Guard service a key to candidate Brown

By Brian C. Mooney
Globe Staff / January 7, 2010

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First of two articles exploring defining themes in the lives of the major-party US Senate candidates.

At the end of his junior year at Tufts University, Scott P. Brown did not take a typical summer job like many of his classmates. Instead, he spent two months in Army basic training at Fort Dix, N.J., after joining the Massachusetts National Guard.

Three decades later, Brown is a lieutenant colonel in the Guard, a state senator from Wrentham, and the Republican nominee in the Jan. 19 special election for US Senate.

Brown’s years as a citizen-soldier inform many aspects of his personal and political ethic: the value of discipline and physical fitness, his beliefs about national security, war, and peace, and his priorities in the Legislature.

Now, as a candidate for the Senate seat long held by the late Edward M. Kennedy, Brown often emphasizes his military background. His volunteers are called the Brown Brigade. After winning the GOP nomination on Dec. 8, he kicked off the general election campaign with a visit to the state Soldiers’ Home of Holyoke, criticizing Governor Deval L. Patrick’s budget cuts that forced closing of the outpatient clinic there a week earlier.

In the campaign, Brown takes a more hawkish line against terrorism than does the Democratic nominee, Attorney General Martha Coakley. Brown supports President Obama’s troop surge in Afghanistan and wants suspected terrorists tried in military tribunals, not civilian courts. Though he has never been deployed to a war zone, he said his service provides perspective on national security issues.

“The United States government has put a lot of money into my training,’’ Brown said in an interview. “I think about issues of war and peace almost all the time. I think about the men and women serving. I hear their stories, and I understand the terminology, and what’s at stake.’’

During six terms in the Legislature, three each in the House and Senate, Brown has a modest record of legislative initiatives, but he has carved out a niche as a leading advocate for veterans, colleagues on both sides of the aisle said.

Richard R. Tisei of Wakefield, the leader of the Republican minority in the state Senate, called Brown “the acknowledged expert on veterans’ issues.’’ State Senator John A. Hart Jr., Democrat of South Boston, said: “He does his homework, he’s comprehensive in his approach, and on veterans’ issues, he’s one of them and has done a very good job on their behalf.’’

As a legislator, he has served on the Veterans and Federal Affairs Committee, the Hidden Wounds of War Commission, and the Governor’s Task Force on Returning Veterans. He lists among his achievements his authorship of a 2007 law that created a check-off box on state income tax forms for veterans to indicate whether they served in Iraq or Afghanistan. The state uses the information to notify veterans of available services and benefits, including the “Welcome Home Bonus’’ that provides $1,000 for those returning from active duty in Afghanistan or Iraq.

Last month marked the 30th anniversary of Brown’s induction into the National Guard. As much as he admires the military culture, it was a civilian emergency, the Blizzard of ’78, that drew him to serve. He said he was impressed by the critical role the Guard played in digging out after the storm, which dumped up to 3 feet of snow over 33 hours in some areas, paralyzing the region.

The Guard initially rescued motorists stranded along Route 128, then helped dig out highways, open up coastal areas hit hard by flooding, and transport medical personnel and patients to hospitals, said John B. Encarnacao, a longtime guardsman from Wakefield whom Brown credits with encouraging him to join.

“I’d known Scott since he was a little boy, through his mother [Judith], who was my classmate and a cheerleader at Wakefield High,’’ Encarnacao said. “When he said he was impressed with the Guard’s response to the blizzard and what did I think of him joining, I told him it was a great opportunity.’’

Encarnacao, a Democrat and longtime Wakefield selectman, declined to say whom he supports in the Senate election, however, saying, “Scott would have made a great Democrat, but he comes from a Republican family.’’

In basic training, Brown said, he was placed in charge of a platoon of men from backgrounds that were vastly different from his own, growing up in suburban Wakefield.

“They were black, white, and Hispanic, from cities and Appalachia, educated and uneducated,’’ he recalled. “I was responsible for getting everyone squared away. It made me grow up really fast, and it’s something you never forget.’’

The experience instilled in him the discipline he applies to his life.

“Basic training helped to make me a totally Type A person, organized and on time,’’ Brown said. “It’s why I am like I am. I can bring it right back to basic training. I remember it like it was yesterday.’’

Brown went on to Boston College Law School and enrolled in the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps at Northeastern University. In 1982, he left BC and moved to New York, where he pursued a modeling and acting career for a year and enrolled part time at Cardozo School of Law, according to his Massachusetts bar application.

He returned to Massachusetts for his once-a-month Guard sessions during that time, a campaign spokesman said. In August 1983, he completed airborne training at Fort Bragg, N.C., National Guard records show. Brown returned to BC that fall and received his law degree in 1985.

By that time, he had become a second lieutenant, beginning a series of promotions through the officer ranks, until 2005 when he received notification that he was terminated from the Guard because he had failed to complete all the coursework necessary to be promoted from major to lieutenant colonel within a specified amount of time.

Brown had sought a waiver that was supported by Mitt Romney, who was then governor, but the appeal was turned down in Washington, Brown said. He was out of the Guard for several months, letting his hair grow long, he said.

Then, “I got a call out of the blue . . . that said, ‘Oh, by the way, you’re extended,’’ Brown recalled. “I say: ‘What do you mean? You guys kicked me out.’ ‘No, no, you were never kicked out, you were actually extended, and you’re going to be promoted.’ I said OK, and that was it.’’

He and other officers around the country had been reinstated by wartime extension boards, according to Brown. By that time, he had completed his final course. He said political connections were not a factor in his reinstatement.

He was promoted to lieutenant colonel in 2006. As a part-time soldier, he was paid $18,314 in 2008, according to his financial disclosure form filed with the US Senate.

Brown describes himself as “probably one of the most qualified soldiers in the entire Massachusetts [Guard],’’ having been an enlisted man and trained in infantry, airborne, and quartermaster duties and joining the Judge Advocate General’s Corps in 1994.

Despite his long career, Brown, unlike many Guard members, has never been in a unit sent to a combat zone such as Iraq or Afghanistan, nor has he volunteered for active duty in a war zone, as some Guardsmen have. As a military lawyer assigned to the state headquarters unit, Brown is unlikely to be assigned to a war zone, said Christopher Henes, a 38-year veteran and former colonel in the Guard who served with Brown for many years.

“They’re not going to take the headquarters of the Massachusetts National Guard and drop it into Afghanistan or Iraq,’’ Henes said.

As a judge advocate, Brown has a range of duties in the 6,200-soldier Guard. He defends soldiers facing disciplinary action before administrative discharge boards, provides estate planning advice, and has even helped in real estate transactions to those deploying overseas to war zones.

“I’m the head trial defense attorney,’’ Brown said. “If anybody does anything stupid, they come to me.’’ He added: “We do everything from assaults, sexual assaults, sexual or other discrimination, drug boards, and contracts. I do everything.’’

Brown did brief assignments in Paraguay in 2005 and in Kazakhstan in 2007. In Paraguay, he was part of an effort with US diplomats to raise awareness of American principles of justice, including cases involving military personnel, he said. In Kazakhstan, he said, he spent a week on a disaster, terrorism, and emergency preparedness exercise with military and civilian personnel from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and three former Soviet republics.

If ordered to duty that would place him in harm’s way, Brown said he is prepared to go. “If I got the orders, you know, I’d suspend my campaign . . . and go where they tell me to go,’’ he said.

Tomorrow: Martha Coakley and child protection.