By Ms. Kelly Morris (U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence)March 8, 2018
FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- When she grows up, the currently two-year-old daughter of the Valle family may not remember the day her parents, 2nd Lt. Brandie Valle and 1st Lt. Brandon Valle, graduated from flight school at Fort Rucker.
She'll likely forget the events of the ceremony -- from the chaplain's prayer to the playing of the Army song, or even the big moment her parents pinned each other's Aviation wings during the Initial Entry Rotary Wing graduation ceremony at the U.S. Army Aviation Museum here Feb. 28.
She's too little now to understand other things too, like the enormous juggling act of raising a child while both parents take turns pulling all-nighters to study, or the magnitude of her parents' service to their country. To this little girl, the dual-Army Aviation couple are Mom and Dad, and what matters to her is they were together as a family.
But years from now the photographs will tell the story of a milestone day for the Valles.
"We've really found that the Army tries to take care of its people, and I think our career kind of shows that," said Brandon.
With more than a decade of service as non-commissioned officers already under their belts, the Valles earned their degrees and commissions through the Green-to-Gold Active Duty Option, a two-year program for highly qualified enlisted Soldiers. The Valles are both fixed-wing pilots, working toward their personal and professional goals in lockstep as a family.
"It's been a long time coming. I'm just glad we're finally there," said Brandie, as she held their daughter after the ceremony.
The Valle couple took the leap together long before they were married. They met as enlisted Soldiers with the "Golden Knights" U.S. Army Parachute Team, and since then their jumps number in the thousands. Their goal is to eventually make their way back there to promote the Army's message, this time as fixed-wing Aviators.
"My goal would be to command the aviation section of the team, and be able to support it from a different aspect. We're working towards that," Brandie said.
What the Valles refer to as "luck" on their Army journey included being stationed near each other multiple times in Europe, and deploying at the same time to Afghanistan with the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team in 2012. Both were selected for the Green to Gold program, and they attended the same college.
Brandon initially had doubts as to whether Aviation was looking for "a guy like me," he said. But Brandie's mantra was "you don't know until you try," so they applied.
The Valles were both assigned to the Army Aviation branch, trained at the same time to become C-12 pilots, and graduated the same day.
Both competitive, the duo didn't always get along so well.
"If you had told me the day I met him that I would be married to him, I would have said you were freaking crazy," Brandie said.
Over the years, they became each other's encouragement.
"I've always seen her as smarter than me academically. And in flight school -- to watch her, how she balances family, work, even extracurricular stuff we were doing, plus studying, plus flying -- I was impressed with the way she was doing it. I would take after her," Brandon said.
At Fort Rucker, they grew together as Aviators and parents.
"Having a daughter brought out a patient side to him -- this gung-ho (former) sergeant that's kind of aggressive. He's a very generous guy and will help anybody out," she said.
To keep each other motivated, Brandon developed a game where whoever scored the lowest on check rides had to buy dinner.
"I bought a lot of dinners because I was always one point below," Brandie said.
"I think that made us try harder," Brandon said. "We get to push each other throughout our careers."
Being a dual-Army couple has its good points and its challenges, according to Brandie.
"It's nice having someone else that's in the service because they understand when things need to happen, and how that it needs to happen," Brandie said. "But we also have to make sure we stop everything and have family time with our daughter before she goes to bed."
Getting to this point involved a lot of small steps, and the Valles are grateful for Army leaders, family and friends along the way, including those who helped out with childcare, the couple said.
While their commission has broadened their Army perspective, their years of experience as enlisted Soldiers continues to have value going forward as leaders.
"That's something we can bring to the table, seeing the two lanes and really understanding each other a little bit more," Brandon said.
Brandie reflected on comments made by Col. Geoffrey Crawford, director of strategic planning at the US Army Aviation Center of Excellence, at an event the night before the graduation ceremony.
"There's a little bit of luck involved, but a lot of it is opportunity," Brandie said. "The opportunity only comes by once, and if you don't take it you miss it. For us, whenever those opportunities have presented themselves we've always jumped on it and tried. I think a lot of people self-eliminate ... They don't take those steps forward because they're scared of failure."
Brandon said he recently found a note he had written to himself earlier in his career with the advice to stay in the Army until he serves 20 years. He is holding onto that, going forward.
"I love being in the Army. We have great jobs, great experiences. Sometimes you have heartbreaks, but you take charge of it," Brandon said. "People want to help. The Army is full of good opportunities."
Both are committed to service, but not without their family in tow.
"In the end your family is what your priority is. Our goals fit into our family. That's just how we are," Brandie said.
After the ceremony, there was even more big news for the Valle family and friends, which involved the printout from an ultrasound. Their daughter is going to be a big sister.