RICHMOND, Va. –
With a house full of boys, a multi-hour roundtrip commute to work and a demanding job as a recruiter for the Virginia Army National Guard, Staff Sgt. Brittany Brayboy is busy. But, she’s part of a diverse family and making time to recognize and celebrate diversity is important for her and her family.
“We try to learn a little bit about each culture,” Brayboy said. Her husband is Black, and she comes from a family with Dominican, Korean, Black, Irish, Italian and Native American influences. Every month, she makes time to educate her four sons, ranging in age from one to 11, on notable historic figures and to take family field trips to places like the Pamunkey Indian Museum near her home.
For Women’s History Month in March, Brayboy said her and her son talked about women like Susan B. Anthony and Rosa Parks, and that her goal as a mother is to instill in her sons the knowledge that women are just as capable as men.
“I want to be able to prove to my children that even though I’m a woman, I can do everything,” Brayboy said. She said she’s inspired by watching women lead in her organization, like 1st Sgt. Ebony Bridges, Brayboy’s first sergeant. “I like seeing those role models show that, “hey, we can do it,” and then to prove to others that we really can.”
Brayboy’s military career started after her uncle joined the National Guard. She knew she wanted to join the military and thought briefly about joining the Navy, like her father, but ultimately, she wanted to stay close to home and go to college, two inherent benefits of service in the National Guard.
“I wanted to go to school, I wanted to help people in my area and I liked the idea that I wasn’t leaving Virginia,” Brayboy said, explaining that most of her family is in Virginia. “We have dinner every Thursday, I wasn’t comfortable leaving my whole family.”
She first enlisted in 2008 as a 74D Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Specialist. Her plan was to complete her six-year contract with the National Guard, get her degree and become a marine biologist.
Instead, Brayboy continued her military service and transformed the skills, experience and certifications she earned as a 74D into a full-time job at Newport News Shipbuilding as a nuclear technician.
“I have all my [Radiation Protection and Control] certifications, I can do anything HAZMAT,” Brayboy said, explaining that, as a member of the Virginia National Guard’s 34th Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, and High-Yield Explosive Enhanced Response Force Package, or CERFP, the certifications she earned easily translated into civilian employment. “I walked into a job at the shipyard because I had that certification.”
Eventually, a mentor from the CERFP suggested she apply for a job with the Virginia National Guard’s Counterdrug Program as a criminal analyst. At first, she balked.
“I was like, no, I’m not good at change,” she said. She felt content in her role at the shipyard, but, with some careful encouragement, she applied, was accepted and led a team, one of the few women to do so.
“It was very intriguing, and I thought I was going to hate it at first,” she said. “I met some of the coolest people, did some of the coolest busts […] and we had a great time.”
She learned a lot during her time with Counterdrug, she said, and still has contacts at the Drug Enforcement Administration who check up on her. While she really enjoyed the work she was doing at Counterdrug, her contract there were renewed annually, and she wanted something a little more permanent.
“So, I chose to do recruiting,” she said. She sat for her first board to get that job, and said she was incredibly nervous, left the room sure she’d bombed the interview. She was wrong. She got the job in early 2020 and just after accepting the position, the pandemic shut everything down.
“The first eight months of my training for recruiting were all in a virtual setting,” Brayboy said. She found out she was pregnant shorty after being hired and it wasn’t until 2021 when she really started to hone her recruiting skills. Last year, she was named Virginia National Guard’s Recruiting and Retention Battalion’s Rookie of the Year.
At several points in her career, Brayboy found herself as the only woman on a team of men, which she said wasn’t always easy. Over the years, she’s been inspired by the female leaders she’d had, and has channeled the doubt thrown her way my male colleagues into drive.
“I want to prove to the world, like other women have, what we can do,” Brayboy said. “No one can hold me back.”