By T. Anthony Bell, Fort Lee Public Affairs
FORT LEE, Va. – A former enlisted Soldier, dependent spouse, mother of a teenage son and current CASCOM company commander is one of three women who are the subjects of a Lifetime channel documentary featuring appearances by First Lady Michelle Obama and Second Lady Dr. Jill Biden.
The Soldier, Capt. Rolona Brown, commander, Echo Company, 266th Quartermaster Battalion, will appear in the show “Women of Honor,” a Veterans Day tribute celebrating women who represent “the thousands of veterans, spouses, caregivers and countless others who have given so much” for the nation, according to a release.
“Jill and I are really excited about this conversation and we’re excited that Lifetime is putting the spotlight on these amazing women,” said the first lady in the release.
Scheduled to air Nov. 9 at 9 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, the show profiles the women and features face-to-face conversations with Obama and Biden at the White House. In addition to Brown – a quartermaster assigned to Joint Base Langley-Eustis – the show highlights the experiences of Kathleen Causey, wife and caretaker to a wounded warrior; and Jennifer Madden, a former Soldier afflicted with PTSD.
Brown, who commands an advanced individual training unit, said the experience of being a guest at the presidential residence and holding conversations with the wives of the president and vice president went way beyond her expectations.
“It was surreal; it was really surreal,” she said, “because I was inside the White House looking out of a window at the spot outside of the gates where I stood as a tourist.”
The conversations at the White House with Obama and Biden was filmed during this year’s Mother’s Day Tea honoring 180 military-affiliated moms who included service members, spouses and caregivers of wounded warriors. Brown was invited to the gathering after she was profiled for what she thought was an unrelated event – a Lifetime documentary about women in uniform. During filming that took place at JBLE and her home, a producer handed her a computer tablet with a message from Obama and Biden inviting her to the first residence. Her response was emotional to say the least.
“Ahhhhh!” she remembered screaming while jumping around in her kitchen. “Who gets invited to the White House by the first lady and Dr. Biden … for tea, no less? Me,” she said, answering her own question, “the little girl from High Point (N.C.)”
Even moments prior to the tea, Brown had no idea she would appear with the first lady in the documentary. “When I got there, we did a sit-down before the tea started with her and Dr. Biden, and we had a conversation about families – kind of a ‘How did I get here?’ discussion,” said Brown.
Brown got there by way of the furniture-producing hub of High Point, a small city located in north central North Carolina. She is a product of public housing and joined the Army as an administrative specialist at the age of18, eventually fulfilling a three-year contract. She later married, embarked on a career in sales and marketing, then enlisted as a health care specialist in 2002 after a 13-year break.
“It was post 9/11, but it was something that struck me to the core,” she said. “I wanted to do something that had some meaning. I wanted to feel like I was making a contribution.” Among many, she counts Lt. Col. Sonny Gray, a cousin, and deceased Col. Brian D. Allgood, a former commander, as two of her biggest inspirations. Brown went on to earn her commission in 2008.
While serving with the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment at Fort Hood, Texas, prior to her current assignment, Brown said she had every indication her next tour would be with a deployable unit. When it didn’t happen, she said there was some anxiety in taking the helm of an AIT company. “I knew there would be long hours because the students are at school all day, but I didn’t know what to expect because I had never been in a school environment.”
A few weeks into her command, her concerns dissipated and Brown embraced her role as a major component in the mission to develop Soldiers.
“It’s been a labor of love,” she said. “That’s what propels you through those long days because I’m their last stop in the process of becoming a Soldier. When the Soldiers complete their MOS training, they’re going out to the operational force to make their own contributions. Not only do I get to facilitate that, but I get to be a part of this new generation of Soldiers. I get to expose my leadership example to each and every one.”
Lt. Col. Scott B. Kindberg, Brown’s commander, said it is apparent why Lifetime producers thought she could represent the thousands of women serving in today’s armed forces.
“Balancing the demands of company command, and the road she took to get here, she made it and still makes it look easy,” said the commander of the 266th QM Bn., 23rd QM Brigade. “As a single mom, company commander, prior enlisted NCO who had a break in service, and with her not being of typical age for a captain, why would you not pick Capt. Brown to represent our battalion, brigade and Army as a woman of honor? We can learn a lot from Capt. Brown and her resiliency.”
Brown’s friend and mentor said she not just fits a profile of service and sacrifice, but she has a collection of attributes that has allowed her to excel.
“She’s brilliant, loyal and she’s shown extraordinary courage and dedication,” said Lt. Col. Robin Johnson, assigned to Chairman’s Office of Reintegration: Veterans/Families/Communities at the Pentagon. “I think there’s this whole generation of military members of which you’re finding women who are making these equally valuable contributions at home and in uniform.”
Brown, who said Obama and Biden were genuinely “warm and welcoming” during her visit, said she hopes those who tune in to the documentary gain a better understanding of military families and their inherent challenges.
“The world needs to see there is a very dynamic group of people who support the armed forces every day and who are doing well, despite our highs and lows,” she said.
“Our hope is that these stories will mobilize all of us to find ways to serve them, just as they have served us and this great nation,” said Nancy Dubuc, president and CEO of A+E Networks, Lifetime’s parent company.
The documentary supports the Joining Forces initiative, a White House effort that works with private and public entities to ensure “service members, veterans, and their families have the tools they need to succeed throughout their lives,” according to its website.
“Women of Honor” is also scheduled to air Nov. 10, 6 p.m., Central European Time, on the Armed Forces Network’s Spectrum channel.