Sweet Journey: Soldier Travels Road From Hardship to Compassion
Spc. Yvonne Brooks is a chaplain's assistant who has overcome numerous obstacles.

Upon meeting Spc. Yvonne Brooks, you might be inclined to say that her friendly smile, easy and helpful disposition bear no clues to an upbringing full of insecurity and instability.

In fact, she’d gladly admit that the person she is today is a byproduct of that insecurity and instability.

“I thank God that I went through what I went through because it made me who I am today,” said the 24-year-old chaplain’s assistant assigned to the Installation Chaplain’s Office.

Brooks’ personal trial by fire began in the Hampton Roads area when she was about 9 years old. She was being raised by a loving and religious mother, Shirley Anderson, and a Vietnam veteran, Leroy Anderson. She had no siblings and had a good, middle class family life and a solid, loving relationship with her parents.

“I didn’t want for much,” she said.

Brooks’ extended family included a woman she knew as her aunt, Tina Owens, with whom she had a distant relationship, and Owen’s daughter, Neisha, who was like a sister.

When Brooks was around 8 years old, she began to wonder why her parents showed no physical resemblance to her. She found out why when Neisha freed a juicy secret she’d held for some time.

“We were outside riding our bikes,” recalled Brooks, “and she said, ‘You know my mom is your mom, don’t you?’

“I said, ‘No, that’s my aunt,’” remembered Brooks. “She said, ‘Look at her and look at yourself.

“Don’t you think you look alike?’”

Brooks fought to deny it, but how could she? Physically, their resemblance was striking, she said. Brooks finally let the truth take its place. Elation followed.

“I felt happy,” she said. “I said, ‘Wow, I have a sister. This is what I always wanted. We can do things together.’”

Joy in the prospect of a new family soon turned into anger. Questions swirled around in her head: Why did her mom give her up? Why didn’t Shirley tell her of the adoption?

Brooks was initially angry at everyone — Shirley, Leroy, Tina and Neisha — for their part in the cover-up and later became distant and estranged to everyone with the exception of Leroy.

“He was the one person that I felt didn’t betray me,” said Brooks.

In the years following the revelation, Brooks traveled a tumultuous road of emotion, feeling some measure of distrust, anger and disappointment toward her biological mom and the woman who adopted and raised her. These feelings surfaced infrequently over the years as she moved back and forth between the homes of both women.

Through all of this, it became clear to Brooks why her biological mother gave her up for adoption in the first place.

“I felt like she didn’t care about me, and I felt a lot of anger toward her,” said Brooks, about 16 at the time.

Despite the lingering hurt, Brooks didn’t respond to people in a negative way. In fact, she was overly kind and polite to anyone she met.

“I wanted to be nice to everybody so that I wouldn’t hurt people the way I had gotten hurt,” she said.

Clearly, Brooks was looking for solace and a sense of belonging. And it came in the form of a one Larry Turner. While stationed at Fort Benning, Ga., in 2003, Brooks looked him up on the Internet and gave him a call.

“I said ‘Hi, my name is Yvonne and I was wondering if you knew a girl named Yvonne from Virginia?’”

Brooks said the man on the other end wept.

It was Brooks’ biological father. He had made several attempts to see his daughter in Hampton Roads but was turned away each time.

“My grandmother told me that he lived in Indiana and came down to see me several times during my childhood, but no one would let him see me for fear of taking me,” said Brooks. “Shirley and Leroy were very protective of me.”

Brooks eventually agreed to meet Turner. They met one another for the first time at the airport in South Bend, Ind.

“When he saw me, he knew who I was and hugged and kissed me.”

During her four-day stay, father and daughter talked and Turner told her how she came to be. But could he be trusted? After all of the heartbreak she’d been through with Owens and the Andersons, she was a bit cautious.

That caution soon gave way to impulse. Brooks said she didn’t share much of a physical resemblance with her father, but they shared a heart.

“I looked in his eyes and his heart and saw myself,” said Brooks. “I knew where I got my compassion from.”

The trip to South Bend was topped off with a birthday party Turner held for his long-lost daughter.

“That birthday party made up for all 20 years he wasn’t there because it was so filled with love, she said. “My dad was all teeth that day and kissed me every five minutes.”

Today, Brooks is married with two children and her life is a far cry from the insecurity and instability that marked her early years. She enjoys a loving relationship with both of her fathers and her mothers and harbors no anger toward anyone else. She said she doesn’t waste brain cells on bygones and uses her experiences, good and bad, to help others as a chaplain’s assistant.

“I feel I have a better understanding of the difficulties people go through and the challenges that people face because of my history,” she said. “I also have a lot of passion for what I do. It’s not just an MOS, it’s the way I feel about people.”

That includes the way she feels about family. Brooks said she has learned to appreciate all of her family members and treasures every moment she’s able to spend with them.

“I feel like I’m living life to the fullest,” said Brooks. “I might take the little things for granted like running water, but I don’t take people for granted. …I feel like if I die today or tomorrow at least I know my mom and dad, and I also know that I have two other parents that raised me, my two kids and my husband. God has left me with so much, what else could I ask for?”