I'm not sure if they keep records for this, but Gen. Richard "Tex" Brown III might be the most highly honored and highest-ranking draft dodger in U.S. Military history.
The general was in Rapid City for the first time this weekend to speak at the Pennington Country Republican Rally. When you hear how many places he has served and visited, it is hard to believe that Sunday morning was the first time he had been to Mount Rushmore. On the way down the Presidential Trail, I asked the three-star general how many presidents he had met in person. He said he had met three — both Bushes and Bill Clinton. I was surprised that with his position and partisan affiliation that he hadn't had the opportunity to meet Donald Trump.
"I'm just a nobody since I retired," Gen. "Tex" Brown said.
I laughed, "A nobody with three stars." Gen. Brown wore a cap signifying his service to the country he loves, and watching fellow veterans meet him and share details of their service with him during tours at Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Memorial, it was obvious that Gen. Tex Brown is anything but a nobody.
But he did dodge the draft.
Rewind the clock about 50 years and you will find "Tex" making plans to do just that. He told about being a Texas Christian University baseball player sitting in a fraternity house watching the new draft lottery on television. Everyone knew that about half of the young men in the room would be drafted into military service soon. Birthdays determined draft order. Each day was drawn using ping pong balls and assigned a number.
"My future was getting ready to change," Brown said. "My number was 88. If you were 180 to 200, it was going to be close. Higher numbers were probably fine. At 88, I knew what was going to happen to me."
A couple of Brown's friends had a father who was an Air Force chaplain. They gave him the best advice he ever received when they told him to control his own fate and enlist rather than waiting to see where the draft sent him.
"So basically, I'm a draft dodger," Gen. Brown said with a laugh.
As a young athlete with great vision, Brown was well-equipped to be a fighter pilot. In Vietnam, he was responsible for helping with the rescue of 13 pilots whose aircraft had been shot down. He flew an A-1 Sky Raider — the plane flew low and slow and cleared a path for rescue helicopters to save the pilots who survived being shot down.
"They got really good at shooting down our pilots, and we got really good at rescuing them," Gen. Brown said. "God shined down on me. After one mission, they found more than 230 bullet holes in my plane."
In addition to a huge list of medals and commendations — including Silver Stars, Bronze Stars, Defense Superior Service Medals and eight Distinguished Flying Crosses — Brown rose in rank quickly. He was a first lieutenant before he left Vietnam. He made captain two years later, was a major by 1981 and a colonel by 1989. He attained the rank of brigadier general in 1994, received his second star in 1998 and was a lieutenant general by 2001.
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"I wasn't special," Gen. Brown said. "I just survived my missions; I was a good pilot and a good leader. I wasn't necessarily the best, but my record and reports looked great and got noticed for early promotions. God truly blessed me."
Brown said his faith was a big factor in his success as a pilot.
"Just knowing that God is ultimately in control allowed me to fly with less fear," Brown said. He isn't afraid to share his faith, and that often made those higher up a little nervous.
"I was always careful to follow and respect the rules," Brown said. "Sometimes you have to go there. You have to share your faith."
Currently, as a retired general, Brown has spoken at a few Republican engagements like the one Saturday in Rapid City, and he also helps organize a men's outreach group where local speakers share their faith. Everyone can see what those gatherings are like by going to www.Mensroundup.org.
Gen. Brown has served as a young airman all the way to one of the highest offices in the Air Force. At one point, all deployment letters that went out came across his desk. He always took that responsibility seriously, because he had been on the receiving end of those letters as well.
"You can't effectively send men into combat if you haven't been there yourself. You can, but you have a different empathy for what they are going through if you've been there," he said.
My favorite story of the general's that will make a lasting impression on me in many ways included one of the only times American Air Force pilots have been deployed in Israel. Navy pilots have been used from ships offshore, but Brown was among the first few Air Force pilots to be deployed in the country. At speed in an F-16, you can only fly about two minutes before you have to turn or enter airspace that isn't very friendly to Israeli or American jets.
As Brown and his squadron flew toward Israel for the top secret mission, they flew in tight formation — literally six to nine inches apart at almost 500 miles per hour. The tight formation didn't allow ground radar to determine how many jets were flying over. At one point in the flight, Brown told his men to switch radio frequencies, and he let the air traffic controllers in contact with him know that he was no longer theirs to manage.
"We told them we were flying due regard," Gen. Brown said. That let other planes and towers know that he wasn't flying under normal operating conditions. They were on their own, not under air control rules.
If an air traffic controller didn't like it, they could always have sent their own military jets to engage Gen. Brown and the eight other pilots on the way to the mission. Gen. Brown retired with three stars and enough medals to stop a bullet. I'm thinking if he wants to fly "due regard" in your airspace, it's probably best just to let him do it.
I loved getting to know the general during his tour of the area, and I really wish he would consider a career in politics. We need more people with genuine character and faith helping mold the nation. But "Tex" has served his country well, and I understand wanting to focus on his faith and family in retirement.