Many great military careers seem to start almost by accident. The stories of grateful men and women who spent decades in uniform often begin with a young person shortly removed from high school looking for direction and purpose. Sometimes, not even knowing that a sense of direction and purpose was what they sought until the military found them. GySgt Ray Branham (ret.) did not have that problem. A life of service to the United States was always the plan for him.
Growing up in Lakeland, FL, Branham was a recruiter’s dream. He was the one beating down their door looking for a way into the military.
“My mother kept the letters where I sent off to the Marine Corps for information,” Branham said with a chuckle. “And (the letter back) says: ‘We appreciate your request for information. However, since you’re only 13 years of age, you’re not eligible to join right now.’”
Branham’s recounting of his eagerness to serve brings in mind that of the underaged World War II veterans who forged signatures and pulled strings for nothing more but the opportunity to defend the country in its time of need. Alas, Branham grew up in the 1980s when slipping through the cracks wasn’t quite so easy, so he waited his turn.
“So I went delayed entry program… and on my sixteenth birthday I was standing at MEPS,” Branham said. “I got (to boot camp) August 1st, 1990. So I didn’t turn 18 until about a month in.”
As enthusiastic as Branham was to join the armed forces in any capacity, Branham set a goal at a very young age and never wavered from it. It was the Marine Corps he had his sights on all along.
“Just growing up, seeing the different movies and other things that surrounded (the Marines),” Branham explained when asked what influenced his choice of branch to join. “The mystique about the Marines and how tough they were… not just the tangible benefits, but the intangible benefits that we walk away with as Marines.”
Branham’s decision as a teenager to join the Marines might have been influenced by Heartbreak Ridge and Full Metal Jacket. But the spirit of service that is so deeply ingrained in him originates from something much deeper than headlines and popular culture: his family. Branham has a rich and well-documented family history that pre-dates the American Revolution.
Not only has someone from Branham’s family tree been in the United States since before the nation’s birth, but like a real-life “Lieutenant Dan,” he has had an ancestor fight in every major American conflict. Thanks to a book that has been published by his family that outlines all nine generations with roots in the U.S., he is able to recount his lineage with remarkable detail.
The story of his family begins with Christian Lesnett, who was recruited as a British conscript from the Hessen area of Germany and arrived in the Americas in 1752. He served the British during the French and Indian War. But when the Revolutionary War began, he joined the American cause, supporting the Pennsylvania militia with his woodworking skills, building and maintaining wagons. His service is just the beginning of a family legacy that Branham is proud to carry on.
“…War of 1812, Civil War, World War I, World War II, the whole nine yards,” Branham said.
When his turn finally came, and he joined the Marines, it was those family ties that played a significant part in his choice to become an aircraft mechanic.
Branham’s grandfather was a PBY pilot for the Coast Guard in World War II. He owned a machine shop after the war, where he and Branham would banter over the nuances of propeller and turbine engines. His great uncle worked on Lockheed’s developmental XFV-1 program in the 1950s. This early-Cold War concept was one of aviation pioneer Kelly Johnson’s first projects after World War II. Lockheed had won the contract to fill the Pentagon’s need for a vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) fighter to counter the prospect of Soviet nuclear weapons targetting American airfields.
The XFV-1 “Salmon” essentially looked like a conventional prop plane, but would take off from and land on reinforced tail fins with its nose aimed straight up. The project was outmatched when compared to the up-and-coming turbine engines of the era, and it was ultimately scrapped by the mid-’50s. Coincidentally, though, the bulk of Branham’s time in the Marine Corps would end up being on a direct turbine-powered ancestor (at least in theory) of the XFV-1: the AV-8B Harrier.
It was during that time in the Marines that Branham had a pivotal experience that would help shape his path after military service. In October of 2005, he deployed to Al Asad Airbase in Central Iraq with VMA-211 (now VMFA-211 after its recent conversion to an F-35B squadron). The squadron was there in support of Operation Steel Curtain in the third year of the Iraq War.
During that deployment, then-SSgt Branham was running maintenance control (essentially the “brain” of the squadron that directs all shops to perform the necessary tasks to keep jets operational). An infantry unit nearby had come in direct contact with the enemy and had an officer killed in action during the engagement.
“The insurgents had run into a steel-reinforced building,” Branham recalled. “The call came. We needed to support immediately and launched eight aircraft.”
It was just several weeks later that Branham ran into one of the infantrymen from that same unit that had called for air support. Recognizing Branham’s flight suit and squadron patches, the infantryman approached him, and after a short conversation realized Branham was part of VMA-211 (callsign “Wake,” for Wake Island Avengers).
“He says, ‘Hey, I just want to say thank you. I was danger close when we called for air support for that major that was killed in action. And every time in the battlefield, when we called for support, you all were there.’”
“It’s stuck with me for 17 years now,” Branham continued. “The products we were using at the time were Lockheed Martin products… the ordnance, the sensors.”
So when Branham retired from the Marines in 2011, what better place for him to continue his service to the United States? That experience in Iraq, along with all of the stories from his family that worked in aviation, guided him to his current career with Lockheed Martin.
“I want to continue that legacy and not only support the warfighter, but now support the warfighter in a commercial sense. Transitioning out of a uniform and into business casual and just keep it going.”
Branham’s upbringing and path to his current position at Lockheed Martin might have felt like he was destined for it all along, but like many veterans, he faced a tough job market when transitioning to civilian life. His path to his current employer might not have been as direct as he had hoped, but in 2017, while working for another aerospace company, an opportunity opened up, and he jumped on it.
Branham is now the quality engineering program manager supporting Lockheed Martin’s ATACMS (Army Tactical Missile System) program.
The ATACMS is launched from an M270. It gives commanders in the field versatility with the M270, which is also used as a multiple launch rocket system (MLRS) platform. The ATACMS provides increased range and precision in neutralizing surface targets in the form of a single shot versus a barrage of rockets.
“(The ATACMS) is the only combat-proven long-range tactical surface-to-surface missile that has been deployed in combat by the U.S. Army, and more than 600 have been fired successfully,” Branham said proudly.
Branham emphasized once more the importance of the experience he had had in Iraq, the impact it still has on him, and the role of protecting U.S. servicemembers that he takes very seriously.
“When we did that mission, everything clicked. It all worked the first time,” he explained. “So it’s important that I carry on that tradition and make sure that not only my employees understand the importance of that, but being open with the customer and giving them the faith and confidence in the Lockheed Martin products that its going to work the first time you use it, because lives can depend on it.”
It’s that mentality that is so prevalent in that veteran community that Lockheed Martin values so dearly. It is those perspectives of first-hand experience and working knowledge of the missions that current warfighters are engaged in that motivate Lockheed Martin to have 20 percent of its employees be veterans like Branham.
Both Branham and Lockheed Martin’s dedication goes well beyond the current warfighter to veterans, as well. Branham is an active member of two business resource groups (BRGs) within Lockheed Martin:
- Able & Allies: “Able and Allies creates a positive, inclusive environment by promoting awareness, advocating through allyship, and providing support and resources for employees with disabilities and employee caregivers.” Lockheed Martin has been among the leaders in the American workforce in employing workers with disabilities, of which many are veterans.
- MIL VETS: “MIL VETs is a Lockheed Martin, corporate-wide gathering place for Veterans, Active Military Personnel and their Supporters.”
In addition to establishing these groups within the company, Lockheed Martin has awarded over $630 million in subcontracts to over 800 veteran-owned businesses.
Even if Lockheed Martin hadn’t been a dream post-military job for Branham, the two seem like a perfect match for one another that was bound to happen. Not only do Branham and his current employer enjoy a symbiotic relationship, but also share the goal of making servicemembers successful and safe both during their time in uniform and after, with the even higher ultimate purpose of keeping America safe.
Read more from Sandboxx News:
- Lockheed pitched arming the U-2 with anti-ship missiles
- Seahawk: Lockheed’s plan to put the F-117 on carriers
- America’s NGAD fighter might actually be nothing like you think
- US Army’s extended-range guided rocket sees successful 80-kilometer test shot
- The complete guide to the fighter aircraft in ‘Top Gun: Maverick’