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U.S. Marine Corps Major Heather Brewer, a native of Honolulu, Hawaii, and the Marine Corps Recruiting Command diversity officer, pose for a portrait at Marine Corps Recruiting Command, Virginia on May 17, 2022. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Gustavo Romero)

Photo by Lance Cpl. Gustavo Romero

From an Island to the Corps

24 May 2022 | Lance Cpl. Gustavo Romero Marine Corps Recruiting Command

As a breeze blows past her, rustling the palms of her home on the Island of O’ahu, a young woman decides that she wants to serve her country.


U.S. Marine Corps Major Heather Brewer, a native of Honolulu, Hawaii, and the Marine Corps Recruiting Command diversity officer, before she wore the uniform decided she wanted to be the first college graduate in her family.


“That was really important to me,” said Brewer. “So when I got the opportunity and was accepted to the (United States) Naval Academy. I knew that not only was it the best opportunity for me but I knew I was going to make the most out of the military career that would follow once I completed my four years at the Naval Academy.”


The movies she had watched as a young lady had an impact on her interest in joining the military, such as the 80’s movie Top Gun, in which she wanted to become a navy pilot. Her maternal grandfather was also a Master Gunnery Sergeant in the Marines and he retired after serving 32 years.


“My Hawaiian Pacific Islander side of the family didn’t understand the military at all,” said Brewer. “They had questions like, ‘Why? Do you think it’s a good fit for you? and I don’t think it’s a good fit for you?’”


The Pacific Islander side of her family had the mentality of you stay with your family, work with your family and you live with your family.
“That kind of just pushed me not to prove them wrong, but to challenge myself,” said Brewer. “I wanted to see if I was capable of not only just being in the military but being an officer or in the Marine Corps. My family slowly showed their support but they were always like I didn’t see that coming.”


Brewer earned the opportunity to attend the Naval Academy and pursue her dream of becoming a navy pilot. There she got a chance to fly in the air for the first time.


“I quickly realized that I suffer very badly from any sort of motion sickness when I was flying… I went up for the first time, in the aircraft, I threw up,” said Brewer.


That personal experience pushed her on the path toward joining the Corps. She was further exposed to the Marines when she volunteered to participate in the Naval Academy’s Leatherneck training program. The four-week-long training event program evaluates midshipmen on leadership, physical training, and military skills. The final event is the opportunity to lead a squad attack on an objective. According to Brewer, it was the Marines and their work ethic contributing to her joining.


“Once you partake in the training, you quickly realize your weaknesses and strengths,” said Brewer. “I’m not going to lie it was a very humbling experience. I always loved challenges and thrived on competitions, so I felt at home.”


Once Brewer completed the Leatherneck training, she was ranked second in all of the 500 midshipmen going through the training.
“To receive that ranking and to receive their feedback, kind of solidified for me, that ‘hey I’m going in the right direction, this is what I want to do, this is where I want to be commissioned, I want to be an officer in the Marine Corps,’” said Brewer. “I got pinned on second lieutenant and went to TBS a week after and here I am 12 years later.”


Brewer believes the most challenging thing, besides growing as an individual and learning who you are, is figuring out your leadership style. Marine Corps officers must be able to lead and be the example of how a Marine should behave in and out of uniform.


“It is a challenge, but it is also a worthwhile thing,” said Brewer. “I’m a Type-A perfectionist, so there were a lot of times I would beat myself up unnecessarily for making mistakes. I just held myself at a certain standard and I just wanted to make sure I was doing, not only my best but doing what was best for my Marines, my unit, and my mission.”


As she developed as an officer, she also learned along the way that is okay to make mistakes and it's okay to ask for help.
“After being in for almost 12 years, I finally realized it’s okay to say ‘You know what, I don’t know but I’m going to find out,’” said Brewer. “Your leadership and Marines will appreciate that honesty and humility.”


Retired U.S. Marine, Staff Sergeant Leon Booker, currently an operations manager for Mr. Beast, was one of Brewer’s Marine Drill Instructors when she was stationed at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island and was a series commander. He is quick to attribute much of his success today to the mentorship and leadership of Maj. Brewer.


“The board for the staff NCOs (non-commissioned officers) was going, I was really nervous and I wouldn’t know how the NJP (Non-judicial punishment) would affect me,” said Booker. “We just got done and recruits were just going back in line and she pulled me to the side and asked what you think about the board, what do you think is going to happen and I said I don’t know, I don’t think I will be selected.”


Non-judicial punishment and other forms of negative paperwork can prevent a Marine from being competitive for promotion, depending on the severity, and can also result in a Marine losing rank, pay, and privileges.


“She said I guarantee you’re going to get selected and I asked why,” said Booker. “She said, ‘Do you ever look in a mirror and see any regrets when you wake up in the morning?’”


“I said no. She said, ‘That’s why, who you’ve become and who you are now will showcase to the board the SNCO you are going be as.”
Booker earned the billet of a senior drill instructor, they are in charge of the safety and security of the recruits as well as the taking care of the Drill instructors beneath him before he was medically discharged under honorable conditions. Booker attributes a lot of his success to the tools he was taught by Brewer. Booker continues to share those lessons with others even after leaving active duty service.


Pacific Islander heritage places an emphasis on family and being respectful to elders. Brewer made a point to add those values alongside the Marine Corps values of honor, courage, and commitment in her leadership of her Marines. There is a saying, that the Marine Corps is your second family, you take care of your Marines like they’re your own.


“Family isn’t just blood, family are people you care about, the people that make your life better,” said Brewer. “I think I really embodied that because in my head that’s what it’s all about. It’s about connecting with my Marines, taking care of them, doing what was the best not only for them but for the mission.”


Brewer took it another step forward and accepted active duty order to become the diversity officer at Marine Corps Recruiting Command. As the diversity officer, her primary responsibilities are to assist MCRC leadership in maintaining alignment, commitment, and accountability to diversity, equity, and inclusion as well as ensure current recruitment practices are effectively reaching all segments of society.


“I think it’s just so worthwhile to not only succeed but to see people that you know, work with, respect, and admire succeed as well,” said Brewer. “I learned to appreciate and look forward to that.”


“I feel like, especially when were young, you’re so focused on yourself,” Brewer continued. “I feel like in the Marine Corps you naturally start to worry about other people, how they're doing, how they're performing, how they're succeeding and then you see yourself celebrating in successes and their opportunities


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