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Impact of 9/11 attacks led School of Public Health alumna Lt. Col. Brenda D. Bustillos to a military career
The tragic events that unfolded with the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, have had a lasting impact on millions throughout the United States. For Texas A&M University School of Public Health alumna Lt. Col. Brenda D. Bustillos, DrPH, RDN, the tragedies of that day led her to reconsider her future and set her down the road to what has been a rewarding military career.
Bustillos earned her master’s degree in nutrition from Texas A&M in 2006. Not long after, she made the decision to join the United States Army.
“I was staring at the four walls of my office and thought there’s got to be more than this,” Bustillos said. “I felt I needed to spread my wings a little bit and decided to join the Army. 9/11 hit me hard, like it hit a lot of other folks. I am also from a patriotic family, and I was definitely called to service.”
Bustillos, who has been in the Army for 16 years, is currently stationed at Fort Eustis in Newport News, Virginia, home of the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC). She is the command dietitian at the U.S. Army Center for Initial Military Training.
She will take the next step in her career this summer when she becomes the new director of nutritional readiness and soldier performance in the Office of the Surgeon General, U.S. Army.
“I am honored by the selection, and I am looking forward to building and improving strategic programming and policies for health promotion and soldier performance,” Bustillos said. “I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I joined the Army and I had no idea what to expect. I didn’t ask any questions of my health care recruiter, I just said I wanted to join.
“I began serving the Army as a dietitian and I have never looked back. I didn’t know how long I would be in and where it would lead me, but it’s been the most incredible career decision.”
After 10 years of service, the Army approached Bustillos about returning to school and earning her doctorate. Bustillos had her choice of schools of public health, and she applied to several different ones. However, when it came time to decide there was one school that stood out above the others.
“I could choose anywhere that I wanted to go, but I wanted to go to a place that was military friendly, and I wanted to go to a school where I knew the community and the school and the faculty,” Bustillos said. “I really felt called to go back to A&M and I knew that with the education I received 10 years prior that I would be in good hands. It was a great decision and I have never regretted a minute of it.”
Bustillos was born and raised in Joshua, Texas, and it was during her early years she began to develop an interest in the field of public health. She says she had family members who struggled with being overweight as well as diabetes, heart disease and cancer, which helped to drive her interest
Additionally, growing up as an athlete, she said she struggled with body image and how best to fuel her body for competitions, piquing her interest in nutrition and diet.
“I really had the drive and desire to understand human performance optimization and how food has the power to heal or harm,” Bustillos said. “I really did a deep dive early in my career on the science of nutrition. Nutritional science was more of my focus, and I found out I am just not as fond of working with Petri dishes as I am with people.”
Bustillos earned her bachelor’s degree in nutrition and food sciences from Texas State University in 2003 before coming to Texas A&M for her master’s degree—a decision she said was as easy to make then as it was when choosing a school for her doctorate.
“I have Aggies in my family, and I always had such admiration for Texas A&M,” Bustillos said. “I knew it was a great school and a great community. I will never forget the day I received my acceptance letter. I cried happy tears and did a lot of screaming and whooping.”
Now, in her position with the Army, Bustillos gets the chance to share her passion for public health as well as Texas A&M with fellow military members who are contemplating the next step in their academic careers.
“There is a much greater interest in public health degrees,” Bustillos said. “Many of our young soldiers and young officers are going through the same decision-making process I did, and they are asking me for guidance. I always tell them I picked A&M because of the military friendliness, but also because the faculty at the School of Public Health are just phenomenal. I have absolutely no complaints about my education from Texas A&M.
“I always say, I loved it so much, I went twice.”
Media contact: Dee Dee Grays, firstname.lastname@example.org, 979.436.0611