Alva Review-Courier -

Healing with touch

• Brown left Freedom to make a difference in the world; now she wants to do the same for her hometown


Valerie Brown, 44, first moved to Freedom in 1991 when she was 13, and the kindness and welcoming embrace the town offered her family has never left her.

"My grandpa worked for Cargill, but we lived in Buffalo," she said. "I lived with my grandparents; I think there were six or seven of us. And Cargill found out that Grandpa had a bunch of kids."

Cargill and the town of Freedom got together and repaired "the old Stout house (...) and then said, 'Here you go, Marvin; here's a house in Freedom. We want you and your kids here.'"

The generosity astonished Brown's grandparents.

"So we moved here, and it was an absolute welcome from the town. So I feel it's time to start thanking them. That's why I came home. To help."

That welcome helped Brown thrive. In fact, that first year in Freedom she ran for rodeo queen – and won.

"The honor of earning the title of Freedom Rodeo Queen helped shape my future through learning how to communicate with businesses and individuals as well as the time and dedication it took to achieve that title," she said.

The rodeo honors past queens in 10-year increments. Brown's win "was 30 years ago, so I get to ride in the rodeo this year," she said enthusiastically.

Exploring the World Outside of Freedom, Oklahoma

Brown graduated from Freedom High School in 1995, and she moved to Phoenix, exploring life as an adult. She returned to Freedom in 1999 and worked at Share Hospital in Alva briefly. In fact, she was on call at Share Hospital the first night of Y2K, when 1999 turned into 2000, and there was widespread worry that the computers of the world would not be able to make that transition smoothly.

That worry proved largely groundless, but the next year brought a national trauma: 911.

"After that I joined the military," Brown said, "partially because of 911 and partially because ... in all honesty, my life wasn't going anywhere and I wanted to travel and I wanted to see things, and I assumed I wouldn't be able to without some kind of external push and funding."

Brown was stationed in Germany for three years and spent one year in Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

It was a bit different from living in Freedom.

"I was a Black Hawk crew chief on medevac," Brown said. She recalled the moment when that difference really came home to her.

They were on a mission to retrieve some wounded soldiers.

"When we landed, I ran out and there were tanks guarding us this way and tanks guarding us that way, trucks on fire, people pulling guard – I mean, this whole war, this combat scenario – and I've got my flight helmet on, and I sounded like Darth Vader in my helmet. And the medic tells me we need four litters out here, and so I grab four litters, and they're not light. I've got like 70 pounds of flight gear on plus trying to carry four litters with my already short arms. And I drop off the litters and then I just stopped and looked around and I thought, 'What in the world am I doing here?' And I look back and there's this dude with two weapons looking like Rambo." Later, the crew was processing what had happened that day, and they laughed about having actually seen Rambo.

But she'd begun to question her life choices.

"I wasn't questioning the government, just it was like, "How did I end up here from Freedom, Oklahoma? It was a big change, a big difference."

She returned from Iraq and transferred to Ft. Riley for several years, where she helped set up some border patrol, and then she was sent back to Iraq.

When she returned that time, she was out of the military within a month.

Finding Her Feet After Military Service

"I had no idea where I was going to go," she said. It was 2009. The military asked where to send her stuff, and she literally flipped a coin: heads Freedom, tails Kansas City, where she had a cousin. It landed on tails.

While in Kansas City, Brown attended the University of Missouri-Kansas City and earned a bachelor's degree in interpersonal communications. After graduation, she did an internship with the VFW and then worked with the Student Veterans of America, where she was a regional director overseeing the college-based groups. Her work there involved a lot of networking, at which she excelled.

"When I started, I had five state directors; when I ended, I had 12," she said. "I went from over 47 schools to well over 147 schools in my region alone.

"And I learned a lot. Because a lot of communication is networking – learning how to be in that group dynamic – so I got to learn that and apply it with the VFW and SVA."

She also spoke at numerous conferences and worked with human resources professionals about how to hire more veterans.

"There's always a roughness of transition," she said. "When you get out of the military, you're not just changing jobs. You're changing your entire life." So, it's healthy for a veteran leaving the service to take some time to reorient to civilian life and figure out their goals. HR professionals don't like to see a gap in employment; they assume it signals behaviors that won't be good for their company.

"I always try to tell HR professionals, you want that gap. Because they're not job hopping, they're changing their entire life. So you want that gap. If they don't, that veteran will job hop until they find what they want."

Brown also worked with a women's veterans group called F7, through which she met some big-time female movers and shakers in the world. Unfortunately, she learned that some of these kinds of people like to have a "token female veteran" around for appearances sake, but the help they offer is rarely of much value.

Once she realized she was giving away her skills for free, she changed course.

But she had one more speaking engagement with a group called The Mission Continues.

"I'd just finished my fellowship with Mission Continues and they called me and said, 'We have one more interview for you. It's a really, really big one; do you want it? I said, 'Yeah, you've never steered me wrong before.' They said, 'Okay, in a couple weeks you'll get a call from the David Letterman Show.' Within three days, I was on a plane for New York City by invitation of the David Letterman Show. That was a blast. You can see it on my Facebook page." It's not available on YouTube because of NBC licensing issues.

"I did okay. I've done worse, and I've done a lot better," she said, laughing. "He asked me how many people were in my graduating class, and I said 'Five.' He said, 'That's not a class, that's a carpool!'

"But I had a good time, and from that I found a job in Louisiana. Then I've worked for the state and done other things, but Freedom has always been my end goal. This is where I want to be. It's a small town; I love the rodeo and I love all things Freedom."

Coming Home

In 2019, Brown purchased the building in Freedom that she would turn into her new business: A Gift To You Massage Therapy.

But this return would not be as joyful as those in the past.

"Two days after I came home, my cousin in Freedom took his life and passed. In 2020, I lost my sister, grandmother, grandpa, and a couple other people. It's been a really hard year. Plus, I took on Legion as commander, was voted in as commander."

She wants to take the Legion further, but with all the chaos of recent years, it's been a slow process.

"Taren Earnest has really done a lot for this Legion. If it wasn't for Taren, I don't know that I could have done it. Taren assisted in reorganizing the Legion and in teaching me what needs to be done to keep it running smoothly."

Not only has she been building her business, but she's now the Chamber of Commerce's interim president.

"Interim because of my leadership role with the Legion," she said.

The Healing Power of Touch

Brown went to massage therapy school in 2015. She was co-founder of a women veterans organization, and they wanted to provide group therapy for women who've been in abusive situations or sexual trauma – "because, unfortunately, as the world knows, the military sweeps stuff under the rug."

They found that the women would become frustrated because the work of overcoming post-traumatic stress disorder can be very intense and draining, and it takes time. And the group discovered that providing help improving things on the outside can help with that frustration.

"Therapy gives you a toolbox, but when you get up in the morning and look in the mirror, you see the same damned thing. You've got new tools, but nothing has changed. You're frustrated.

"So, if you start on the outside, and you see these little differences – with a new haircut, my face looks different; oh, and by the way, my counselor said I need to kick in that door – and I can do that, because look at me!

"Part of it is touch," she said. "Because when someone is abused, their psyche wants no more touch. So they don't touch their children or their spouse, and touch is vital for human beings."

That's what led her to massage therapy.

"I damned sure didn't do it because I like to touch people," she said, laughing. "I had no desire whatsoever to put my hands on any other person, but when I started classes, it absolutely changed my thinking because I saw what it did for me." Brown had had severe hip pain, but "my class worked on me, and I don't have hip issues anymore. For the most part. I learned what the lack of that pain feels like."

She wants to bring that gift – freedom from pain – to Freedom itself.

Covid-19 got in the way.

"February 1st was my first massage in this building, and in March Covid shut me down until June."

As of Aug. 1, the cost of treatment will be $65 an hour, $95 for an hour and a half, and $130 for two hours, Brown said, adding that she works on four to six people five days a week.

"Some people are nervous about massage therapy and don't realize the health benefits," she noted. "Some people have a preconceived notion that massage is rubbing oil on people, and what they don't realize is it relieves stress, it increases blood flow, it helps with PTSD and depression; I could go on for an hour on things that massage therapy helps with. Because you almost have to shut your mind down for an hour, and you kind of have to face that stuff running through your head, but if you can put your trust in someone (trained in massage therapy), your mind starts to wonder what they're doing, and you start following how your body feels. You come out of that hour, and you feel better mentally as well as physically.

"That's really why I love massage therapy, it's the change that I see in people that makes me feel really, really good. Massage therapy is 3,500 years old," she said. "Xanax is not."


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