Alumnae Spotlight showcases amazing Laurel women and the paths they have charted since graduation. Whether they are doctors, designers, artists, authors, scientists, lawyers, teachers, entrepreneurs, engineers, pharmacists, or civic activists or volunteers, Laurel women inhabit nearly all careers and corners of the world helping to make it a better place. Our alumnae and the journeys that they have taken speak to the essence of a Laurel education and what makes this School and the community of women who call it their own distinctive. This space highlights their fascinating lives and the mountains they continue to move. If you would like to be featured in our Alumnae Spotlight, or know of an alumna who might, please email Julie Donahue.
March 2017 Alumnae Spotlight
Erin Dowling Brosch ‘99
Captain Erin Dowling Brosch ’99, United States Army Reserve, defines trailblazer. A Chesterfield County volunteer firefighter for five years, three of them while getting her undergraduate degree in economics from the University of Richmond, she subsequently followed a call to service that had been with her since childhood and joined the Reserve in 2007.
But, before walking into that recruitment office, she worked as an analyst for a financial institution in Cleveland and New York City and then spent three years in Washington, DC, and Seoul, Korea, as an associate with a professional services and investment management company. There she consulted on military housing ventures including the feasibility of a $1.3 billion dollar public-private housing development for U.S. Army forces stationed in the Republic of Korea and co-managed an Air Force public-private real estate initiative.
A master at juggling her work and Reserve duties, she returned to school and received her MBA from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in May 2014. Twice called up for active duty, Erin, who returned from a nine-month tour of duty in Afghanistan last fall, and her sister, Jen Dowling Keller ’97, are proud members of the White Team.
You entered Laurel in the Ninth Grade. What is the most important thing you learned at Laurel?
Confidence. Laurel set no boundaries, challenged my insecurities, encouraged independence, and facilitated an education that I never would have received if I stayed at public school. To this day, I credit Laurel with instilling in me the drive and confidence that has gotten me where I am today.
What are the hallmarks of a Laurel education?
Individual growth and collective learning through shared experience.
You’ve had an interesting journey, graduating from the Univ. of Richmond with a degree in economics and then from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with an MBA. When and why did you decide to join the Army Reserve?
Military service runs in my family blood— my father was in the Air Force and my grandfathers in the Army and Navy. Ever since I was a kid, climbing around the giant cargo planes and fighters my dad would take us to see, I knew I wanted to serve in the military. By 2007, four years out of college and into my second job, I knew it was time. I walked into a recruiting station and said I wanted to join. Two months later, I took a leave of absence from my job and late on a warm summer night, I was climbing out of a government van at Fort Jackson, SC, getting yelled at by a drill sergeant for not moving fast enough. I received my commission as a Second Lieutenant through Army Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning, GA, in January 2009. I’m now a Captain—and fingers crossed —hope to be selected for Major next year.
Tell us, as much as you can, about where you have served and what you have done?
I’ve held a number of positions in my nearly ten years in the Reserve, though the majority of my assignments have been in my Army career field of communications. I was a platoon leader for combat camera and expeditionary signal companies, a battalion-level staff officer in the human resources/personnel area, and a brigade staff officer in communications. Now I’m a Commander for a small signal company with on-the-move, long-range communication capabilities. I deployed to Afghanistan with the 518th Sustainment Brigade, a Reserve unit near Raleigh, NC. The Brigade’s mission was to provide logistics support and manage the movement of troops and cargo (food, water, ammunition, vehicles, mail, repair parts, etc.) throughout all of Afghanistan. I served as the Brigade’s senior signal officer, responsible for my team of 16 Soldiers and all aspects of communications and computer automations for the Brigade’s staff and subordinate units. I was based at Bagram Airfield, about 20 miles north of Kabul, but visited Mazar-e-Sharif, Jalalabad, and Gardez to execute my duties.
What would surprise most civilians about life in the military?
The military has nearly every job imaginable. You name it, the military probably has it: doctors, lawyers, infantrymen, engineers, cyber defense experts, cooks, scientists, veterinarians, drivers, mechanics, intelligence analysts, pilots, fuel handlers, meteorologists, construction workers. The list is endless.
You are taking command of a signal company. Have you ever encountered issues questioning your leadership authority as a woman?
This is my first command, and it’s already a lot of work! I’ve been in leadership positions since I was commissioned as an officer, and my levels of responsibility have grown with my rank and experience. I’ve been fortunate in my Reserve career that I haven’t encountered authority issues related to gender from my Soldiers. In my personal experience, I’ve found that as long as leaders meet Army standards, make firm but fair decisions, and demonstrate competence and confidence, Soldiers will follow, regardless of that leader’s gender.
You recently returned from a tour of duty in Afghanistan. Did you interact with any girls/young women there? What were your observations, if so?
I did not interact with any local national women or girls. The days of patrolling and interacting with the locals outside of our bases have ceased; conventional American forces are mostly confined to Forward Operating Bases (FOBs) and travel between them only by rotary (helicopters) and fixed wing (planes) air movements to limit risk. So, my only interaction with Afghans were those that worked on our FOBs. The jobs available for local nationals on the American and NATO bases are held by men. It’s a constant reminder that no matter how much progress is made, religious and cultural norms still limit the opportunities for women outside cities like Kabul.
When you are called up for a tour of duty (how often does that happen?), your civilian life gets put on hold. What are the biggest challenges?
For the first five years, I wasn’t called up for active duty. I’ve been called up twice now in the past three years —once for an 8-month stateside mobilization at Fort Dix, NJ, and once for a 12-month mobilization with 9 months on the ground in Afghanistan. Rotations for Guard and Reserve Soldiers used to be more stable, but with the military’s operating environment requiring a more flexible, readily-deployable force, mobilizations are becoming a bit less predictable.
My civilian employer is highly supportive of my service obligations, so I’ve never faced issues related to taking a military leave of absence from work. Not every Soldier is that fortunate, though. Employers, landlords, college administrators, etc., can sometimes make it tough for Soldiers as they prepare to fulfill their military obligations.
Stateside mobilizations are pretty easy, but overseas deployments are a different animal. Missing holidays, birthdays, seeing family and friends, births, deaths, etc., is by far the most difficult part of being deployed overseas. Life goes on while we are gone, and we have to play catch up for the 9+ months of being away from our jobs, friends and families.
Having a strong support system can help mitigate those challenges. I personally was lucky in that my family— especially my sister, Jen Dowling Keller ’97— would keep in touch regularly via email and the occasional phone call, as well as send plenty of care packages and photos. My young nephews would send cards and artwork for me to decorate my living quarters. My favorite and most inspiring— a note from my 5-year-old nephew written in large, uneven block letters:
Dear Auntie Erin,
Thank you for saving the world.
What do you love most about your service in the Reserves?
I am proud to be among the 0.4% of Americans who currently serve in the military, and it is an honor to wear the same uniform as some of the most selfless, brave, and humble veterans that the world has ever seen, particularly those from the World War II and Korean War eras.
I also love the camaraderie within the services and the bonds that are forged among Reservists from the most diverse backgrounds you can imagine. In what other job can I work hand-in-hand with a U.S. Marshal, college professors, a pastor, state troopers, a semi-pro archer, a Microsoft executive, a Home Depot store manager, insurance salesmen, college students, etc.?
What is your civilian job now?
I am an instructor at a small firm, Training The Street (TTS), that teaches corporate finance, valuation and financial modeling to banking, corporate, consulting and academic clients. I joined TTS in 2008 after 1.5 years at KeyBank and 3.5 years at Jones Lang LaSalle. I travel a fair amount for this job, but when I’m not in front of clients, I get to work from home in Columbia, SC. When I returned from Afghanistan in October, I went back to work right away and was all over the map—New Orleans, San Francisco, Dallas, Tokyo, Charlotte. The first quarter of 2017 has been a lot more manageable so far, though.
What do you do in your spare time?
Spare time . . . what’s that?! I just bought a house, so I feel like any free time I do have goes to repair or decorating work. I’m so appreciative that my dad roped me into his home improvement projects when I was in high school . . . all those lessons are really paying off now. I like to read, fish, hang out with my dog and spend time with my family as much as possible, though.
What advice would you give to current Laurel girls, especially those who might be interested in serving their country via the armed forces?
Blaze your own trail. Do not be afraid to make decisions that your family and friends might not make themselves. The military needs intelligent, confident leaders like you!
What has been the most surprising life lesson you have learned so far?
Every person who comes into your life teaches you something. Regardless of whether they are those you love or those you can barely tolerate, you will learn from them. Some of the most important things I’ve learned about leadership, work ethic and loyalty were learned from people I disliked or had difficulty working for. Often learning how not to be is just as important as learning how to be.
If you could write your life’s philosophy for a message in a fortune cookie, what would it be?
There is good in everyone. Spend the time to find it.