Morgan Hill resident Nanci Brand isn’t one to boast or brag without prompting, but the soft-spoken mother of three young servicemen is clearly proud of her sons, who have all coincidentally chosen to serve their country in the armed forces at the same time.
U.S. Air Force Specialist E-5 Tres Salyer, 28, U.S. Air Force Airman Basic Jeffrey Salyer, 26, and U.S. Navy Third Class Petty Officer Joseph Salyer, 22, are all currently active.
Joseph joined the Navy in 2008. He is currently stationed on the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower aircraft carrier in an undisclosed area near the Arabian Peninsula.
Jeffrey just joined the Air Force in June, and is currently at basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. He will graduate in August, and his parents are planning a road trip to the ceremony.
Tres has been in the Air Force since 2004, and is now stationed at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Ariz.
Brand, 54, and the boys’ father Woodie Salyer, 62, think that a combination of a deep family background in the military, and an upbringing that emphasized patriotism and being productive citizens contributed to their independent decisions to join the service.
“There are so many young people that have no direction,” said Brand, who lives just east of downtown Morgan Hill with her husband Lonnie Brand. “I always told my kids ‘when you graduate high school, you either go to college or go to the military. You have to have direction in life.’”
Woodie Salyer, also a Morgan Hill resident, said he “didn’t brainwash” his sons when they were growing up, but he told them that serving the country is a patriotic gesture. “We had a lot of patriotism at home,” he said.
“It was very rewarding to know they wanted to go out and serve their country,” said Salyer, who works in electronic equipment sales.
Neither of the parents served in the military, but Nanci Brand noted that her father was a “career Army soldier.” He always made it a point to pay tribute to active, former and fallen servicemen and women on holidays such as Memorial Day, Veterans Day and Independence Day.
The Salyers’ step-father, Lonnie Brand, 59, retired from the U.S. Air Force after 20 years. He served during the Cold War era, and was stationed in various places including Germany and Washington, D.C.
Lonnie Brand has known the Salyer boys about six years - as long as he and Nanci have been together - and he describes them as always seeking a challenge.
“They want to do something positive,” he said.
The Salyers’ parents have lived in Morgan Hill about 13 years, and all three boys attended local high schools, Nanci Brand said. The two oldest graduated from Live Oak High School - Tres in 2003 and Jeffrey in 2004. Joseph graduated from Sobrato High School in 2007.
Joseph Salyer added, by e-mail, that his family has a “long and proud” history in the United States. The family’s military roots go back to pre-Revolutionary days.
“Ever since I was a little kid, both my parents instilled in me a love for this great nation of ours and looking back on the history of both sides of my family, military service seemed to be a tradition and I thought I might continue that,” Joseph said.
That coupled with a strong desire to see the world and “get a new experience in life” motivated him to join the Navy in 2008.
“I love the fact that even though I've been stationed on the same ship for the past three years, I've seen nations such as the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Turkey, Italy, Spain, and Greece,” he said.
He is currently in his second deployment to the Arabian area, his mother said.
Aboard the Eisenhower, Joseph’s main job (personnel on aircraft carriers rarely have only one job, he said) is in the ship’s personnel office, processing his shipmates’ files - similar to what civilians know as “human resources,” he said. His other jobs include maintaining and repairing infrastructure and fixtures on the ship, and preparing budgets for his department.
Joseph added that his older brother Tres influenced him to join the military, and he is “extremely proud” of both his brothers’ service.
He won’t be back in the States until March.
“It was hard when he left, knowing we wouldn’t see Joey for nine months,” Nanci Brand said.
Tres Salyer joined the Air Force in 2004.
“But really it was my wife and I (who joined),” he said by e-mail. “Being a military spouse is the hardest job in the military, so my hat’s off to her.” The couple just had a son, Jax, about 10 months ago.
An aircraft mechanic, Tres has been deployed to eastern combat zones twice since he joined. In 2006, he served as an escort for “third-country nationals” working with American troops in Kyrgyzstan. In 2009, he served at the Balad base in Iraq, where he was a mechanic working on a dozen C-130 cargo and troop transport planes.
Tres is a career Air Force man, and plans to continue serving for at least another 12 years, he said. He is currently working on his bachelor’s degree in professional aeronautics, and after he retires from service he wants to move back to the Bay Area with his family, and pursue a mechanics job at one of the international airports in the area.
“The hardest part of any deployment is being away from my wife Rachel for so long,” Tres added. “I can't even imagine how hard it will be to leave (her and Jax) when the time comes for me to deploy again.”
Jeffrey is the most recent Salyer to join the service. While at basic training, he is allowed minimal contact with the outside world.
Nanci said he signed up for a six-year commitment, and wants to be a mechanic like his brother. He is considering an eventual career in broadcasting.
Jeffrey “spent some time searching” for what he wanted to do for a career. “He saw his brothers, and where they were going, and it was motivation,” said Nanci.
Needless to say, the month of June, with Joseph leaving on the Eisenhower and Jeffrey going to basic training, has been “a very emotional month” for Nanci.
Lonnie Brand added that it’s “unusual” for a family’s entire brood to be active in the military at the same time. “It’s quite a lot to ask for them to be away from their mom, and away from each other,” he said.
Both Nanci and Woodie Salyer project a calm and relaxed demeanor, but those who have been in similar situations know it can be stressful to have a son - let alone all three sons - serving in the military, away from home and sometimes in dangerous situations.
“She’s going to be thinking of her kids 24/7,” said Anna Vanegas, president of the South Bay Blue Star Moms, an organization of local mothers of active servicemen and women. “We know what she is going through because we do the same thing when our kids go into the service. Whether deployed or not, we eagerly await the phone call, with phone in hand from our troop.”
The “fun part,” Nanci said, is preparing and sending care packages to her sons that include homemade cookies and fun items like miniature airplanes.
“The hardest part is knowing they’re not going to live in the same town as me for a long time, or maybe ever,” she said. “But you raise your kids, and you want them to go on their life path.”