Q&A with Aaron Cantley; U.S. Marine Corps veteran & Founder/CEO of Valor Productions:
1. KIM – Valor Productions is a company dedicated to documenting the stories and experiences of our Veteran’s for themselves, their loved ones and generations to follow. An extremely noble and valuable service, can you share with the readers how you’ve personally witnessed and experienced the impact the documentation process has on the participating vets and their families?
VP – Every conversation we have with our Nation’s Veterans and their families is priceless.
I founded Valor shortly after losing all three of my uncles in 2009, who served in World War II and the Korean War. In an instant, the stories I grew up listening to were lost forever except for the memories I had of hearing them. There was not a price I would not pay to hear one of those stories one more time in their voice. My family lost the opportunity to preserve those priceless stories and experiences, but it is now my passion and goal to offer every family the chance to preserve the life experiences of their loved ones.
For instance, last month we had the opportunity to film a Veteran in North Carolina, who unexpectedly passed just a few days after filming. A valued customer of Valor, a family owned funeral home, requested that the production of this video be expedited to be revealed for the first time at his service. Valor rose to the challenge and hand delivered it within 24 hours in time for a viewing by his loved ones at the service.Of all of the gratitude and appreciation I receive from families, this is a memory I will never forget.
This along with other unforgettable moments is one of the very reasons Valor Productions was founded. The real value of preserving our loved ones’ stories is often not truly fully appreciated until they are no longer with us. This is why Valor provides a unique opportunity for all Veterans to share their story with their families and loved ones while they can.
2. KIM – Initially, Valor Productions seemed to focus on Veteran Reunions, as a target audience to record the stories of military service & history. However, can you share how your company has evolved to meet the ever-changing opportunities in the marketplace?
VP – When I founded Valor, our primary customers were military reunion coordinators and attendees. Doing this enabled us to develop and grow the Valor library, which includes pictures, declassified footage, maps, graphics, etc. that illustrate the stories told by our Veterans by bringing them to life in a production.
While it was always the goal of Valor to broaden the availability of the productions to all Veterans and their families, we were committed to meeting the demands of our existing customers by ensuring high quality productions with prompt turnaround times and deliveries. Valor’s growth now allows a wide variety of Veterans to participate in their own production, one that they and their families can cherish as well.
We feel confident that no matter where the Veterans have served, when they served, or in which branch they took part, Valor has the ability to make the stories and experience of our Veterans come to life with personal pictures along with access to our extensive library. Aside from working with our local Veterans directly, we are also partnering with experts in other fields, who also work and collaborate with Veterans such as attorneys, healthcare professionals, funeral homes, etc. to enhance the services they can offer Veterans as well.
3. KIM – Are there times when a veteran is hesitant or reluctant to archive their experiences? Can you share an example or two, of powerful moments you’ve witnessed while a veteran is sharing & recording their military memories?
VP – Here are a few of the most common statements we hear at Valor probably once a week from family members. “We would love to have a video of dad but I doubt he would want to share his stories” or “I’ve asked mom about her service but she doesn’t want to talk about it.”
It’s important to remember that women have served our country proudly as well.
While I agree that there are some Veterans that may be apprehensive about discussing their military service, I have also heard several Veterans state that no one has truly asked, often simply because family members may not know how to start the conversation or may consider the Veteran to be cynical about their experiences. It is actually often the opposite, as Veterans take pride in recalling their stores – those of valor, those of fear, those of laughter, etc. Some even consider it therapeutic for themselves and a bonding moment with their families. After all, those were some of the most memorable and impressionable moments of our lives. It is also important to note that we rely on a questionnaire completed by the Veteran to guide the conversation. Only moments that he or she want to share are discussed, as we conduct the process with honor and respect.
A memorable example is of a Navy Corpsman who shared his experiences with passion, humor, and pain; he recalled stories of quickly adopting his position in the Navy by default but his excitement for the opportunity to save lives. He indicated in the end that he was going to use the video as a tool of healing to resolve any misunderstandings between him and his family then and now. Another example of a video we produced was of a couple who both served at the same time in World War II. She was a female Marine, and he was a sailor, and they recalled their journeys together as a couple through deployments – priceless.
No matter the content of the story, the most powerful moments are revealed when our Veterans begin sharing events that happened decades ago, and the clarity in which they recall these experiences is a direct indicator of their prevalence and importance to the Veterans themselves.
4. KIM – Is this service open & available to veterans of all ages? Can any service man/woman record their story? Or, is it only available for war time soldiers?
VP – Valor welcomes and encourages Veterans of all eras and branches to share their experiences. Anyone who has served our country in any capacity at any time can attest that the experiences and friendships during our time in the military are unlike any other. Whether we served for a single year or embarked on a thirty year career, peacetime or war, we believe that every Veteran has a story to tell and every Veteran’s story should be told.
Most of us served when we were young men or women, which often coincides with the time when we may have met our spouses, had children, transitioned into the civilian world, started a career, etc. Valor is not solely focused on preserving only war time stories. We are preserving the entire lives of our Veterans for their and their families and future generations. Even for Veterans that served during a war time, it is amazing how most enjoy sharing the “lighter” side of their experiences.
While most of our clients have ranged from World War II to Vietnam, we highly encourage Veterans of all ages to preserve their stories for their loved ones. It is my hope that Valor can begin offering services to Veterans of Desert Storm, Operation Iraqi Freedom, and Operation Enduring Freedom as well.
5. KIM – As a decorated veteran yourself, have YOU recorded your story? For those that may be unsure of this process, please explain the details of a recording session. (example -How long does it take? Who asks the questions? Where is this recorded?)
VP – I absolutely felt compelled to record my personal experiences for my wife and family. I met my wife, Nicole, just 26 days before my first deployment to Iraq. What timing! Given that the unique experiences and challenges we faced while I was in the Marine Corps, I wanted to ensure preservation of our stories for the exact reason I founded Valor. Valor ensures our Veterans and their families have all questions answered.
We are committed to ensuring they feel as comfortable as possible before and during filming. Veterans can choose to come to our comfortable studio, where we film in a casual atmosphere, we also often film sessions at Veteran organizations such as VFW’s, Senior Residential Communities, Senior recreation centers, etc. Once a Veteran decides to preserve their experiences with Valor, they are provided with a questionnaire that serves as the blueprint of our filming session to guide only the topics the Veteran would like to share since it is their story after all.
Each session lasts roughly an hour and essentially entails a casual conversation with myself or another Valor producer. We then edit the film and place personal pictures, maps, graphics, footage, etc. into the video to help illustrate the Veteran’s story. Approximately three weeks after filming we deliver the final video on DVD. We encourage Veterans and their families to watch our detailed process video outlining all the details at www.valorprod.com.
THANK YOU Aaron Cantley, U.S. Marine Corps veteran & Founder/CEO of Valor Productions.
More importantly, Aaron – we THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE to our country.