FALLS CHURCH, Va. — Command Sgt. Maj. Donna A. Brock is set to retire from the United States Army and transfer responsibility to Command Sgt. Maj. Gerald C. Ecker in a ceremony at the United States Army Medical Command Headquarters (MEDCOM) in San Antonio on Oct. 24, 2014. Brock, who joined the Army in 1979, now holds the honor of being the Army’s longest serving enlisted female Soldier still on active duty.
“I love the Army,” said Brock from her Falls Church, Virginia, office at the Defense Health Headquarters. “But, I know there’s life after the Army.”
Brock became a Combat Medic when she joined the Army more than 35 years ago and has maintained that military occupational specialty throughout her career and rose to the top of her career field in both rank and position.
Brock’s final assignment was as the Command Sergeant Major of the MEDCOM. She was also dual hatted as the senior enlisted advisor to the Army Surgeon General, Lt. Gen. Patricia Horoho, who also serves as the commanding general of the MEDCOM. In their Office of the Surgeon General (OTSG) roles, they are based in the Washington, D.C., area.
“It’s kind of like working for a rock star and you’re their sidekick,” Brock said of her boss who is the Army’s first female surgeon general and the first who is a nurse.
“When I travel with her, of course all of the attention is on her (as it should be) and everyone is at their best . But, when it’s just me, I have the opportunity to really get in the weeds and really find out what’s going on at the lowest levels,” said Brock.
Communicating across the enterprise that is Army Medicine is what Brock called her greatest challenge during her tenure.
“I’m not sure that information is getting all the way down to the private,” she said. “Sometimes I talk to Soldiers and they don’t have a clue about certain things that they should be aware of. That bothered me.”
As a result, Brock implemented what she calls the AMEDD (Army Medical Department) update. When she travels to AMEDD/MEDCOM units, she holds town halls where she gives updates on the AMEDD and engages in conversations with Soldiers of all ranks as well as Department of the Army Civilians. In addition, Brock often hosts female to female meet ups where she talks to the female Soldiers about issues specific to them.
“Female mentorship for women is extremely important,” she said. “I’ve had some great male mentors throughout the years, but the mentorship of other females is invaluable.”
While Brock holds the distinction of being the Army’s longest currently serving enlisted female Soldier of any race, she happens to be Black and Mexican…a triple minority. Brock said the Army has a long history in leading the way regarding diversity. Brock said the closest she came to anything that even resembled prejudice was during Basic and Advanced Individual Training when other Hispanic Soldiers explained to her that not all Hispanics are the same.
“I always thought Hispanic was Hispanic. But, other Latino descent Soldiers let me know quickly that there is a difference. But, I can honestly say that I never experienced any real sexism or racism during my time in the Army,” said Brock. “I really believe it has to do with the leadership I encountered. I had great leaders. And I’ve done my best to be a great leader and mentor,” said Brock.
“I especially want the women to step up,” she said. “It feels weird when they say they look up to me. But, I think I give them hope. And that’s okay with me.”
When Brock retires there will be no more female command sergeants major at the nominative level, for now. She’s the last female command sergeant major who will be working at the general officer level.
“They are coming though,” she said. “But, there will be a gap. I want the female E-9s to at least compete at this level.”
One of the things Brock plans to do after retirement is to mentor and coach leaders.
“I’ll do that part-time,” she said. “It’s another way to be of service. I’m a self-less servant. I know that about myself. I don’t know what I will do full-time in the civilian world. But, I’ve known for years now that I have a calling for the VA (Veteran’s Administration). Whenever I walk into one, I just feel like I’m supposed to be there–serving.”
Brock parented a son and a daughter while serving and married and divorced twice.
“Being married while in the Army didn’t work out for me,” said Brock. “I think because of the goals I had for myself.”
“I said if I got married again, it’d be after I got out [of the Army],” she said.
As far as being a mom while serving, Brock said it was difficult being a Soldier and single mom. If there was anything she hated about the Army, it was moving her children all of the time.
“I said I would never leave my children anywhere unless I was deploying. Sometimes our moves were my choice and not the Army forcing me to do it. I’ve always second guessed if I was doing the right thing when I’ve dragged them all over the place,” she said.
“I stayed involved as much as I could. I was on PTAs. I baked. I sewed. I was still “Susie Homemaker” while being a Soldier,” said Brock.
Brock is finishing up her Masters in Health Care Management at Trident University. She has held assignments all across the states including Hawaii, as well as Korea and served in Iraq as part of Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom in 2003 with the 21st Combat Support Hospital. Although she is a native Californian, she said she likely wouldn’t go back there because of the high cost of living.
Her service awards and decorations include the Defense Superior Service Medal, Legion of Merit, Bronze Star, Meritorious Service Medal and more.
Brock’s retirement from the U.S. Army will include both a luncheon and ceremony in the Washington, D.C., area and a transfer of responsibility, dinner, and private retirement ceremony in San Antonio.
“Command Sgt. Maj. Brock has been the champion of the NCO (Non-Commissioned Officer) Corps,” said Lt. Gen. Patricia Horoho, the Army Surgeon General. “The impact that she has had on Army Medicine and the Army as a whole is sure to be felt for years to come. She was a tremendous partner who helped me lead the transformation of Army Medicine. She is a friend and a colleague. I will miss her dearly and wish her all the best,” said Horoho. “I could never thank her enough for her tremendous service to the Army, Army Medicine and the nation.”