Brothers in arms
Military service separates Brad, Micah and Craig Penley.
It also bonds the brothers.
Brad and Micah graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy, while Craig, a five-year veteran of the Army National Guard, will soon graduate from Appalachian State University (ASU) and receive an officer commission into the U.S. Army. All three are Fred T. Foard graduates whose parents, Rick and Kim, call Mountain View home.
“Their lives make things interesting,” Rick said recently. “We’ve always got something to talk about. We can be filling in the boys on what their brothers are doing, and it keeps things humming.”
Brad, four years older than twin brothers Micah and Craig, was the first to choose a military career. He decided to attend the Naval Academy after it started recruiting him as a high school swimmer at Foard.
At first, the academy overwhelmed him, but a summer training mission after his first year improved his outlook. He went on to graduate and move into the Navy’s explosive ordinance disposal (EOD) tract, a highly competitive program that he said chooses 14 Naval Academy graduates each year, compared to 26 graduates who compete to be Navy seals.
“What piqued my interest (in EOD) was the guys I work with are the smartest and most motivated in the Navy,” Brad said. “I like to jump out of planes, scuba dive and blow stuff up. Seems like the perfect fit.”
Micah also enjoys skydiving and eventually followed his older brother to the Naval Academy.
“Hearing his stories, I became more and more interested in going into the academy,” Micah said. “It hit me early at the academy that it wasn’t about me. I’m an officer in the Navy, but my job is to serve those who are under me. My perspective on things really changed at that point.”
After graduation, he successfully entered a naval aviation program and eventually plans to fly in a naval fleet.
“I’m comfortable in the air,” he said. “I started skydiving about four years ago for the academy. I have about 140 jumps right now.”
Craig chose a different path from his brothers. He now needs 19 credit hours to graduate from ASU with a history degree and a commission into an Army infantry unit. He said Brad influenced his decision to serve in the military.
“I wanted to be different, and I joined the ROTC (Reserve Officers Training Corps) program in high school,” he said. “Col. (Steven) Crowe helped me see my opportunities to do that. So far, it’s been very good for me.”
Brad handles explosive devices, often referred to as “car bombs.”
His platoon’s work was the focus of a recent Gulf-4 TV network show, “Bomb Patrol Afghanistan.”
During his last command with an EOD mobile unit based in San Diego, Calif., TV producers approached the Navy wanting to film an expose on the platoon’s disposal work in Afghanistan.
Producers followed the unit on missions, often filming from moving military vehicles, Brad said.
He said the network targets video gamers ages 14-25 who are potential Navy recruits. More episodes of the show are slated for this spring.
“It’s humbling someone wanted to do a TV show on my job in the first place,” he said. “I had to remind myself and remind the platoon that Americans would be seeing what we’re doing. It really highlighted the attributes of the sailors who are still conducting this job in Afghanistan.”
Brad, who has deployed twice to Afghanistan, is currently based in Little Creek, Va., as commander for a mine counter measures platoon.
“I’ve got a dream job right now,” he said. “I couldn’t think of a better job. My mom wasn’t too wild about it when I first got it, but she’s come to terms.”
Micah is now in the primary phase of flight school in Corpus Christi, Texas, where he’s training to fly a T-34 single-engine prop plane.
In recent months, he completed introductory flight school in Pensacola, Fla., where he learned to fly a Cessna aircraft and experienced rigorous academic requirements.
He expects to take his first flight within the week, and in the coming years he wants to earn his Navy "wings."
“At that moment, you’re officially a naval aviator, and you start flying in a fleet,” he said. “Right now, I’m absolutely loving it, the job I’m doing. I came down here, and it’s like I’m home already. It will be a career I’m in for the next 25-30 years.”
Craig also anticipates a lengthy career in service, possibly as an Army special forces officer. He had an opportunity to deploy several years ago, but he chose to continue school.
“A lot of my career development has come through ROTC,” he said. “I feel like I’m more than able to go in now from experiences I’ve gained here. This is my life. I love it, and I can’t see myself doing anything else.”
Facebook helps the Penley brothers keep in touch.
“We can keep up with each other real easy that way,” Micah said. “We’ll post pictures of what we’re doing. It’s a way for our parents to keep up with us, as well.”
The brothers rarely see each other in person, but they talk on the phone as often as their schedules allow.
“We’re all beyond busy all the time in different places,” Craig said. “It’s a mutual understanding if we don’t talk to each other for a month. From time to time, we’ll sit and chat and catch up.”
Every several years, the brothers attempt to take a trip together. In recent years, they've traveled to Arizona and to Snowshoe, W.Va. Craig said the Penleys enjoy scuba diving and snowboarding.
“When we do get together and decompress, we don’t talk about jobs,” Brad said.
“When it comes to bragging about jobs, there’s not much comparison because what we’re doing is so different. It’s humbling to see that God blessed my family with the capabilities that we have. My brothers just constantly amaze me with what they do. They take what I’ve done and go to the next level.”
The boys also credit their parents for refusing to let them fail and instilling leadership qualities.
“We’re exceedingly proud of them,” Rick said. “It kind of makes an old man jealous that he can’t be doing the things they’re out doing. We brag every chance we get.”