VNG pilot pops surprise proposal at JMU game

First Lt. Blake Place proposes to his girlfriend, Andrea Dargie, during a James Madison University football game Nov. 9, 2019, in Harrisonburg, Virginia. Place, a 2015 JMU alum, assisted in a Virginia National Guard UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter flyover before the game and was recognized alongside his fellow Soldiers just before proposing to Dargie. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. 1st Class Terra C. Gatti)

HARRISONBURG, Va. – By the time he started walking toward the James Madison University football field, 2015 alum 1st Lt. Blake Place was already having a pretty great day. He and his fellow Soldiers, all assigned to Sandston-based 2nd Battalion, 224th Aviation Regiment, helped kick off the Nov. 9, 2019, football game with a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter flyover. Now, it was almost time to propose to Andrea Dargie, his girlfriend of two years.

Place wasn’t sure what he was going to say, but his fellow pilots helped him out as they wound their way through the stadium toward the field. They were tailed by a cluster of family members and friends, including Dargie, who had no idea what was coming.

Finally, during the first break of the third quarter, the flight crews and their families took to the field where they were recognized and thanked for conducting the flyover, and then Place was handed a microphone.

Virginia National Guard Soldiers are recognized on the field during a James Madison University football game Nov. 9, 2019, in Harrisonburg, Virginia Before the game, the Soldiers, all assigned to 2nd Battalion, 224th Aviation Regiment, conducted a flyover with two UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. 1st Class Terra C. Gatti)

“Go Dukes,” he said. The crowd was still cheering for the Soldiers on the field when he turned and looked toward Dargie, a 2015 graduate of the University of New Hampshire, who JMU just happened to be playing that night.

“Andrea Dargie,” Place said, as she took a few tentative steps toward him at the encouragement of her family. “You may be a Wildcat, from UNH, but ever since I first met you.”

At that, the crowd erupted as they realized what was happening, as Place pulled out a ring, took at knee and asked, “Andrea Dargie, will you marry me?”

By this point, Dargie was in tears, a huge smile on her face, doubled over in front of Place. She leaned toward him, said, “yes,” into the microphone as Place stood up, put the ring on her finger and kissed his new fiancée.

“That was amazing,” Dargie said of the proposal. She’d attended the game with Place’s family, but her own mother was there too, much to her additional surprise. “I had no idea she was even in Harrisonburg.”

Dargie and Place met in 2017 near Fort Rucker, Alabama. Place was there for flight school and Dargie, a military brat, was working at the U.S. Army Aeromedical Research Laboratory.

“My friend group kind of meshed with Blake’s friend group and then Blake and I were friends for two months and then we started dating in November,” Dargie said. Once Place finished flight school, he headed back to Virginia and for a year, the two made their relationship work from a distance. Then, Dargie found a job near Charlottesville and moved to Virginia to be with Place.

Two Virginia Army National Guard UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters fly over James Madison University a the start of a football game Nov. 9, 2019, in Harrisonburg, Virginia. Following the flyover, the flight crews, assigned to Sandston-based 2nd Battalion, 224th Aviation Regiment, 29th Infantry Division, were recognized on the field. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. 1st Class Terra C. Gatti)

According to Place, the plan for his proposal was hatched partly by his battalion commander, Lt. Col. James Sheldon. When they got word of the flyover, Sheldon put Place on the mission, knowing he was a JMU graduate.

“I looked it up and it said JMU versus UNH,” Place said. He started talking to Capt. Charles Cavender, a fellow pilot, about maybe doing more than just a flyover. It seemed like too good of an opportunity to pass up. “The wheels started spinning, then we came up with this elaborate plan.”

Somehow, it all came together perfectly and Dargie was completely taken by surprise. Place’s stepbrother recently got engaged, and she figured an engagement of her own wasn’t going to happen anytime soon. “I’m so happy,” she said. “I’m so proud of him.”

“I’m just excited for what’s next,” Place said.

First Lt. Blake Place and his new fiancée, Andrea Dargie, pose together after getting engaged on the field during a James Madison University football game Nov. 9, 2019, in Harrisonburg, Virginia. Place, a 2015 JMU alum, assisted in a Virginia National Guard UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter flyover before the game and was recognized alongside his fellow Soldiers just before proposing to Dargie. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. 1st Class Terra C. Gatti)