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A Resilient Journey

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Karissa Dick
  • 377th Air Base Wing Public Affairs

At the young age of 11, Valentina Basile said farewell to the bustling city of Toronto, Canada, as her family ventured south to the scenic mountains of Fairfax, Virginia in the United States. This transformative journey into the U.S., motivated by her father’s job working for an airport, shaped the future of young Basile’s life.

From navigating a new country to finding her place within Virginia, Basile embraced her adolescence and the many opportunities she was presented.

“I love being Canadian and I view Canada as my homeland, but I very much view Virginia as my home. I grew up in the American culture and those were my very formative years,” said Basile. “Half my life was in the United States, I’ve built great relationships and I love the opportunities offered, the culture, and the way of life here.”

In 2008, Basile attended George Mason University where she earned a bachelor’s degree in government and international politics and was excited to start a career.

“I had just graduated with a fresh and bright eyed future and I was ready to go be amazing,” Basile remembers. “With my lack of job experience nobody wanted to hire me, and I couldn’t work a government job because I wasn’t a citizen yet.”

At the time of her graduation, she was working for a luxury car dealership that she enjoyed, yet she still yearned for a career, something with impact and purpose that would aid her in the future. Basile had a handful of acquaintances in Virginia who joined the military, and she instantly became inspired.

“I loved working for those luxury vehicles, but I had just earned my degree and I wasn’t using it,” explained Basile. “This was not what I anticipated my next step to be after I graduated university, so I thought I would join the military and just do four years. I wanted to set myself up for success.”

Basile’s plan was to serve her time in the military to save money in the hopes of either returning to college to earn a master’s degree or find another job where she could use her bachelor’s degree.

As a permanent resident, Basile was not eligible to commission as an officer, and instead joined the enlisted side of the Air Force in 2009 to earn her U.S. citizenship through serving. After joining, Basile knew she wanted an Air Force career that was transferrable to a civilian job, looked good on a resume and give her the job experience she needed. Basile settled on finance and, after graduating Basic Military Training and technical school, was stationed at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey, in 2010 as a pay technician in the 87th Comptroller Squadron.

“It’s amazing with the armed forces because they will expedite everything, so you receive your citizenship,” said Basile. “After tech school, I went to my first duty station where I became a U.S. citizen in January of 2011, about a year and a half after I enlisted.”

Basile had achieved her goal of citizenship and was excelling in her Air Force career at McGuire Air Force Base. She enjoyed her work and had an amazing leadership team and Airmen who helped push her to be successful.

In the winter of 2013, Basile was overjoyed to welcome her second child into the family. She was very busy on maternity leave raising her 1-year-old, navigating the challenges of a newborn, and was struggling with exhaustion and symptoms she attributed to her recent delivery.

“I was having major issues with my body temperatures and feeling super tired, and I felt like I couldn’t keep my eyes open,” remembers Basile. “I thought the symptoms made sense because I had two babies until I felt something in my throat.”

In the summer of 2013, Basile finally went to her medical provider to address her continuing symptoms and the growing lump in her throat. After examining her, Basile’s provider referred her to an ear, nose, and throat specialist who performed a biopsy of the lump, which came back inconclusive. Basile returned to her medical provider where they performed an ultrasound and determined they would need to remove half of the lump and conduct further testing to determine what it was.

“I thought it was an infection my body was fighting. I was having mental exhaustion and physical exhaustion from being a parent to a baby and a toddler and working full-time,” said Basile. “So, I said yes please do the surgery so we can find out what it is.”

Later, standing in her kitchen after arriving home from a long day of work, Basile received a phone call from her provider with news about the partially removed lump. At the age of 27, Basile faced a life-altering diagnosis of medullary thyroid cancer.

“I remember standing there stunned,” Basile emotionally recalls. “It was my worst fear and all I could think was that I can’t die and leave my kids.”

Determined and undeterred, she underwent surgeries, appointments, and treatments while continuing her duties in the Air Force and caring for her two young children. Basile met with her commander and leadership to let them know of her diagnosis and they offered their support for whatever she needed. She was given plenty of grace and encouragement to attend her appointments and told to take things easy.

“For months I was going through Airman Leadership School, receiving treatments, and constantly going to appointments and I kept it hidden from everyone except my commander and the first sergeant,” said Basile. “I’ve had great leadership and military support from them, especially my commander [Colonel Phelemon Williams II].”

Despite the challenges, Basile’s resilient spirit led her to redefine her career path during force reshaping in the Air Force finance career field. Basile found out she would either need to separate or retrain into a new career field to continue her journey in the Air Force. She researched and looked into many jobs until she finally made the decision to retrain as a paralegal in the Judge Advocate General Corps (JAGC). In 2014, after multiple surgeries and treatments, Basile was clear of her cancer and was able to attend paralegal technical school at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, for two months. After successfully graduating, Basile received orders to Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico.

In 2015 while at Kirtland, Basile started the process to get a divorce and at the same time received deployment orders to the Middle East near the end of her enlistment contract.

“Due to the divorce and other stuff, I turned down the deployment and declined reenlisting,” elaborated Basile. “I remember the paralegal career field was like please stay, but I applied to a couple of law schools and was accepted, so I decided to transition to the reserves.”

After transitioning to the Air Force Reserves and entering civilian life, Basile was seeking something more for a career, and after being accepted into law school, she embarked on the pursuit of a law degree at Faulkner Law School in Alabama, all while navigating the complexities of a divorce. Sharing custody of her children with her now ex-husband in New Mexico, Basile faced the hardships of being physically separated from her family while also trying to focus on school.

“I would visit the kids in New Mexico once a month, call them every night, read them a book before bed, facetime, skype, and send care packages,” remembers Basile. “And I worked my butt off to get good grades.”

The first year apart from her children was very difficult, but it was also a period of self-growth for her and a better way to provide for them financially. Fortunately, Basile had applied to the University of New Mexico School of Law and after months of hard work, in the spring of 2017, she found out she had been accepted. This was a huge personal success for Basile, as she would now be able to transfer schools and reunite with her children in New Mexico.

Now in New Mexico with her children, Basile was even more determined to complete school. She overloaded her schedule with courses, often taking more than 14 credits a semester, and even spending the summers taking courses. She had welcoming professors who allowed her and fellow students to bring their children to summer classes, which was very helpful to Basile.

“I remember bringing my kids a couple of times to my ethics class, and one time my daughter raised her hand and my professor called on her and asked if she knew the answer. My daughter replied ‘No, but my mom does’,” Basile fondly recalls.

Her hard work in school would pay off as she graduated in two and a half years in December 2018, a semester earlier than expected.

“I earned my law degree, and I built a lot of good networking and relationships with people at UNM law school,” said Basile. “I was still a reservist as well, so I was still completing my reserve duties while going to school and graduating.”

Basile had continued to fulfill her duties in the reserves while being stationed at Kirtland Air Force Base, as an Individual Mobilization Augmentee to the law office superintendent and would complete her annual reservist requirements in the summer. She remembers the Kirtland legal office being grateful for her extra help and their enthusiasm to have her in the office.

Unphased by her past struggles, the time-consuming challenge of divorce proceedings, and her continued check-ups from her cancer diagnosis, Basile became a licensed lawyer after overcoming the hurdles of the bar exam on her second attempt in 2019. During this time, she also started the process of commissioning as a Judge Advocate General officer in the reserves. Basile persevered during this time marking a significant milestone in her personal life, career and education.

“It was very surreal because when I enlisted in 2009, I already had my degree and I was always planning to eventually move into the officer corps,” said Basile. “I like meeting new people and I like having leadership opportunities and it felt really good that I was finding my way into a career.”

Transitioning to civilian life, Basile took on a job for the National Nuclear Security Administration as an attorney overseeing contracts. Her skills and dedication did not go unnoticed, and 4 years later she was invited to return to active duty in the JAG field.

“I got a call and they’re like ‘Hey, would you like to come back to duty’ and that was a really hard decision,” said Basile. “I had to decide if I wanted to stay with my great civilian job or go back to active duty, so I spoke to the assignment manager at JAG headquarters and asked if there was any way for me to be stationed at Kirtland Air Force Base. They were so accommodating, understanding, and amazing to work with. So, I made my decision.”

In October of 2023, Basile returned to active duty as an officer after making the decision to leave her civilian job and being approved to be stationed at Kirtland Air Force Base.

“I was sad I had to make my original decision to get out active duty due to life circumstances and I feel like this is now a full circle,” said Basile. “This was a really good option for me to just refocus on one job, have that financial support and I really just enjoy being in service.”

Embracing the opportunity, Basile is now an assistant staff judge advocate for the 377th Air Base Wing Staff Judge Advocates Office at Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico, where she exemplifies resilience, dedication, and unwavering commitment to her duties. As an assistant staff judge advocate, Basile supervises Airmen workloads, ensures attorneys are available for estate planning, practices preventative law on ethics, provides information to the base population about disciplinary action guidance and supports commanders with legal advice.

“The first few months it was a hard adjustment to get back into it, but I think now I’m getting back into the groove, and I’ve found my rhythm,” said Basile. “I really enjoy being a mentor and showing other Airmen the basics of military life. I love building relationships and having the opportunity to work with other offices, commanders, and first sergeants on base because I get to talk to everyone and understand their missions.”

In addition to her work duties, Basile is still busy raising her two children as a single mother and setting goals for her personal future.

“My goal is to buy 40 acres. That’s my future,” Basile said. “I am saving up for those 40 acres and I want alpacas, yaks, chickens, and a vineyard. And I’ll just live out my life in Virginia on a farm with my kids.”

As of February 2024, Capt. Valentina Basile celebrates a decade of being officially cancer-free. Her journey reflects not only her personal triumph over adversity, but also her ability to balance the demands of challenging career transitions, achieving educational goals, and single parenthood. Basile’s story serves as an inspiration to those facing adversity and shows the power of resilience and determination in the face of life's most formidable challenges.