When Hollywood makes movies featuring female soldiers and sailors, those characters typically have some improbable combination of strength, intelligence, grace and courage. Throw in a quirky backstory – She studied theatre! She plays clarinet! – and you have the makings of a perfect, albeit unrealistic, female military action hero.
But these women do exist. America’s Navy is filled with them, and few have a more interesting story than Ensign Brianne “Brie” Coger, a 10-year Navy veteran who was one of just 12 female enlisted Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD) technicians in the entire fleet before earning her commission in 2018.
EODs are part of the Navy’s elite Special Warfare community. This is the territory of Navy SEALs – exceptional men and women who have the intelligence, physical fitness, and drive to rise to the top. It’s work that demands a state of mind marked by extreme courage and capability under fire.
Coger grew up in Staten Island, New York. She excelled in sports, particularly swimming, and still holds some swimming records at her high school. A talented musician, she also played clarinet with the school orchestra and marching band. Later, at the University of Miami (Fla.), she studied theater and dreamed of becoming a Hollywood stunt woman.
Coger spent two challenging years after college working odd jobs back home in New York, trying to pursue an acting career. When the opportunities fizzled, Coger looked for a different kind of challenge and found it in the Navy.
“What I love about EOD is that there is no typical day,” she said. “Whether we’re going out to do some diving and an underwater detonation, or we have to go to a remote location in the mountains to do some IED training, or just working a chemical or biological problem in a laboratory situation – there’s nothing typical about any of that, and that’s exactly what I needed in my life.”
EODs are the world’s ultimate bomb squad, trained to disarm conventional bombs, mines, improvised explosive devices (IEDs), and chemical – even nuclear – weapons. They perform some of the most harrowing, dangerous work on earth to keep others from harm’s way — but that was precisely what appealed to Coger.
“I was really drawn to EOD because I wanted to be part of a protective force,” she said. “You still get to do all the cool stuff, but an EOD doesn’t go out and cause trouble; they’re there to make the situation better. That really spoke to me.”
Coger says she’s never felt that her gender was an issue in her Navy career. In fact, she has enjoyed tremendous success in a relatively short time, rising to chief petty officer – a senior enlisted rate – in just eight years before being selected for officer training in 2017. After more than a decade as an enlisted Sailor, Coger earned her commission in 2018 after completing Officer Candidate School in Newport, R.I. Coger has since graduated from the exclusive Navy Dive School in Florida and is now in San Diego getting ready to deploy. Her first assignment as a new officer? Leading a platoon of EOD Techs – the same people she worked with as an enlisted sailor.
“People think that joining the military means giving up things, but I’ve never seen it like that,” she said. “You aren’t losing something; you are gaining opportunities. The biggest thing that has helped me in my career is saying yes; embracing whatever’s out there and keeping my eyes and ears open to what’s possible.”
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