WHO WE ARE: Former Army helicopter pilot, mom of two finds her home in Grand Junction
Editor’s note: Who We Are is a regular series featuring men and women who embody the unique spirit of the Grand Valley. To nominate someone to be featured, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
When Robin Brown’s young family settled down in Grand Junction three years ago, they moved here sight unseen.
“Because of a job, we ended up in Grand Junction totally unexpectedly,” Brown explained. “We took it because were excited about Colorado.”
Her husband, Jason, took a job working in the oil and gas industry, and they moved from Oregon with two young children — Merli, who is now 4, and Hank, who’s 7.
A self-proclaimed “Army brat from a family of Army brats,” Brown moved around a lot as a kid. At 38, she’s already lived in 10 states, Germany and Iraq (while serving two tours). But after exploring the Grand Valley, she was ready to put down roots, stay here and raise her children in the Redlands.
“I love this place,” Brown said. “I’ve lived all over the world, and I’ve finally found a place where it feels like I fit in.”
That’s why Brown takes a big interest in promoting Grand Junction, whether it’s fundraising for the Avalon Cornerstone Project, planning a winter trail-running series, partnering with Bin 707 Foodbar to put on pop-up dinner parties, or enjoying recreation of all types with her family.
“We just feel like we live in utopia,” she added.
As the director of development for the Avalon Cornerstone Project, Brown leads the Avalon Theatre’s private fundraising effort. The historic performing arts center on Main Street is the largest of its kind in the Grand Valley, and the city-owned structure needed significant safety and ADA upgrades to stay open. She excitedly took on this challenging role in hopes that an improved and expanded Avalon will be a big economic driver for the area.
Funding the Avalon upgrade is presently a three-pronged effort between the City of Grand Junction, the Downtown Development Authority, and the private sector. Ground broke on the project earlier this year, and construction will likely be done in June 2014.
“The Avalon fills a niche,” Brown said, especially since there are not a lot of theater opportunities on the Western Slope. “Fundraising is going well; we’re chipping away at it. People have been very generous, and FCI (the construction contractor) has been wonderful.”
Brown also noted that she’s hopeful two large grants will be awarded in December: “If they come through, we will be close to the finish line.”
The Avalon Cornerstone Project aims to raise another $900,000 by June 1. Of the $7.3 already earmarked for construction, $1.2 of that came from private fundraising. In hopes of garnering additional public support, another local push — the Take Your Seat Campaign, in which seats may be purchased for $1,000 — will kick off in February.
“One-million dollars is a lot for this community,” Brown said with an appreciative smile. “We’re almost done, and we need everyone’s help. Every dollar counts.”
An avid trail runner, Brown also has a big vision for the future of Grand Valley recreation. She’s currently in the beginning stages of planning a West Slope Winter Trail Run Series for 2015. It will be a three-month series of half-marathons in Grand Junction, Fruita and Palisade — January, February and March — meant to attract folks down from the mountains and out of state.
Besides just being fun, running events like these, Brown hopes, will serve as another mechanism for economic development and tourism.
“We’re a community in limbo, as we move away from oil and gas,” as the valley’s main economic driver, she said. “I want to see Grand Junction move toward being an outdoor tourism mecca” as well, with trail running and mountain biking at the forefront. “Oil and gas is still an important industry, but we do need to diversify.”
Brown’s involvement in the community doesn’t end there. She’s additionally a huge supporter of local food, wine and agriculture. To showcase this passion, she joined forces with Josh and Jodi Niernberg, owners of Bin 707 in GJ, to put on regular “West Slope Supper Club pop-up dinner parties to promote (Mesa County) as a food destination.”
With events planned in 2014, the West Slope Supper Club showcases local food and it’s fun, she said.
As a complement to her other endeavors, Brown continues to plan weddings and parties through her part-time business — Robin Brown Events. With that, her long-term goal is to transition to organizing outdoor sporting events like the West Slope Winter Trail Run Series.
IN THE ARMY
Before starting a family with husband Jason, Brown led a completely different lifestyle as a Captain, company commander and combat helicopter pilot in the United States Army. She joined in 1997 after graduating from Fordham University in New York City, was deployed in the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and served eight years.
“I was stationed in Iraq twice, the first time for the invasion and then I went back when things got messy,” Brown said. “Jason was in Afghanistan, not in Iraq.”
The couple, both helicopter pilots, met while serving, but were deployed to different locations. Between 2003 and 2004, they didn’t see each other for a whole year.
Few women flew combat helicopters at the time, and Brown worked hard to excel at it; she also commanded 30 men.
“I loved the Army,” Brown said. “I liked that from a young age you have a lot of independence. For me, it was the best place to be as a woman. I never had any trouble, and I felt I was well accepted. It wasn’t easy, but it was a wonderful experience. You get up every day and have a job, and you do it.”
“My helicopter was really tiny; it flew close to the ground and covered the ground forces. We flew right on top of troops, and provided cover fire. After the invasion, in peace and stability operations, we provided security and swept a lot of roads for IEDs (improvised explosive devices).”
In 2003, Brown’s helicopter was shot down, though miraculously she and her co-pilot were uninjured and rescued quickly.
“In the Army, you practice getting shot down all the time,” she said, “and you practice escape and evasion. There are all these procedures in place. I trained for years, but you never think you’ll ever put it into practice.”
Even so, Brown said it wasn’t a tragic event.
“Later, I had friends who were killed, and that was far more tragic,” she said.
Her time in Iraq was also featured in Chapter 2 of the book, “Band of Sisters: American Women at War in Iraq,” by Kirsten Homstedt.
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