Gettysburg/Whitlock Bay Development Corporation where he assists new and expanding businesses in the region. He is currently an agent for his family’s insurance business. A University of Notre Dame graduate with a degree in government and international relations, Brown received a Master of Arts degree in international relations at the University of San Diego.
He has been a member of the South Dakota Senate since 2008, and is serving his third term as the president pro tem of the Senate where he represents the counties of Campbell, Edmunds, Faulk, Hand, McPherson, Potter, Spink and Walworth. Brown has also served as chairman of the appropriations committee and assistant majority leader.