By Dr. Sybil C. Mitchell, Special to The New Tri-State Defender
When Westwood High School graduate Kevin Branch was promoted to colonel – or “full bird” for the Army nerds – in the U.S. Armed Forces on Jan. 11, he was extremely grateful that both of his parents were able to do the honors of pinning him at the ceremony.
“To have one parent there on such a day is special,” said Branch. “This was the summation of all the hard work and sacrifices I have made over the years. To have both parents there was, well, you just don’t have the words for that moment.”
Parents John Branch and Rosemary Hall savored that moment on the New Jersey army base, marveling at the event and reflecting on the obstacles and challenges that brought their son up to this cherished moment in time.
“I was just so proud at that moment because of where we were living when Kevin was a boy,” said Branch’s father. “I stayed on him about doing what was right. I didn’t want him going the way that so many others had gone staying in the streets. To see him go this high, I just didn’t think that being a young black man that this could happen to my son. It was just wonderful.”
At that time, the elder Branch feels that he had good reason to watch his son more closely to make sure he didn’t get into trouble. Kevin Branch also admits that he never wanted to get caught up in any drugs or gang activity growing up. He wanted to make something of himself.
“I grew up in Boxtown, and we didn’t have very much. It was a pretty impoverished area. I was willing to work hard in school and strive to be successful in my education. I wanted to steer clear of any minefields that could derail my plans and destroy my future.”
“It was in 10th grade when I joined the Army Junior ROTC. That was a defining point for me. There was a lieutenant colonel who took me under his wing. He became my first military mentor. I had my father in my life, but I had mentors outside my family who took an interest in me. That meant so much to me and really helped me develop a sense of dedication and determination to be successful.”
Before graduating high school, Branch received the highest award in JROTC, the JROTC Medal for Heroism from the commanding general of the U.S. Army Cadet Command.
“Immediately after graduating from Westwood High School in 1992, I signed up for the Army. I knew my parents didn’t have the money to send me to college. So when you are given a four-year ROTC scholarship, you can go on to school, although you are enlisted.”
Branch attended the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff and was commissioned as an army field artillery officer in 1998. He later transferred to the Army Engineer Branch in 2007, where he currently serves as director of public works and regional engineer for the 99th Division (Readiness).
An impressive civilian education includes a Master of Defense Studies from the Royal Military College of Canada; a Master of National Security Strategy from the National Defense University; a Master of Science in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Missouri at Rolla; a Master of Science in Engineering Management from the Missouri University of Science and Technology, and a Bachelor of Science in Physics from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff. He is also a graduate of the Chrysler Manufacturing Academy and World Center for Concrete Technology, Executive Session.
Branch’s military education includes the National War College, Army Command and General Staff College (CGSC), and the United Kingdom Intermediate Level Education (Ground) Exchange Program.
His awards include the Bronze Star, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, Iraq Campaign Medal, the German Armed Forces Proficiency Gold Badge, and many other commendations.
He is a recipient of the National War College 2016 Department of Homeland Security Award for Excellence in Research and Writing and holds the distinction as being the first National Defense University North American Aerospace Defense Command/U.S. Northern Command Scholar. He is a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.
Branch is married to Alecia Thompson-Branch, an attending neonatologist at Montefiore Hospital and assistant professor of neonatology at the Albert Einstein School of Medicine in Bronx, NY. They have two sons, Ethan, 2, and Emerson, seven months.