News: The 'Simple' Life
Story by Cpl. Corey Dabney
CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan – When Staff Sgt. Brandon Valentine left for boot camp after enlisting in the Marine Corps in 2003, his mother handed him a letter inscribed with the lyrics to the song "Simple Man" by Lynyrd Skynyrd.
Valentine carried the note with him throughout recruit training and memorized the lyrics. He wanted to learn to play it on guitar and promised himself someday he would.
When Valentine deployed to Iraq in 2005, he noticed a Marine was trying to sell his guitar for 30 dollars before returning to the United States. He said he would always hear people playing and simply wanted to learn. He said when he saw the Marine selling the guitar he thought it was meant to be.
As it turns out, it was. The guitar ultimately changed Valentine’s life.
Valentine taught himself how to play guitar and practiced regularly, and when he returned from Iraq he began to attend “open mic” nights at local bars in Camp Lejeune, N.C., Columbus, Ga., and Carlsbad Calif.
One night while playing for some friends, he met a girl named Janice. She asked him to play "Push" by Matchbox 20 for her and they started dating shortly after. They have been married for the past eight years and he said she continues to support his musical goals.
“She pushes me to become a better player,” said Valentine, the communications operation chief serving with 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment.
Valentine said playing the guitar is therapeutic, helping him to relieve stress. He said some Marines choose to run or play videos games, but he simply prefers to pick a guitar.
“It takes my mind off of everything else,” said Valentine. “I could have the worst day, but as soon as I get home to strum a note, I’m at peace.”
Since he realized the guitar made him feel better, Valentine has brought it with him everywhere he goes. He is on his fifth combat deployment and he said it continues to come in handy, because it also helps the Marines around him.
When he notices his Marines are having a bad day, he invites them to play guitar with him after work. Most of the time, they either agree to play or just listen to him play.
“He is a great player who just seems like a natural with a guitar,” said Lance Cpl. Robert J. Robancho, Jr., an intelligence specialist serving with the battalion. “When he plays and sings it just relaxes everyone listening.”
Before deploying this year, Valentine competed in his first competition at the Marines Got Talent competition on Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms and won.
Even with all the support from his fellow Marines and wife, Valentine said he still was very nervous about playing for the crowd.
“Having my name get called and walking out on stage in-front of all those people gave me butterflies in my stomach,” he said.
That night he played and sang the song his mother had given him before recruit training.
“The fans went crazy; they loved it and so did I,” said Valentine. “When I got backstage everyone was saying I had already won before the judges made their decision.”
Valentine said he wants to continue playing guitar for as long as he can and he can’t wait to compete in another competition.
He is practicing to join a record company and wants to begin a professional career as a songwriter and artist.
Valentine said he continues to keep the note from his mother and plays the song "Simple Man" regularly.
“That is my favorite song and now I try to live the life of a simple man— by loving my family, my country and my music,” he said.