By Sarah DeClerk
Editor’s Note: I have always loved the movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life.” It’s my favorite. The film explores how one life causes a ripple effect that touches so many people in such profound ways. Adam Brown’s story is a Shakespearean twist on that Frank Capra classic.
Two enemies test a soldier’s courage: the terrors of the outside world and the demons within. Adam Brown fought both. The Hot Springs, Arkansas, native overcame addiction and injury to become an elite Navy SEAL. Although he eventually died defending his family, country and teammates, his heroic story now inspires others to live fearlessly.
Adam Brown was a typical boy who loved his family, football and wrestling his older brother, with one exception: he had no fear. The young daredevil would leap from tall ledges and slam into linebackers three times his size. His life took a nosedive in early adulthood, when he got hooked on crack cocaine. He even stole from his parents to fuel his habit. Like most addicts, his road to sobriety was potholed with victories and relapses.
Over time, Adam joined the navy and married a supportive woman named Kelley, with whom he had two children, Nathan and Savannah. His SEAL career was marked with injuries. One of his eyes was blinded during a training mishap, which disabled his peripheral vision. Overcoming that obstacle was admirable, but Adam hardly seemed to notice it. Then, while deployed in Afghanistan, he severed the fingers of his dominant hand during a convoy collision. Instead of surrendering to the pain, Adam administered first aid to his injured driver and provided security while they waited for transport.
When others might have quit, Adam persisted. He lost an eye and gained insight. He injured his hand and began to feel with his heart.
One cold winter, Adam noticed that many of the Afghan village children were barefoot. A few wore sandals, which offered little defense against the falling temperatures. Thinking of his own children, who were warm and safe at home, he called Kelley and asked her to send all the children’s shoes she possibly could. With the help of Adam’s parents and their church, she sent shoes by the box load. When preparing for patrol, other team members stuffed their bags with extra rations and ammo, but Adam packed tiny shoes, handing them out to the village kids as he patrolled.
On his last tour in Afghanistan, SEAL Team Six went on a pivotal mission to eliminate a terrorist leader. Hidden by the darkness of night, they hiked for hours over hazardous terrain to get to the Taliban compound. As they quietly approached, the enemy discovered them, and battered the Seals with hundreds of rifle rounds. One enemy shooter hid in a building, out of range. The SEALs could not secure the compound with the shooter there, and they could not attack without exposing themselves. Shouting, “I got it!” Adam bolted over the compound wall and into the line of fire, where he was able to launch a grenade through the building window, neutralizing the attacker.
Other combatants spotted Adam. They shot him through the legs and sprayed bullets, pulverizing his side. “I’m ok,” Adam told his team as they worked to stabilize him, but he was bleeding profusely. They transported him back to base, where his injuries proved fatal. Because of his bravery, the rest of the team completed the mission and returned safely.
Adam’s tale is not a typical hero’s story. He was a flawed human, not a mythical archetype, and he never pretended otherwise. He requested that, after death, his tale be told in its entirety, including the dark parts. Fearless by Eric Blehm tells the whole narrative as remembered by his friends, family and teammates. The novel, published in 2012, is set to be made into film. The book has a profound effect on the people who read it, including Josh Jones, who was training to be a veterans’ affairs police officer. Jones had been in law enforcement until his alcohol addiction nearly ended his career.
“I was supposed to go into SEAL training, but instead I went to rehab,” Jones said. His mother gave him a copy of Fearless while he was in the facility. He said the book helped him with his issues, particularly because his story parallels Adam’s. “I treat it like a bible. Anytime I want to drink, I read it like an AA book,” he said. “It really has helped me stay sober for sure, which makes my wife and mother very grateful.” Jones graduated from the VA Police Officer’s Academy in North Little Rock, Arkansas, in 2014. At the time, he was 828 days sober.
“A few times in life, we are given the opportunity to do something that truly awes, and if you don’t step up and do it, someone else will get to do it,” Stevens said. “There were times I had lots of questions about if I would be able to do [build] it. When we finally set it down there, it was pretty emotional for me.”
The Brown family visited the underwater memorial after its completion. While Kelley, Nathan and Adam’s parents dove down to see it, Savannah sat at the surface playing with scuba gear. When the divers resurfaced, she asked if they’d seen her daddy’s rock.
“That’s when it hit me: this was never your monument to begin with. It belongs to the family and to everyone,” Stevens said. Nonetheless, building the memorial had a deeply personal affect on him. “God worked on me while I worked on the monument,” he said. “It’s made me a better diver, father and husband.” Stevens is now studying to become a minister. He maintains that “the memorial is not about us. We always say that. It’s to inspire the diving community and unite them, and to honor Adam.”
Stevens is not the only one affected by the team’s work. Their youngest member, Saxon Smith, won the 2014 Arkansas Community Service Youth Humanitarian Award for her work on the memorial.
Smith had a scary moment during one dive when she lost track of her father and found herself alone in the dark and cold, her greatest fear. “I started hyperventilating and crying into my mask,” she said. When she resurfaced and sat bawling above the water, Stevens said to her “You just faced your fears. That’s what this memorial is all about. You are now fearless.”
In addition to Fearless Rock, Adam was memorialized in statue at the Garland County Veterans’ Memorial in Hot Springs in December 2014. The piece by Gregory Marra, the artist behind Sculpting Our Heroes, shows Adam clutching a Bible to his chest and holding a small pair of shoes in one hand.
Stevens’ work at Fearless Rock continues with an additional memorial to Brown’s Seal Team SIX unit. The men Adam gave his life to defend
were among the 31 (including a service dog) aboard flight Extortion 17 that was shot down. The memorial will include the names of every person and the service dog and will be displayed next to Adams memorial in Lake Ouachita. The main memorial stone was unveiled November 2014 as part of Veteran’s Week festivities at Arkansas’ FlagandBanner.com.
Divers interested in visiting the underwater memorial can visit this site for a map and coordinates. http://www.scuba-archery.com/dive-sites-2/
BRAVE MEANING: noun: brave | 1.a brave person. | 2.to meet or face courageously:to brave misfortunes. | 3.to defy; challenge | 4.ready to face and endure danger or pain
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