A Life of Service

Thomas Brewer

He has led a fearless life.

Thomas Brewer was a typical FFA kid in the Sandhills of Nebraska. He worked for the local co-op and helped with the livestock and crops on his grandfather’s farm near Gordon, Neb. But what he accomplished once he set his sights on the Army was anything but ordinary.

First it was Army infantry, then Army aviation, then onto winning several national and world championships in competitive shooting, which led to becoming the director of the Marksmanship Training Center in Little Rock, Ark. He followed that with eight deployments and countless injuries, all in the span of 36 years.

“I think I was probably uniquely suited (for a military career) in some ways,” Brewer said, explaining that his heritage was one fundamental part of his success overseas — he is an Oglala Sioux. “(Afghanistan has) a tribal society there, too. The nation had different tribes who may or may not work well together, but getting down to their needs, if you could understand, they’re going to embrace you. If you come into that situation not knowing how they think or what they need, you tend to not be an effective partner in what we were doing over there.”

Brewer added that after one particular firefight in Afghanistan, where he was badly injured but refused to leave the country for treatment, his relationship with the Afghans became something entirely new.

“They treated me completely different,” Brewer said. “Knowing I could’ve gone home to family but chose to stay and help them, the lightbulb came on that we were serious and wanted to see them become a nation. It pulled back their fears that we weren’t going to be there for a long time or be very helpful.

“I felt in my heart of hearts that we were making that place better.”

It was during a 2011 deployment that Brewer suffered significant shrapnel injuries from an RPG explosion and was brought home for two years of surgeries and physical rehabilitation. Just when he had healed and applied to return to Afghanistan for another deployment, he received the diagnosis that would put a permanent end to his military career — his injuries were too vast for further deployments.

Before he left Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital in Lincoln, Neb., however, the doctors shared another twist of fate for Brewer — he had leukemia.

Forced to retire and begin a new war, Brewer took on a fight unlike any other he had faced. But he just beat that, too.

With the leukemia in his rear-view, the retired Army colonel sought out his next life’s challenge and threw his hat in the ring for the Nebraska Legislature. He donned the new title of Sen. Brewer in 2016.

Despite all of the battles he’s faced in his lifetime, Brewer continues to stride into the unknowns ahead, seeking to do good in the world.

“The first time I was wounded, a group of my captains gathered every soul they could and raced through rough conditions to where the fight was to make sure I was able to get out,” Brewer reminisced in admiration. “They put their lives at risk … to make sure (I) survived the night.

“You feel guilty that (other veterans) risked themselves, you wish there was more you could give to them. Many times, it’s just a lifetime of friendship.”

Katy Moore can be reached at katy.moore@lee.net.