During his 15-year Army career, Staff Sergeant Jason Brown completed 67 jumps as a member of an airborne unit; he became an expert in the petroleum supply and combat infantry fields; and he deployed seven times to Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, and South Korea. While his military service left him with a lifetime of experiences and great memories, it also left his body pretty banged-up.
“I am proud that I followed in the footsteps of my father, a Vietnam War Veteran, and my grandfather, a World War II and Korean War Veteran,” said Brown. “But injuries finally took their toll and physically, I just wasn’t able to continue. The situation forced me to find something new.”
What Brown found was VA’s Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (VR&E). VR&E is an employment-oriented program that helps transitioning service members and Veterans with service-connected disabilities and an employment handicap to prepare for, obtain, and maintain suitable employment. He also found unwavering support from his VetSuccess on Campus Counselor (VSOC) Evette Ned and several professors at Houston Community College.
Finishing his associate’s degree, Brown plans to pursue a Bachelor of Science in either geology or geophysics. But earlier this year, a campus flyer for the NASA Community College Aerospace Scholars program caught his attention.
“It sounded really interesting and I thought I would apply,” said Brown. He then completed the program’s five-week online course in addition to his normal coursework to qualify. “The final project was a 10-page thesis on Habitation Systems: War Concept Studies.”
At the NASA Wallops Flight Facility
This past summer, Brown was one of 30 students selected from more than 500 nationwide applicants to participate in the program’s Phase 2 at NASA Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.
“Looking around, I saw that I was the oldest participant, but that was fine with me,” said Brown, adding that living on the NASA facility reminded him of his experience living on an Army base.
With the leadership skills he honed in the military, Brown quickly became the leader of the Gold/Helius Team, which won second place for designing and building a ROVER to pick up rocks to study for potential life on Mars.
“Without VA and VR&E, I would have never had this amazing experience,” said Brown. “Today, I can become the person I wanted to be growing up. I tell others, ‘Don’t say the sky’s the limit, when there are footsteps on the moon.’”
During the week-long NASA program, Brown developed friendships with people from all around the country. His team is planning to collaborate on future projects with the immediate goal of competing in the NASA Sounding Rockets Program next year.
“I want other Veterans to make the most of their VA benefits,” said Brown. “Finish what you started, don’t be so hard on yourself, you’re doing the best that you can. Stay focused, Stay motivated.”
For more information on VA’s vocational rehabilitation and employment services for Veterans with disabilities, visit www.benefits.gov/benefit/296 or call 1-800-827-1000.
Story and photo by Evette Ned, VetSuccess on Campus Counselor, Houston VA Regional Office.