Maj. Gen. Joseph Brown and his wife, Susan, are shown at Henderson Hall in Arlington, Va., on April 19, hours before they died when their plane crashed in Williamsburg. (National Defense University)
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Funeral services will be held Friday afternoon for Maj. Gen. Joe Brown IV and his wife, Susan, who were killed on April 19 along with their dog, Jackson, when their plane crashed near the Williamsburg-Jamestown Airport in Virginia.
They had two children: a daughter, who is in graduate school, and a son, who is an Air Force officer.
Brown and his wife had “something special that you don’t see every day,” said their neighbor, Rear Adm. Jeff Lemmons.
“You rarely saw one without the other,” said Lemmons, director of the Inter-American Defense College in Washington, D.C. “When you did, they were on the way to meet the other.”
Over the past year, they began planning for their future after the Air Force, Lemmons said.
“I’ve observed many, many couples approach that point in their careers where they begin to discuss and they share with a few close friends and begin to think about what is ahead,” Lemmons said. “I’ve never seen two people so happy, standing at the fork of the road, and pleased to know that they would be successful and their families would be intact and whole and well regardless of the path that [lay] ahead.”
Brown graduated from Virginia Military Institute in 1980 and became a command pilot with more than 4,300 flight hours, mostly in the B-1 and B-52 bombers, according to his official biography. His military awards include the Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross with “V” device and Bronze Star.
On March 22, 2003, Brown and his B-1 crew “displayed extraordinary airmanship and bravery while penetrating the most heavily defended airspace in Iraq,” according to his Distinguished Flying Cross citation.
As the first B-1 to fly over Baghdad, they were tasked with destroying six Global Positioning System jamming towers and braving anti-aircraft fire and surface-to-air missiles, one of which missed their plane by only 500 feet, the citation says.
“The successful strikes by Colonel Brown and his crew permitted coalition forces to strike targets in Baghdad precisely and minimized the potential for collateral damage,” the citation says. “The outstanding heroism and selfless devotion to duty displayed by Colonel Brown reflect great credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.”
At the time, he was in charge of the 405th Expeditionary Operations Group, so he commanded 12 B-1 bombers, 12 KC-135 tankers, four E-3 Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft and more than 400 airmen, his Bronze Star citation says.
“He led from the front to ensure the delivery of over 28 million pounds of fuel, provided an unprecedented 99.7 percent on station time for airborne command and control, and delivered 2,282 Joint Direct Attack Munition 2,000 pound weapons,” the citation says. “His personal leadership style ensured high morale and motivation throughout the operations group, and led to the Combined Forces Air Component Commander’s remark the B-1 had become the ‘weapon of choice’ for combat operations.”
Brown’s most recent assignment was as commandant of the Dwight D. Eisenhower School for National Security and Resource Strategy at the National Defense University, Fort McNair, Washington, D.C.
As defense spending waned, Brown became an advocate for students, making sure they got what they needed, said John Charlton, senior director of the security assistance and international student education programs.
“I’m a retired Air Force officer, 27 years, and I’ve never met a general officer with a stronger sense of integrity,” Charlton said.
While at the Eisenhower school, Brown and his wife opened their home to the international students, hosting the Christmas open house for the past two years, Charlton said.
“The feedback from the international fellows is that he made each of them feel like an individual, he was engaged with them one-on-one,” Charlton said. “He knew them by name. He knew what their struggles, what their issues with their families were.”
Dozens of international officers have sent Charlton their condolences, such as one who wrote there “are not enough words” to describe Brown and his wife.
“They were simply an embodiment of the American ideals: always willing to share, sacrifices beyond duty, exemplary and any one could always connect with him despite his rank and stature in society,” the student wrote. “We learnt alot from him and managed through his tutelage, many perceptions of the American way of life were demystified.”
Brown was an “absolute warrior” who worked at the highest levels of government, including serving as the executive assistant to the Supreme Allied Commander Europe, said Army Maj. Gen. Gregg Martin, president of the National Defense University.
Brown and his wife treated students, faculty and friends as family, he said.
“One specific memory that just really captures them is they would sit behind their house at night and watch the sunset over the Washington channel and as neighbors walked by, they would always wave to you and say, ‘Come on over, let’s share a beverage and let’s just talk,’” Martin said.