His mom, Teresa Duvall of Covington, calls him an adrenaline junkie, but U. S. Army Staff Sergeant Justin Allen Brenner, is just carrying on the family business… albeit, with a little more flair.
Growing up Brenner knew he was destined to join the military. His beloved grandfather, Brian Gibbs of Drummonds, was a 26-year Navy veteran, serving during Vietnam and on two aircraft carriers. His stepfather, Jimmy Duvall, was also a career Navy man, taking the family to Hawaii when Brenner was in 8th grade.
“I always knew I’d join the military grew up,” said Brenner. “[My brothers and I] would be shooting each other with sticks and playing Army,” he recalled, fondly.
Born in Memphis, Brenner attended Drummonds Elementary School and Munford Middle School before moving to Hawaii in 2003 with his family when his stepfather received orders to Oahu. After graduating in 2006 in Hawaii with top honors, Brenner joined the Army in March 2007.
“I kind of got bribed by Jimmy that if I signed a three-year contract they’d give me the Jeep,” he said, laughing. “I signed a five-year contract.”
When asked why he didn’t follow in the family footsteps and join the Navy, he laughed and explained.
“I’d been on ships before and saw their living quarters. I knew I didn’t want to sleep in those bunks! If you wake up fast enough, you’re hitting your head on the guys above you. The Air Force recruiter was talking about how the Air Force was letting guys go left and right and I didn’t want to get in and then be out of a job a year later. The Army was pretty appealing because I could select the job I wanted if I was qualified.”
So, the Army it was, and the job he selected was 31Bravo – Military Police Officer.
Training as a military police officer provided Brenner with several unique opportunities. In 2009, he deployed to Iraq to train and conduct joint operations with the host nation police force. A few years later, he was in Kabul, Afghanistan, on a protective services team, whose primary mission was the protection of general officers.
“The host nations really appreciated us being there and the work that we were doing” Brenner explained. “I had a lot of Iraqi and Afghanistan counterparts who absolutely did not want us to leave.”
In 2011, he was a part of the United States security detail during the Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit, helping to protect foreign dignitaries.
Brenner says life in the military has definitely made an impact on his life.
“I think just being able to go to different places and seeing different cultures and how other people live, gives you a different perspective, not only on our country, but the world as a whole,” he said. “Life in the military allows you to grow up a bit, instill discipline and it gives you a broader spectrum of how society can be and maybe learn to appreciate what we have here more.”
Brenner has taken to military so well, in 2013, he earned and was inducted into the prestigious Sergeant Audie Murphy Award (SAMA) club – a private organization for non-commissioned officers – one that few soldiers are inducted into, and those who are exemplify leadership characterized by personal concern for the needs, training, development and welfare of soldiers and concern for families of soldiers. The organization was established to honor the dedication of Sgt. Audie Murphy, who’s considered the most decorated soldier of World War II, and his battle cry, “You lead from the front.”
The next big impact on his life? Life in the clouds.
“I did my first tandem skydive in Hawaii in 2015 and I remember being under the canopy and it was all nice, calm and quiet,” he remembered. “I was talking to the guy I was attached to and said man, this is a really cool job… you want to trade? And he laughed it off.”
Brenner said after that jump he started watching YouTube videos on skydiving and a video of the Army’s Golden Knights, popped up. He realized he could skydive for the Army.
“It was several years later that I was able to get my skydiving license because it’s pretty expensive, but the Army had a brief period of time where they were considering skydiving as a credential and so I was able to get them to pay for my initial skydiving license.”
Once he had that the next step was to meet the Golden Knights minimum requirements.
“The Golden Knights have several minimum requirements you have to meet,” said Brenner. “You have to have a clean military/civilian record, you have to have a minimum 75 free fall jumps, and you have to pass physical fitness, height and weight and body composition. If you meet those requirements, you submit a package and wait to see if you’re asked to try out.”
After Brenner made the minimum jumps and felt confident he met all the Golden Knights requirements, he applied and submitted his package at the end of 2020. After two months, he received notification that he was invited to attend the two-month long assessment and selection try-out at Ft. Bragg, N.C.
“The training never stops,” says a smiling Brenner. “The initial requirements to be invited was 75 skydives, but during the two-month training, the day started at 5 am and lights out were at 10 pm. We started jumping in the third week, doing 10 to 18 jumps a day in the beginning. At the end of the training, we had over 200 jumps for the two-month period. We had to learn to pack our chute quickly. You started out with a 10-minute standard, then the standard gets faster, until you could land and have your chute packed in 6-7 minutes.”
Brenner explained the parachutes are not small, with the sizes ranging from 245 square feet to 360 square feet, depending on the jumper’s size. He learned to pack his chute correctly and safely in 5 minutes and 12 seconds.
“I was selected in March 2021,” he said proudly.
The Golden Knights, the United States Army’s official aerial parachute demonstration team, consists of six teams. Two demonstration teams who perform at airshows and events, two competition teams, who travel around the world participating in competitions and two tandem teams who provide skydiving jumps to VIPs. The group also has an aviation team who fly and maintain the group’s three UV-18 Viking Twin Otters and two CH-147-8 aircraft, and the headquarters team which takes care of logistics.
Brenner’s initial assignment is the Gold Demonstration Team, but eventually, he hopes to be able to perform as a member of the tandem and competition teams.
“Initially, everyone starts off on a demonstration team and from there you can try out for tandem team or competition team,” he said. “The minimum requirement is a three-year tour, but if you are living up to expectations you can stay on team almost indefinitely.”
Brenner’s family is extremely supportive of his decision to jump for the Army, including his wife Heather.
“She was a little nervous at first,” he said, “but she’s very supportive and extremely proud and excited for me.”
His father and stepmother, Richard and Lynn Brenner of Munford, aunt Tammy Tilson, a teacher at Munford Middle School and his mother and stepfather, Teresa and Jimmy Duvall, as well as grandparents Brian and Diana Gibbs, are all equally excited and proud of him on his new role.
“I think it’s wonderful because he’s an adrenaline junkie,” said mom Teresa. “I am so proud of him.”
“I’m very proud of him for joining,” added his grandfather, Brian, a retired Navy master chief who was slated to be the Master Chief of the Navy before his retirement in 1989.
“If I had to go back, I wouldn’t change anything,” added Brenner. “I’ve have enjoyed being in the Army, maybe not every moment of it, but it has been good. I will try to stay [with the Golden Knights] until the Army tells me it’s time to retire, or my back or knees tell me it’s time to leave,” he added, laughing.”