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Road to resiliency tracks through stories of life

Fred Brooks, now the 21st Civil Engineer Squadron installation management chief, poses for a photo with his mother Barb and step-father Earl during his Air Force commissioning.

Fred Brooks, now the 21st Civil Engineer Squadron installation management chief, poses for a photo with his mother Barb and step-father Earl during his Air Force commissioning.

Fred Brooks, 21st Civil Engineer Squadron installation management chief, looks over the terrain at Thule Air Base, Greenland. Brooks gathered stories of his life and published them in a book, detailing hardship and resiliency, to encourage others. (Courtesy Photo)

Fred Brooks, 21st Civil Engineer Squadron installation management chief, looks over the terrain at Thule Air Base, Greenland. Brooks gathered stories of his life and published them in a book, detailing hardship and resiliency, to encourage others. (Courtesy Photo)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Tires screeched trying to find traction on the road known as "Dead Man's Curve." Next, the violent sound of metal impacting metal as the great bulk of a 1973 Plymouth Fury assailed the guard rail meant to keep it on the roadway. Within seconds the sound of steel collapsing and glass breaking gave way to eerie silence as the vehicle completed its roll and sat motionless upon its roof.

The driver and passenger climbed out of the wreckage and, joined by a group of witnesses, turned over the hulking remains of a car only to find the driver's three-year-old son crushed underneath. The driver and his family would never be the same.

Death, tragedy, broken home, broken family, a young man finding his way and a dose of military service tossed in for good measure. Unfortunately it's not the plot for a Hollywood blockbuster, rather it is the true story from the life of Fred Brooks, 21st Civil Engineer Squadron installation management chief.

Beginning with the horrific death of his twin brother, Brooks' life has been full of challenges and victories. Over the years he said many of those stories were shared with others who regularly encouraged him to put them in a book. Brooks finally took heed of the requests and gathered many of his life stories into a book, "Extraordinary Stories from an Ordinary Man."

The collection of stories tell a tale of resilience and overcoming situations of life that are not typically sought. Along with the catastrophic are recollections of fortunate opportunities and positive role models who helped shape his life. But filling in the blanks and reliving events from the past was an emotional journey.

"I had to extract stories from people who did not want to share," Brooks said. "These were stories that were not told until I asked about them. I learned a lot that no one else knew."

Within the book, Brooks openly tells of the good and the bad. Starting with his brother's death he shares of how his father never forgave himself and eventually left the family, broke his back and lost his home. Growing up in a single parent household, moving to different places and states, and even burning down one of his homes after playing with matches didn't cause Brooks to give up and let circumstances determine his end.

He relied on two things to rise above the challenges, he said: his champions and his faith.

"You have to have those champions who believe in you and encourage you," Brooks said. "And your faith keeps you going when all else will break you. Faith is your common denominator."

His father returned for a brief period when Brooks was in high school. The two grew closer in those days and learned more about each other to Brook's joy. But some months later, after returning to Pennsylvania, his father went into the woods and took his own life. Another curve ball thrown by life.

Brooks said he was fortunate to have mentors like his uncle and step father, along with military leaders and teachers along the way to give him direction and examples of how to succeed in life. He went into the U.S. Navy after high school and, subsequently attended the University of South Dakota after that. He joined the Air National Guard while in college.

Brooks credits the military with helping build resiliency.

"My military experience has definitely catapulted me out of my comfort zone and (provided) me with vast responsibilities I would have otherwise shied away from," he said. "A couple cases in point which come to mind are leading a 120 member engineer flight in Kirkuk, Iraq as a young Captain and leading an emergency bridge inspection team for the Sept. 2013 flood in Boulder, Colorado where I was the lead engineer to certify 60 bridges safe for public use within a short, one week timeframe."

The book mirrors life in the way that it tells of how those early difficulties, and later ones like a divorce, eventually resulted in victories. The story of his life is not a dark one, he said. It is a matter of perspective and he finds value in knowing that he made it through those hard times.

Brooks may have started writing down these events in what he calls an effort of "haphazard journaling," but it turned into an intentional endeavor over two years to capture the events for his daughter, and to offer encouragement to others.

"After living out experiences like these, I have learned that sometimes we are exactly the right person for those exact moments in time," said Brooks. "And that is reassurance for all the unexpected life circumstances we face."

"Extraordinary Stories from an Ordinary Man" is available at online booksellers.