At 19 years old, Brett C. Scheuer realized there was more to life than making pizzas – even if it was the family business– and decided to join the Marine Corps. He figured it would be a passport to the world.
His figuring would prove correct, but first he had to prove himself academically worthy of the elite fighting force.
You see, he had quit Kenmore West High School in 1987 and gone to work at his family’s Elmwood strip pizzeria.
“So I got my GED and completed 15 credits at Erie Community College. If you didn’t graduate high school, the Marines at that time required a GED and the college credits,” Scheuer said.
Since then, he has traveled the globe, not as a tourist but as a warrior in the fight against terror.
“I’ve been to the Philippines, where al-Qaida has cells. I’ve been to Colombia for special operations. I’ve been to South Korea on different operations.”
Then there are the real hot spots: Iraq, Afghanistan and the first Gulf War.
In 2004, his mission was to keep supply lines moving from Kuwait to western Iraq. Fights with the enemy were a given, though as it turned out the Iraq War served as a primer for Afghanistan, where Scheuer was awarded the Bronze Star for meritorious service in combat.
“We were in the Battle of Marja in Helmand Province that started in 2010 and went on to this year. We ridded the area of Taliban insurgents and trained up Afghan police and army personnel,” he said of his deployment, which ended in June.
When asked if he had trouble trusting Afghan personnel, given that many turned against their American mentors with deadly force, Scheuer said, “For the most part they were trustworthy, but you always had to maintain situational awareness.”
His war experiences are now put to practical use in leading a battalion-size unit of approximately 1,000 Marines and sailors at Camp Lejeune. They prepare, he says, “for the next deployment, wherever that may be.”
With 25 years of service, Scheuer said he hopes to clock five more years on the job, before retiring to the Buffalo area.
“I never forget my roots as a die-hard Buffalo Bills and Sabres fan,” he said.
Scheuer is not only proud of his roots, but of having kept up a family tradition of military service that started with his grandfathers, who fought in World War II.
And thanks to the patriotic example set by Scheuer, the tradition has stretched into the next generation.
“My nephew Michael Vasquez serves as a machine-gunner with the Marine Reserve in Buffalo and did a tour in the same area of Afghanistan as I was in. My younger cousin Eric Ulatowski also did a tour in Afghanistan with the Marines.”
And soon, Scheuer says, his 19-year-old son, Ryan, will enlist in the Marines.
Which makes the sergeant major very proud.
Brett C. Scheuer, 44
• Hometown: Kenmore
• Residence: Camp Lejeune, N.C.
• Branch: Marine Corps
• Rank: Sergeant major
• War zones: First Gulf War, Iraq and Afghanistan wars
• Years of service: January 1988 – present
• Most prominent honors: Bronze Star, Combat Action Ribbon, and Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal with four gold stars
• Specialty: Infantry battalion