Coast Guard's First Black Admiral: Erroll M. Brown Breaks 207-Year Barrier

By Bates, Bryna L. | Ebony, August 1998 | Go to article overview

Coast Guard's First Black Admiral: Erroll M. Brown Breaks 207-Year Barrier


Bates, Bryna L., Ebony


Erroll M. Brown Breaks 207--Year Barrier

THE seed was planted. The three-by-five postcard mailed to Erroll Brown nearly 30 years ago has blossomed. In 1968, Brown, then only a high school senior, went to his mailbox in St. Petersburg, Fla., totally unaware that this particular day would be his first step to becoming the first African-American admiral in the United States Coast Guard. What began as a financial means for a college education ended up as a historical moment.

"I was in high school," Admiral Brown says. "I came home one day and the card was in the box, and it basically said, `If you think you might be interest-career in a career in the Coast Guard, please provide us ...' and it asked you to check this box and give it to your guidance counselor so your grades could be mailed in. So I talked with my father about it, and he thought that the military provided some good opportunities."

Indeed, it did. Over the past 30 years, Admiral Brown, an engineer who holds four graduate degrees, has risen through the ranks to become the first Black flag officer in the Coast Guard in its 207-year history. Stationed at Maintenance and Logistics Command Atlantic in Norfolk, Va., he is responsible for the entire East Coast activity of the U.S. Coast Guard.

"As admiral," he says, "I am responsible for about 22,000 military and civilians. We take a lot of pride in making sure that the Coast Guard is ready and capable to perform its operations anytime, anyplace. And a key part of that is support. We provide the support to enable the Coast Guard to operate and perform its missions."

On a normal day, Admiral Brown's duties include supervising a staff that responds to casualties, repairs broken equipment, helps ships with operational problems and oversees preventive maintenance.

"We're ready to respond to all of those things at any time," says Admiral Brown. "And that fills up your day, trying to accomplish personal issues, family issues, pay issues, operational issues, support and preventive type of issues."

As a youth in St. Petersburg, Admiral Brown, who assumed his flag rank in June, had no idea that he would one day hold one of the top leadership positions in the military. Although he grew up during the Civil Rights Movement, he says he was not very aware of what was really going on in the '60s. "Frankly," he says, "I was not fully aware of some of the issues and their significance and impact. "When you're 13, 14, and 15, your world is about five or six blocks big."

Today at 47, his world has expanded from a few blocks to the entire East Coast, and with his new appointment he has made an impact on the race issue in the armed services. Although the Coast Guard is only 17.6 percent minority, he strongly believes it is liberal in the advancement of minorities. …

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Coast Guard's First Black Admiral: Erroll M. Brown Breaks 207-Year Barrier
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