A half step down, a whole step up

U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. John Del Valle, 693rd Intelligence Support Squadron operations section chief, is an avid jazz enthusiast and spends his after duty hours mastering the bass guitar. Del Valle toured with the Air Force Tops in Blue in 2006 which reignited his passion for music. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Devin Boyer)

U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. John Del Valle, 693rd Intelligence Support Squadron operations section chief, is an avid jazz enthusiast and spends his after duty hours mastering the bass guitar. Del Valle toured with the Air Force Tops in Blue in 2006 which reignited his passion for music. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Devin Boyer)

RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany -- Dust starts to gather over polished wood and metal strings – strings desperate to be plucked. Each guitar throughout the house was a reminder of the passion his father had for music. He picks up one of the guitars and begins to send vibrations down the halls – and so his future begins.

Master Sgt. John Del Valle works as the section chief of operations for the 693rd Intelligence Support Squadron. When he’s not performing his responsibilities as an Airman, he’s following his father’s footsteps.

“My father played music as a blues guitarist for 30 years before he passed away when I was 16,” he said. “Prior to that I didn’t really have a huge passion for music. But about the age of 17, in the mourning process, I decided to pick it up. My father was a good man, but being involved in those music circles back in the day, his health wasn’t great. I didn’t want that for me, so opposed to playing in bars, I played in a church.”


People of Del Valle’s local church heard about his new interest in music and reached out to offer him an opportunity.

“I grew up learning how to play music around other folks that were way more seasoned. These musicians really poured into me. They were highly professional with 20 years of experience and here I am with two years under my belt.”

For the next few years, Del Valle continued to play for the group as a bassist and tried to make it as part of a professional Christian band. Unfortunately, they weren’t gaining any traction. He then had to make a life changing decision.

“I was trying to do college and music, but I wasn’t able to pay the bills. The male figure head at the time was my uncle who was an Army First Sergeant with about 19 years of service about to retire. So I said, ‘I need some stability in my life. I want to be like my uncle and join the military,’ and he’s the one who pushed me to join the Air Force.”

Once he became an Airman, Del Valle started losing grip with his music life. That was until someone showed him the best of both worlds.

“A friend of mine helped me discover, at the time, the Air Force Tops in Blue program,” said Del Valle.

His friend encouraged him to audition for the program and in 2003 they picked him up to be an audio technician. In 2006, Del Valle auditioned again and they made him the bassist and band leader for that tour.

“The Air Force was able to give me back a little bit more of that passion I had.”

Del Valle said the tour had a significant influence on him.

“A tour would take about 12 months. Two of those months would be training and learning the show. And then over the next ten months, we’d do something like a 150 shows. It was the same 30 Airmen performing that were also driving their equipment from base to base, setting that stuff up, tearing it down, running the lights, running the sound and doing all of the logistics. It was a huge workload. It was rewarding. I think it made me a better Airman because I have a higher tolerance of being able to put forth a lot of work now. I know that I can bring a lot more to the table because of the training I got there.”

Although Tops in Blue performs an eclectic amount of music, Del Valle has a preference of his own.

“My personal genre of choice is smooth jazz. I enjoy listening to instrumentalists really digging in to their craft and being experts at it. I really enjoy the complexity of jazz and I choose to pursue that.”

Overall, music has had an impact on his life.

“Music is keeping me in church, it’s keeping me grounded, and it’s given me a sense of focus. I think this is what I want to do with the rest of my life but I got to make sure that I execute being a good Airman. I’ll serve as long as the Air Force wants me to serve. And then all of the behind the scenes stuff that I’ve been doing with my music I hope I can culminate in a music career, but until then, I’ve got to maintain those core values.”

From blues to jazz, Del Valle picked up where his father left off.

“I’ve learned a lot from my father; the good, bad and indifferent. I am glad that he had that influence on my life and that I am able to continue that legacy.”