Who would have guessed that a 7-year-old boy who loved to lead singing at the Elk City Church of Christ in Oklahoma would grow up to become commander of the U.S. Air Forces in Europe? Gen. Roger Brady did just that, and commanded air operations for the northern region of NATO.
A four-star general, he provided command and control for air space and missile defense over an area of operations covering almost one-fifth of the globe.
Brady was born in Okmulgee, Okla., in 1946, the child of a schoolteacher and a high school football coach. The command pilot says he was attracted to the military early on because it involved service and being part of a team.
After earning a bachelor’s in foreign service and a master’s in political science, he entered the Air Force in 1969 through the University of Oklahoma ROTC program. His responsibilities in active service were demanding and rewarding. He and his wife, Litha, always considered the local congregation an important anchor in their lives.
Brady’s career began in Vietnam, and his awards are numerous, including the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, the Distinguished Service Medal, the Legion of Merit and the Bronze Star. He retired from the Air Force on Feb 1, and he and his wife are living on the Outer Banks off the coast of North Carolina.
The Bradys continue to have a busy life, which includes keeping up with five grandchildren, maintaining friendships from their military days, involvement in their local congregation and pursuing other interests. Roger Brady’s current pursuits include his interest in portrait painting and two writing projects — a devotional book based on stories from the Bible and a book on leadership.
What attracted you to the Air Force?
Well, there is a tradition of military service in our family. My father served in the Navy in WWII, so I always thought I would serve some time in the military.
Candidly, I have to say that the draft that was in effect when I was in college was also a powerful motivator. Serving was inevitable during the Vietnam period.
My wife’s father was a career Air Force officer, and that was also a motivator. I like the idea of being part of a team and serving something bigger than self.
I guess I liked it even more than I thought I would.
What are some of the highlights of your career?
There have been many. Obviously, I love flying and have been able to fly actively to the very end of my career. That’s been a great blessing and has kept me in touch with our people at the flight line level.
I have had several opportunities to command, which is a special privilege, and just because of where I’ve been and where I have been assigned I have been able to meet some extraordinary people, including some very famous people. What I have invariably taken away from that experience is how very down-to-earth they are and how ordinary. Even heads of state, when away from the press and the crowds, are interested in their families, their children and getting back to the normal life they left behind to serve.
Despite the extraordinary opportunities and the attention that comes with some positions, what I remember most are the individuals I had an opportunity to touch and serve with on a day-to-day basis. I treasure the opportunity I had to work with some wonderful men and women in uniform who serve the nation at considerable hardship, yet remain the most positive and selfless people I have ever known. “I was proud to be among them and humbled to be asked to lead them.”
What is most meaningful to you about your 41-year military career?
Easily, it’s the people I’ve been privileged to work with. I believe success in all honorable human endeavor boils down to the character of the people involved. We have extraordinary people in our Air Force, and I’ve been blessed to serve with many thousands of them. The technology is impressive — and fun — but people make the difference.
What can churches do to encourage our military people everywhere?
Be a refuge and a home away from home. Military life is a transient life. Uprooting the family is challenging and becomes more so as children get older and develop close friendships they must leave behind. The church can be a source of the familiar, the unchanging solace that transient families need, a reminder of our spiritual heritage and the importance of God’s family on earth.
How has the stress of your position challenged your faith?
Actually, I think stress drives you back to your faith, though not always as quickly as it should.
I have only had a couple of jobs in the Air Force that I thought were stressful. The rest were just busy. The challenge is to remind yourself that the stresses of life, as discomforting as they can be, are only temporary.
I wouldn’t suggest this is easy or that I am as quick as I should be to call on my faith. Sometimes we have to be reminded that the ultimate victory has been won for us — that puts it all in perspective.
For me, the more demanding aspect has been dealing with those few individuals whose performance or behavior is not what it should be. I find those experiences gut-wrenching. And as many years as I have had that responsibility, I find it always brings to mind my own frailty. It is a difficult but necessary part of the job, and I take it very seriously and prayerfully.
What advice do you have for Christians to strengthen their faith?
More than anything, I believe we must all remember who we are. We are a people set apart for God’s purpose. We are not better, just blessed. Again, it’s a matter of perspective that perhaps gets a little easier as you get older. Life is short — whether it is wonderful or not so wonderful. We need to rejoice in good times and be comforted in bad times that he is with us.
Remembering who we are is a lot easier if we maintain a strong connection to the church and seek out like-minded people who are making the journey with us.
What are the biggest struggles for church members today?
Today’s military is the most deployed, battle-hardened generation in our history. They are spending a lot of time away from home, which puts a lot of stress on families. Leaving, being away and then re-integrating the family are all stressors. It challenges marriages and relationships with children, and Christians must deal with this stress as much as everyone else.
This life requires a strong foundation of faith, and we need to reach out to and stay in contact with the families of our deployed servicemen and women.
What are your plans for retirement?
Well, I guess I should first say that the concept of retirement is foreign to me. I cannot imagine not being engaged in something.
I have had a keen interest in leadership and leadership development for many years, and I would enjoy sharing some ideas in that area with civilian groups and organizations.
I also have a continuing interest in national defense matters and will hopefully have the opportunity to do some work in that area. Litha and I are also very eager to find a church home where we can participate and enjoy the fellowship of other Christians.
We have some grandchildren to spend time with also, and we’re really looking forward to that. We will miss our day-to-day interaction with our military family, but we’re very excited about the future.