An assistant flight commander and Air Reserve technician in the 39th Flying Training Squadron at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, LaValley joined the Air Reserve in 2014 following more than a decade of full-time military service. He’d been stationed in San Antonio in 2012 to help train the next generation of fighter pilots and when he entered the reserves, a full-time instructor position was left open. So LaValley asked if he could keep the job, only this time as a civilian.
His boss agreed and made LaValley the first full-time civilian in his unit, an arrangement LaValley and his superiors describe as a win-win. “I love (the job)—the students are sponges, and they want to learn everything they can,” says LaValley, who joined the reserves, in part, so he’d also have time to launch his finance business, Targeted Wealth Solutions. “Most of them have grown up wanting to be where they are right now. It’s phenomenal. It’s a really rewarding job.” As a civilian instructor, LaValley—known in the air as Somba—has excelled, recording some of the highest rates of on-time graduations for his students. Earlier this year he won the national Air Force Air Education and Training Command Flying Training Civilian Instructor of the Year award.
LaValley says he knew he wanted to fly jets from a young age and by middle school had his sights set on the Air Force Academy. Following graduation from the Academy, he completed pilot training school and then served stints flying F-16s, T-37s and other aircraft from bases in Oklahoma, Utah and Arizona, as well as during deployments to Afghanistan. In San Antonio, he was tasked with passing on his skills to others. “In pilot training, they’re teaching them to take off and land,” he says. “We teach them to shoot someone down, to not get shot down, and we teach them full weapons systems—things they’ve never seen before.”
As a civilian instructor, LaValley now works about 48 hours a week on base, 40 as a civilian employee and around eight as an Air Reserve air technician. He spends his mornings managing paperwork for other reserve members and then devotes the bulk of his day to preparing for flights, flying with soon-to-be fighter pilots and debriefing students about what happened in the air.
The training structure has shifted a bit since LaValley completed it nearly a decade ago. Then, it was akin to basic training. Now, LaValley is among those helping to usher in a new era of training. Students are treated like members of a fighter squadron, taught leadership skills and pushed to succeed, rather than merely survive. “We used to have a pretty high attrition rate,” says LaValley. “That is not the case anymore.”
When he’s not at Randolph, LaValley focuses on his finance business, advising clients about how and where to invest. He’s also volunteered for special Air Force missions, including one to Hungary in 2015 when a NATO-sponsored team helped train Hungarian forces in close air support. LaValley knows he won’t be able to fly jets forever. But for now, he has no plans of staying on the ground. “I’ll do this as long as my body will allow me,” he says.
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