By Brian Powell
After nearly a decade of service in the U.S. Army, Brett Rustand returned to Tucson in 2008 ready to move on to the next phase of his life.
But as time went by, the retired Army captain began to see military veterans who were struggling, and he felt a need to help those suffering from mental-health and physical challenges. Rustand says he saw significant hurdles veterans were facing in society and he felt a commitment to those soldiers—both the ones he knew and those he had never met.
For the past four years, the Flinn-Brown Civic Leadership Academy Fellow has served on the Veterans Advisory Commission of the Arizona Department of Veterans’ Services, a state agency which connects veterans with benefits, housing, employment, skilled-nursing facilities, and cemeteries. Rustand, an executive at Crest Insurance Group, is also active in numerous Tucson-based nonprofit organizations that offer assistance to veterans.
Rustand is now the chairman of the nine-member Veterans Advisory Commission, which provides policy advice not only to the veterans’ services department, but also offers counsel to the governor’s office.
“It’s been an outstanding experience to see state-level issues facing veterans and to tackle them,” says Rustand, who learned of the commission opening from the Flinn-Brown network. “Through Flinn-Brown, I was able to gain an understanding of these opportunities to serve on statewide commissions and positions and understand the issues that are facing the state, as well as the personalities, people, and organizations facing those issues in Arizona.”
Flinn-Brown was launched in 2010 by the Phoenix-based Flinn Foundation to help develop state-level civic leaders. There are about 225 Fellows from around the state. The Flinn-Brown seminars are held each fall with recruitment for the Fall 2016 cohort currently underway.
In 1999, Rustand was pursuing his bachelor’s degree in international relations and Latin American studies at Brigham Young University and set to attend law school at Georgetown University in Washington D.C. But his participation in ROTC over his last two years of undergraduate studies changed everything.
He decided against law school and instead pursued a military career.
Rustand served for nine years in the Army’s aviation branch as platoon leader, executive officer, staff officer, and company commander. He flew Blackhawk helicopters and served in Iraq and Korea.
“I went into aviation to fly helicopters but it really was about leading soldiers,” Rustand says. “One of the greatest experiences and blessings I have had was the opportunity to work with and lead soldiers.”
Rustand completed leadership training in the military and college, where he was an Army ROTC Distinguished Military Graduate. In addition to his sustained Flinn-Brown activities, Rustand has graduated from Greater Tucson Leadership.
“You really have to learn how to lead,” Rustand says. “In true leadership, you can’t ask someone to do something that you won’t do yourself. Leadership is providing purpose, direction, and motivation, not just directing people to do something.”
Rustand was stationed in Korea in 2006 when his son was born. Afterward, the family decided to return to Tucson, where Rustand was raised.
He is currently a vice president at Crest Insurance in Tucson, helping commercial ventures manage risk, including defense contractors and veteran-owned businesses. Managing risk is a theme he was used to from his time in the military.
“I didn’t grow up thinking I’d be in insurance, but it’s a natural fit from one to the other,” Rustand said.
Rustand also serves on the board of directors of Community Partners Inc., formerly known as Community Partnership of Southern Arizona, a behavioral-health nonprofit in Pima County; and the Arizona Fisher House, where military and veterans’ families can stay for free while receiving medical treatment in Tucson. He has also worked with Rally Point, a social-services organization that describes itself as a safety net for veterans, service members, and their families.