A life-changing diagnosis

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Lindsey Soulsby
  • 120th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
Retired Staff Sgt. Carl Valvoda has been a part of multiple changes throughout his short career in the Montana Air National Guard. He witnessed the fighter aircraft conversion from the F-16 Falcon to the F-15 Eagle and also the beginning of the conversion to the C-130 Hercules airlift mission.

The challenges faced by changes in aircraft and missions pale in comparison with the personal challenge he faces today.

On Dec. 26, 2013, Valvoda was rushed to the emergency room in Helena, Montana, experiencing headaches and dizziness. After a brain scan was performed, the hospital immediately flew him to Benefis Hospital in Great Falls for further testing. The doctors at Benefis found the results serious enough to connect him with a neurosurgeon at the Swedish Medical Center in Seattle. 

Valvoda had brain surgery on Jan 15, 2014 and shortly after on Jan 22,  his life changed forever, he was diagnosed with grade three brain cancer.

"(His diagnosis) blindsided everybody and shows you that everything that can change in a split second," said Tech. Sgt. Edward Moyer, 120th C-130 crew chief.

Valvoda was put on a regimen of daily chemotherapy followed by eight months of chemotherapy medication. He now has started on a new medication that his doctors have said has promising results.

"He's staying really positive and I have to say, that his wife is his rock," said Tech. Sgt. Brandon Garneau. "She's amazing.  That's all I can say, is that she's amazing."

The Valvoda family is trying to find a new normal with his diagnosis. Keeping busy with sporting events for their three children takes them all around the town and state. 

The family recently attended an elementary school assembly to watch their son receive a student of the month award. 

Valvoda's six-year-old son has already expressed interest in following in his father's military footsteps with hopes of becoming a pilot.

 Valvoda considers his 13 year career with the MTANG to have been exciting and fulfilling.

Valvoda enlisted in the Montana Air National Guard as an armament systems specialist in 2001.

"I walked into the weapons shop and I saw that (Vulcan 20mm gatling gun, the aircraft mounted machine gun on the F-16) sitting on the table and I knew right then and there that's the shop that I wanted," Valvoda said.

Valvoda participated in many deployments during his traveled with the 120th Fighter Wing to Iraq twice, Hurricane Katrina support, Korea, Alaska and Hawaii, with Hawaii being his favorite. 

"As far as character, there's not much better aspects as a worker and a friend," Moyer said.

He was signing up for just about every deployment with the desire to travel and make a difference in the guard.  He was always willing to help, even if it wasn't his job.

"That's why I signed the bottom line," Valvoda said.

The recent change of mission gave him the opportunity to pursue a job as a loadmaster.  A perfect fit for his desire to see different parts of the country and world. 

"The last few years I have had the pleasure of working with Sergeant Valvoda have been great," said Maj. Cinq-Mars, 120th Airlift Wing maintenance commander. "The growth we saw in him during his time in weapons was outstanding and to see his excitement and motivation to be a loadmaster, you just knew he was going to do great at it. He is truly a great Airman and a huge asset to the 120th Airlift Wing!"

When asked what advice he would give a member looking to join the Montana National Guard "Join for the right reasons," Valvoda said.

Valvoda joined for the right reasons, to serve his country and that he did, always willing to help and doing it with no complaints.  Within a short time of being in the Guard he knew he was going to be a lifer, to stay in as long as possible.  Many of his co-workers who quickly became his friends shared the same word, lifer. 

"I just know he's going to beat it and he's going to bounce back from it, with his attitude there's no way he can't," Garneau said.