Situated in a tidy room overlooking South Florida’s intracoastal waterway, it was almost instinctual to stand as the Sunshine State’s next potential 18th District U.S. Congressman stepped into the room.
Poised like a non-commissioned officer, Brian Mast entered in a polo and shorts, his prosthetic legs and scars fully visible.
Standing a lot taller than his physical height, the combat veteran of the Global War on Terror confidently walked into the room and shook my hand with a firm grip. From first glance, he came across as the all-American kid you would have expected to be a quarterback for the high school team, maybe settling down after college with a wife, three kids and a white picket fence that they depart from every Sunday for worship in a quiet corner of Anytown, USA.
But beyond the first impression, there was a lot more to Brian Mast. Beyond the confidence and impeccable manners of a solid Michigan kid lay a much more complex individual with a much greater story to tell. His campaign website said it all in regards to what he stood for, but what about Brian Mast as a person?
Growing up in Michigan, he said his father was fifty years older and even at the age of 86, still goes to work every single day. “He was a builder his whole life,’ Mast told me. “He first retired when he was 60, when I was about 10 years old. After about a year, he couldn’t take it any more and went back to work.” Despite going back to work, his dad made a point to be present for every event he could share with his son. They regularly made trips to Florida every year, which would later inspire the younger Mast to move there after the Army. “Everyone has their version of the country”, he said. “The sun and beach is my country.”
To Mast, who is a father of three, family is the most important aspect of his life. “I point to my injury as a silver lining,” he told me. “When I was with special operations, I was always gone. Hands down, if I had served 20 or 30 years, my biggest life regret would be moving 2/3 of every year of their lives. If this was the cost to have that time with my family, then it was absolutely worth it.” He now spends as much time as he can with his wife, Brianna and their children Magnum, Maverick and Madalyn.
When he raised his right hand for the first time in the spring of 2000 in Lansing, Michigan, he knew he it was something he always wanted to do- even if it didn’t pay well.
“I make a point to tell people why it is that we serve,” he said. “The fact is, we don’t serve because we get something out of it. In reality, the only thing we might get out of serving is being dead. We’re not doing it to become wealthy, we’re not going to become movie stars and we don’t do it for a medal on our chests. We do it because we believe in what [America] stands for. The people and the cause of our country is bigger than ourselves.”
Joining as an EOD technician, Mast found himself busy at work as the Global War on Terror kicked off, working in hazardous situations around the globe, primarily with the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC).
Ten years later, his career in the army would come to an abrupt and violent end by way of a pressure-plate booby trap.
During a 2010 patrol in Afghanistan, Mast and the Army Rangers he was attached to ran into several obstacles.
“We landed in a very thick pot field and had to cross a very thick river,” he recalled. “There was no place to cross the river with the exception of a small break in the wall.”
As Mast investigated the break in the wall for a booby trap, one of the Ranger snipers fell into the river. Knowing the weight of the soldier’s body armor might drown him, Mast was told he likely stepped back to help the man. It was at that moment -in terrifying clarity- he remembered stepping on the pressure plate.
“The way I remember it when I close my eyes is my jaw- my teeth were rattled by the concussion so badly that I wasn’t even sure if I had teeth anymore. I was thrown 5-10 feet from the blast in this plume of dust.”
He knew he was in pain and that he couldn’t walk for some reason. It wasn’t until he heard his radio squawk that “EOD was hit” that he knew in his mind that he had been blown up.
He remembers it in phases- having his armor removed, the Rangers putting tourniquets on his legs, being bounced around on a stretcher and the green lights of the helicopter as his Rangers gave him a final salute.
His next memory would come when he awoke five days later at Walter Reed Hospital, a period he describes as an “emotional time” in his life.
Treating his recovery like his indoctrination into the Special Operations community, he decided he needed a new challenge. He would dedicate six hours a day to physical therapy -often painful- until he was discharged from the military.
Moving to his favorite state of Florida, he set his sights on representing the people of the state- if they would have him.
In describing his Congressional run, Mast compared it to a non-stop affair.
“It was like that quote from the film Boondock Saints, he said.” “You know, where you’re like 7-Eleven: You’re not always doing business but you’re always open.”
From grueling physical fitness routines to graduating with a degree from Harvard University, Mast spends each day pushing himself to the limit, both on and off the campaign trail, describing himself as someone who wants to fight to “do his best to guarantee the same opportunities for everyone.”
“My biggest desire in life is not to waste my life,” he said. “If there is one thing I’ve learned through all of this, it is that not one of us knows how much time we have. Most people don’t care if life doesn’t go on for us. Outside of your friends and family, the world doesn’t stop because life stops for us. So it is up to us to participate. I’m not going to let it pass me by.”