Navy pilots like to separate themselves from their Air Force brethren with the fact that they land their jets on the limited (and moving) real estate of an aircraft carrier instead of an 11,000-foot runway. Operating around “The Boat” is a unique skill, and over the years many student Naval Aviators have made it most of the way through flight training only to be tripped up when they tried to land on an aircraft carrier.
One extreme example of this happened on October 29, 1989 as a student pilot made his very first approach to the U.S.S. Lexington (CVT 16). The dramatic footage below — shot from cameras at various places around the flight deck — shows the T-2 Buckeye, which was attached to VT-19, a training squadron based in Meridian, Miss., rolling out of its final turn behind the carrier. The pilot “calls the ball,” telling the Landing Signal Officer standing on a platform on the port side near the stern that he sees the glideslope indicator.
The LSO “rogers” the student pilot’s ball call and says, “You were a little long in the groove; next time I want you to turn sooner,” meaning the student wound up too far behind the carrier during his final 180-degree turn. The student replies with a “roger, sir.”
The LSO then tells the student to “work it on speed,” a command for the student to push his throttles forward, adding power, followed quickly by “a little power, you’re underpowered, power” and then an emphatic “wave it off,” which is an order for the student to push the throttles all the way to full power — while maintaining a steady nose position — and go around to try it again.
The flight student doesn’t respond quickly enough, and instead of simply pushing the throttles forward and climbing out, he pulls the stick back — a bad move. As the LSO says, “come left” (as if the student pilot had any control of his jet at that point), the Buckeye rolls onto its back. Someone transmits, “Eject!”
The pilot initiates ejection well out of the seat’s envelope and is killed an instant before the T-2 hits the island and explodes, which kills four more personnel on the flight deck. As sailors immediately go for fire hoses to suppress the flames, other flight students parked adjacent to the island waiting to take off jettison their canopies before unstrapping and quickly climbing out of their jets and getting away from the fire.
There’s an old aviation saying that goes something like, “flying is not inherently dangerous but very intolerant of errors.” This footage proves that.
One hundred and fifty days ago was the last time we saw land. At ninety consecutive days at sea, the CO can authorize beer call onboard a U.S. Naval vessel. Ours didn’t.
One hundred and fifty consecutive days is the reason why sailors drink the way they do when they hit port. One hundred and fifty consecutive days is the story behind my only run in with NCIS.
The mundane sounds of the ship’s bells and whistles could no longer be heard in the distance, but were instead replaced by the zips and zooms of families of five astride scooters cutting through traffic. After a grueling three-hour wait for liberty call, we made it off the ship, let loose on the tropical port.
The first thing I learned in my humble beginnings as a young sailor was to order the biggest alcoholic drink I could find, as soon as I could find it. Today, my five-course meal was four orders of shots and a burger. After months of MIDRATS and MREs, my stomach was torn. Like a true intellectual, instead of indulging on local culture and foods, I stuck to what I know — a place we have back home: Hooters. I traveled 7,326 miles to dine at a fine establishment that I often frequent in the states.
Two shots in and the ship’s coordinates were starting to fade quick. After months of mandatory sobriety, the alcohol quickly replaces the blood in my veins. The bad-decision hamster wheel starts turning and, suddenly, sh*t ideas become the best ideas. I stand in line at the ATM behind a white expat that’s surrounded by girls that were obviously paid to be there, rubbing his back as he withdraws more cash. I punch in my four-digit pin to see seven months of tax-free, pathetic petty officer pay screaming at me, eager to be blown on warm beer, greasy food, and squalid strippers.
Earlier that day, getting briefed on liberty, we were told thatthe most important thing to remember was to never leave your battle buddy. If you don’t check in with the same person you checked out with, you might as well become a deserter. Find yourself a dish-washing job, maybe a wife,and learn the native language. You’d be stupid to do it, but you wouldn’t be first.
Four shots in and we’re stumbling down the streets, stopping at various times to piss the letters “USA” sloppily down alleyways and all over buildings — exactly the opposite of what we were briefed to do. It’s like trying to wrangle kittens. The most responsible of us (or, the guy most motivated to see strippers) is the voice of reason that keeps pushing the group forward. After a seemingly ten-mile hump, we arrive at the gate: AREA 51.
Inside, the smell of a fog machine and cheap perfume attacks my nose. The spotlight is a flood light, the light show looks like a couple of blind kids playing laser tag, and the girls look like a lineup of failed The Bachelor contestants. There was a girl dancing on stage, moving offbeat to the loudest techno song in the world, in between four unused poles. Unprovoked, I suddenly found myself onstage beside the dancer, doing my best Magic Mike impression.
Six shots in and I’m swinging my shirt over my head like a rodeo clown with money stuffed into the lining of my pants. The whole club is cheering me on — the strippers, the servers, everyone. When the song ends, my drunk ass follows the dancer into the back room. I hear a mix of laughs and excited screams coming from all the girls and the madams that are getting them ready. They drop what they’re doing to run over and take a picture with me.
In my drunken stupor, I assumed it was my handsome good looks and my devilish charms. It wasn’t — it was the big, red target on my back. A giant, green money sign.
We rented out a private room for pennies on the dollar. The drinks were cheaper in buckets and we got a complimentary bottle of kerosene disguised as vodka. The drinks came with dancers, and so the night rolled on. Loud music, bad drinks, and worse company.
Out of nowhere the door flies open.
Flashlights wave in our faces, screaming girls run off half naked, and there we are, a circle of drunk sailors thinking we’re f*cked. The team of agents clears the entire club, going room by room, scanning for sailors. My heart is pounding. Sobriety has never hit harder. The brief on off-limits areas flashes into my head, suddenly crystal clear:
Area 51 – OFF LIMITS TO ALL U.S. PERSONNEL.
F*ck. The club manager runs around frantically, trying to collect his money. A couple agents ask us if we’re squared away with our tab. We are and, against all protocol, he sneaks us out the back.
With a throbbing head and fuzzy memories of the night before, I pop the first of many Advils of the day and make my way through the hangar bay of the ship to morning passdown and shift change. I walk by faces I recognize from the night before and I pull down the front of my cover and gaze away.
Over fifty sailors were put on restriction, a handful of them were processed out of the Navy.
It was the only run in I’ve ever had with an NCIS Special Agent and he saved my ass.
Editor’s note: So, you think your sea story is better? If you’ve got a tale that the world needs to hear, send it our way.
After a four-year legal battle, Matthew Bissonnette, a former member of the elite SEAL Team 6 who participated in the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, has agreed to forfeit to the Justice Department all of the proceeds from “No Easy Day,” his first-person account of the raid written under the pen name “Mark Owen.”
“I acted on the advice of my former attorney, but I now fully recognize that his advice was wrong,” Bissonnette wrote in a formal apology, as reported by NPR. “It was a serious error that I urge others not to repeat.”
“No Easy Day,” co-written by military journalist Kevin Maurer, was the first public account from someone who actually participated in the high-profile raid to kill the al Qaeda leader. That impact was enhanced by the fact that not only did it deal with the killing of the terrorist mastermind, but it was written by a member of SEAL Team 6, the one of the nation’s top special operations units whose methods and techniques are highly classified and seldom written about.
The book was a bestseller, and that as much as anything is what got the author in trouble with the Pentagon. Officials claimed that Bissonnette had violated a non-disclosure agreement he’d signed as a Navy commando and also failed to have the book’s manuscript reviewed by proper authorities before it was published.
“Ironically, Matt didn’t want the book to be about him,” co-author Maurer said in an exclusive interview with WATM. “He always intended for it to be a tribute to his teammates and one that would allow readers to truly understand what SEALs do. It was also supposed to be a nod to the CIA, helicopter pilots, and Rangers — all the elements of these sorts of missions.”
Maurer, who sat down with Bissonnette in Virginia Beach five days a week for a month recording the story before writing it out, said the former SEAL was focused on security.
“He was never cavalier about the details,” Maurer said. “We talked a lot about things we weren’t going to include. It was a conscious decision.”
After experiencing firsthand the hew and cry from veterans — as well as members of the special operations community displeased that one of their own had broken ranks by socializing their tactical world on a grand scale — Maurer said he understood the Justice Department ruling. But he added that “the real travesty is that the money [estimated at more that $6 million according to court documents, as reported by NPR] is now going to the government instead of veteran charities as Matt had always intended.”
Bissonnette’s current lawyer, Robert Luskin, hinted that his client had been made a scapegoat by government officials embarrassed by the information that has come out about the bin Laden raid and other operations in the wake of “No Easy Day” landing on shelves.
“The government has a right to keep its secrets and to enforce procedures that are designed to protect them from inadvertent disclosure,” Luskin said in a statement. “But it is shameful that — of all the people who leaked, talked, whispered and backgrounded about the mission — Matt Bissonnette, who risked his life to make it a success, is the only one to pay a price.”
It was a regular April night around the Luttrell home near Huntsville, Texas. It had been five years since Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell fought the 2005 firefight with the Taliban that was portrayed in the film Lone Survivor. Since then, he received a Yellow Labrador puppy to help him recover from the unseen wounds of the war. He named the pup Dasy, an acronym of the names of his fellow SEALs — the ones that didn’t survive the battle.
A shot rang out throughout the area of the house. Luttrell sprang into action, grabbed a 9mm pistol, checked to see if his mother was alright, and then ran outside to check on Dasy. He found the puppy at the end of a trail of blood.
“When I saw she was dead, the only thing that popped into my head was, ‘I’ve got to take these guys out,'” Luttrell told NBC News.
Dasy was just four years old when gunmen shot and killed her.
He then spotted a suspicious vehicle nearby and tried to sneak up on it with a 9mm pistol. When he was 25 yards away, the car left — and Luttrell hopped in his pickup in hot pursuit.
“I saw my dog in a ditch and two men standing outside the car,” Luttrell said. “I could hear them laughing.”
He called the local emergency line and warned the 911 operator that he was chasing the men who killed his dog.
“I told them, ‘You need to get somebody out here because if I catch them, I’m going to kill them,'” Luttrell told the operator, according to the Houston Chronicle.
The Navy Cross recipient stayed on with the emergency operator as he chased the gunmen across three Texas counties in a 40-mile, high-speed chase. Luttrell was still recovering from a recent surgery but it didn’t stop him from attempting to catch the fleeing suspects.
Dasy was more than just a therapy dog to Luttrell. The four-year-old dog helped Luttrell at a time when he wasn’t talking about what happened and had trouble sleeping. Dasy wasn’t just a pet, she was like a daughter to the former SEAL.
Luttrell’s pickup truck couldn’t keep up with the car in which the suspects fled the scene, but the Texas Rangers eventually stopped the vehicle, arresting two of them for cruelty to a non-livestock animal and the driver for not having a license. According to the Rangers, the shooting was the latest in a series of five dog killings in an area Luttrell describes as “the middle of nowhere.”
When Luttrell arrived on the scene, he immediately confronted the suspects, demanding to know which of them murdered Dasy. According to Luttrell, they started talking smack.
“Marcus is trained to do certain things; he fell back on his training,” a Texas Ranger told NBC News. “I wouldn’t advocate to the general public to do what he has done — to follow them at that rate of speed.”
Luttrell and his new therapy dog, Rigby.
(Marcus Luttrell via Facebook)
Alfonso Hernandez and Michael Edmonds were convicted in 2012 of shooting Dasy with a .357 pistol that night. The conviction was later upheld by a Texas appellate court. Edmonds turned on Hernandez, pleading guilty and testifying against him. Edmonds received five years probation while Hernandez received the maximum sentence, two years confinement and a ,000 fine.
Luttrell said losing Dasy was a huge setback in his life but he soon had another therapy dog in his life, another Yellow Lab named “Rigby.”
Executive orders to bar the entry of refugees from several Middle Eastern nations caused quite a stir over the weekend. The order restricts immigration from seven countries, suspends all refugee admission for 120 days, and bans all Syrian refugees indefinitely.
A few prominent corporate brands got creamed when their responses to the ban didn’t meet the expectations of the outraged protesters who poured into airport terminals all over the country. Others accidentally tapped the anger of the social media conservatives. One of the latter is the coffee giant Starbucks.
Anger at Starbucks Coffee boiled over when CEO Howard Schultz announced they would hire 10,000 refugees in countries where the company operates. Schultz sweetened the deal by adding that their first priority would be to hire those refugees who served as interpreters for American troops on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan.
“There are more than 65 million citizens of the world recognized as refugees by the United Nations,” Schultz wrote in a company-wide letter to the coffee chain’s employees. “And we are developing plans to hire 10,000 of them over five years in the 75 countries around the world where Starbucks does business. And we will start this effort here in the U.S. by making the initial focus of our hiring efforts on those individuals who have served with U.S. troops as interpreters and support personnel in the various countries where our military has asked for such support.”
Conservatives on Twitter and Facebook accuse the company of being steeped in liberal ideology. This isn’t the first time Starbucks found itself in hot water with the #TCOT. Starbuck’s holiday cup designs drew ire in 2015 on the grounds that it filtered out typical Christmas imagery (like snowflakes and snowmen) in its design.
The next year, Starbuck released green cups to promote unity during a divisive 2016 election season. The company was accusing of liberal brainwashing. Each time a half-hearted boycott movement percolated around the brand on social media but didn’t reflect in the stores’ sales.
The chain’s dedication to hiring refugees who served with U.S. troops is consistent with the brand’s dedication to hiring American military veterans and assisting in the transition of military personnel into civilian life. The company dedicated its Starbucks College Achievement Plan to allow employee veterans (and their spouses) to earn a bachelor’s degree at Arizona State University online with full tuition reimbursement.
It’s almost beach season! That means it’s time put on those colorful tank tops and get your feet sandy. However, before we sizzle in the sun, many of us want to get our arms jacked so that we can give out free tickets to the gun show.
So, how can you get your arms pumped up before summer? Well, at this point in the year, it’d take a miracle — but now is always the best time to start.
The biceps are composed of two muscles: the long and short head. To bulk them up, you’ll also need to include some work on the triceps — which is made up of the lateral, medial, and long head.
If you’re ready to get that daily muscle pump going, then let’s go.
Straight barbell curls
Note: Don’t get these confused with EZ-curls, that’s something different.
This exercise requires a tight grip on the bar, keeping your hands about shoulder-width apart with your elbows placed in front of your hips. With your wrists straight, lift the bar up and feel the squeeze in those biceps.
Then, lower the bar slowly, focusing on the negative motion. This movement should take approximately three seconds to complete. Go any faster and you’re probably not getting the full rep.
While using an adjustable cable machine, take a solid step backward, set your feet, keep a slight bend in your knees, then push down and breathe out. After you push down, slowly raise the bar until your elbows return to a 90-degree bend.
Seated incline bench dumbbell curls
Similar to a straight bar curl, seated incline bench dumbbell curls are a great way to shoot blood into your biceps and achieve that epic pump. While in a seated 45-degree position, have workable weights in both hands — which should be hanging down by your sides.
As you start the rep, bring the dumbbells up and squeeze the bicep at the peak of the rep, then, lower that sucker back down slowly. The key to this exercise is to keep your back firmly on the bench. Lifting off the inclined bench could result in crappy form, and we don’t want that.
Laying flat and using an EZ-curl bar with a proper amount of weight, start the rep by lowering the bar toward your forehead. Keep your elbows pointed inward and you slowly bring the bar to touch your forehead.
If you mismanage the rep, you can smack yourself right in the forehead. We don’t want that, but that’s why they call it a skullcrusher.
This exercise focuses on expanding the width of your bicep and forearm. Once you’ve grabbed a manageable set of weights from the rack, hold them down by your side until you are ready to begin.
Now, raise the weights up by bending elbows at a 90-degree angle and squeeze that sucker at the peak. There are many ways to complete this exercise correctly. You can alternate hands and which direction you decide to move the weight: toward your chest or out in front of you.
Overhead tricep extension
This one is the opposite of the tricep push down. Once you’ve chosen a legit dumbbell weight that you can handle, bring it over your head with two hands and stretch it back behind you. Make sure you don’t hit yourself with the weight as you begin the rep, extending your arms straight overhead.
Once you slowly lower the weight down, remember to breathe and halt the weight when your elbow reaches a 90-degree angle. Then, bring the weight back up. Easy day, right?
Note: These exercises should be done with a spotter or a fitness professional. Have fun getting buffed out, but don’t get hurt out there.
On June 21, 1788, New Hampshire became the ninth state to ratify the Constitution, establishing the document as the “supreme law of the land.”
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
Post Revolutionary War, it quickly became apparent that the Articles of Confederation — America’s first national government wherein states acted together only for specific purposes — needed a makeover. Cue the Constitution of the United States, which created, among other things, a system of checks and balances for a more centralized federal government with the power of the union vested in the people.
The Constitutional Convention began in May of 1787, with delegates shuttered within the State House and sworn to secrecy so they could speak freely. By mid-June, they had decided to completely redesign the government. One of the biggest arguments was over congressional representation, which resulted in a compromise: the Senate would comprise two representatives from each state while the House of Representatives would give each state one representative for every 30,000 people. In this agreement, enslaved persons were counted as three-fifths of a person, even though they were stripped of their power or voice.
Ratification of the Constitution required nine out of the thirteen states’ approval, which took about six heated months to accomplish.
The Constitution took effect in 1789. It has been amended 27 times to meet the needs of the nation, with the first 10 amendments making up the Bill of Rights. Fun fact: The United States Constitution is the oldest written constitution still in use in the world.
Featured Image: Washington as Statesman at the Constitutional Convention (Junius Brutus Stearns, 1810-1885).
Time and again in my line of work, people ask me, “What did you do to prepare?” I usually respond with some sort of reference to steel genitalia, eating large amounts of bacon, and shooting nails from my eyes. That usually wows people.
After the hilarity that is EVERY encounter with me, I give them an answer that always seems to underwhelm. “I try to be as strong as I can. All the time. I just want to be the strongest guy out there. That’s my number one goal. Then it’s cardio and mobility.”
Seriously, that’s it.
If you want, I can get into long physiological discussions about how stronger people are less taxed by the same effort expressed on an event by a weaker person. There are so many examples out there, I won’t even bother to ham-handedly try to quote them or paraphrase a saying they came up with.
Do you wanna geek out and banter about the Krebs Cycle? Wanna quote grip strength tests designed by dudes that don’t lift trying to extrapolate the best anaerobic exercise for slow twitch muscle fiber performance? Well, tough crap, I am not that good. The point is this — I can stomp on the ground and scream until I am blue in the face, but it doesn’t matter. I can only tell you what I have seen, and what I think works.
The fact of the matter is this: the stronger man nearly always wins. This isn’t story time, and Goliath wins in real life kids. The freakishly strong 30-year-old whips the young buck more frequently than he doesn’t. The underdog is a great story — but there is a reason why he is the underdog. It’s cause no one thinks he can win, and he most likely won’t. Think Vision Quest: could Louden Swain really beat Shute? Uh, hell no. That dude carried logs up and down steps like, all day, like a damn boss. Plus, Shute looked like he was about 195 pounds as a high school wrestler, and Matthew Modine’s character dropped to 168 pounds to fight him… sorry, I digress.
After covering what I do to prepare, the conversation progresses. Next comes, “What is the typical military member/SOF Operator?” Well, I can’t tell you that. I’ve seen huge, jacked, 225-pound football players quit, cry, and fail. I have seen un-athletic, uncoordinated 155-pound 18-year-olds dig deep and carry those 225-pound guys. There is a single commonality amongst all those that make it, compared to those that don’t, strictly physically speaking. That commonality is strength.
Across the board, the men and women that pass tough selections and outperform their peers in the military are simply stronger than their peers. I did not say “bigger,” I said stronger. Stronger in all tasks, globally stronger. Can you throw on one-third of your bodyweight in armor and gear and carry your friend 400m at a dead sprint? No? Well then, Turbo, I don’t care what your marathon time is.
“Well, fine then. Describe your ideal team mate” is usually what follows next. Which is weird, that people want me to talk about my dream teammate, which is a guy.
Anyway, give me a 180-200-pound guy that can squat, deadlift, press, clean, and snatch close to the “accepted” standards for athletic performance. Add in cardio to his regimen — sprints, preferably. Every once in a while, with safety in mind, force him to work longer than 40 minutes. It should be taxing. Every single gym session works him toward a common goal — mobility, flexibility, strength, power, explosiveness, and injury prevention. If any workout doesn’t directly benefit (without excluding) those tenets, then don’t do it. Strength is priority numeral uno. Cardiovascular/cardiorespiratory conditioning is second, tied with mobility and injury prevention. Everything else — aesthetics, fad training ideas, things you read in muscle and fitness about your abs- throw them away. Let’s not get cute until we are in the top 10 percent of our weight class.
In the current fitness enthusiast world we find ourselves today, I almost always get the following retort next: “BUTBUTBUT what about functional strength? Big guys aren’t the only useful ones. Who cares how much I can lift in the gym real life is where you need it, I have mad cardio and sick abzzzz blah blah blah.”
I will put this as plainly as I can. Being globally stronger, stronger as a whole person, will translate to “functional capability”. I could not give a rat’s ass if a teammate of mine can’t do a nifty “fitness trick” like a double under, or a handstand pushup, or a muscle up. Why would I? Can you give me a real life task where a double under directly translates? Let me head you off here — we took care of “cardio” already. Double-unders are a barely useful parlor trick.
If you cannot pick me up wearing my kit and all my gear — I weigh 260 pounds loaded down — then you are useless, and you don’t get a spot. Sorry, but this is real life. You don’t get to scale real life. I don’t care if you can take half of your bodyweight and move it from ground to overhead 30 times reeeeaaaaallly fast. How fast can you lift 140 percent of your bodyweight to your shoulder and run 100 meters to cover? Oh, you can’t? Then stop with all the “functional fitness” crap to support your point as it applies to the SOF environment. Or produce the science and vetted studies to back up your point. Pro tip — those studies don’t exist.
I want to break this down to brass tacks. In my experience, both in the military and the SOF community, stronger people really are harder to kill. I can tell you from first hand experience, and from second and third hand experience. If you focus 80 percent of your energy to making yourself as strong as you can be, you will be more useful, around for longer, and more likely to be a success in this small focus group.
I liken it to fighting — good fighters want to be stronger later in the fight. Ask an experienced fighter how it is to fight someone that is truly stronger than they are. It is unnerving. Better fighters do this with strength training.
In the end, I always use this analogy: “You can always dig deep and find bigger lungs. In the fight, in the heat of the moment, a true warrior can find a couple more steps, another sprint. That’s going to be there. But strength? You can’t just find a 100-pound PR when you need it. If you can’t lift 280 pounds off the ground and you need to move 350 — well, get as amped up as you would like. Your double unders aren’t going to help you now.”
And if you train to be able to run away, to simply exist as opposed to being strong enough to finish the fight, well, then run away is all you got. And that’s not the business we are in.
The author of this article is an active duty special operator. We are protecting his identity by only using his first name. This article first appeared in The Havok Journal on 26MAR14.
The guy who created Cloverfield and directed The Force Awakens wants everyone to know he’s trying really hard to not mess up the ending of the Star Wars saga as we know it. On Oct. 18, 2019, Entertainment Weekly reported that J.J. Abrams said outright that “we are not screwing around” when it comes to creating a legit ending for the nine-part “Skywalker saga” in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. Do we trust him? Do we have a choice?
According to EW, J.J. Abrams knew how hard it was going to be to write The Rise of Skywalker (along with Justice League writer Chris Terrio) because “Endings are the thing that scare me the most.” The director and co-writer of the movie also doesn’t really think The Rise of Skywalker is supposed to be the ending to the existing new trilogy which started in 2015 with The Force Awakens, but instead, he views it as the end of a nine-part story, which begins with The Phantom Menace and goes all way through the classic movies everyone loves.
“This is about bringing this thing to a close… if years from now, someone’s watching these movies, all nine of them, they’re watching a story that is as cohesive as possible.”
(Photo by Gage Skidmore)
Whether or not Abrams pulls that off remains to be seen, of course. If you were a fan of Lost, now is probably not the time to remind yourself that Abrams was involved with the ending of that series, too. Then again, maybe because Abrams has dealt with so many controversial endings of big pop-culture properties, that he’s the perfect guy to tackle the ending of Star Wars.
Or then again, maybe that’s wishful thinking. Let’s keep a little optimism here! Right?
In any case, we’ve now got J.J. Abrams’s promise: he’s not screwing around. Hopefully, the Force is listening.
This article originally appeared on Fatherly. Follow @FatherlyHQ on Twitter.
The scene of the Italian Air Force display team performing their trademark final maneuver has gone viral, so much so President of the United States used it for a message of encouragement to Italy.
Italy is, after China, world’s most affected country by the Novel Coronavirus pandemic. The latest figures tell of about 2,500 tested positive to Covid-19 and more than 1,800 people deaths. For about a week now, the whole country is on lockdown to slow down the new infections and death toll and the Italians have relied on emotional flashmobs and social media initiatives to break monotony and lift spirits.
Among all the things that have been used to boost morale in this tough period, one has really emerged as a symbol of unity: the Frecce Tricolori, the Italian Air Force display team. A clip showing the Frecce’s ten MB.339A/PAN aircraft performing their final maneuver went viral quickly reaching well beyond the (virtual) borders of the Italian social media channels.
As aviation enthusiasts (especially those who attend airshows) know, the Frecce Tricolori display is constituted by an uninterrupted sequence of some thirty figures, the performance of which requires on average some 25 minutes. Following the performance of the first part of the programme with all ten aircraft, the solo display pilot detaches, alternating his own manoeuvres with the ones flown by the remaining nine aircraft. The display, which has a more or less fixed structure, but can occasionally be modified, always concludes with the Alona (Big Wing), the long curved flypast with a tricolour smoke trail by nine aircraft with undercarriage down, performed in harmony with the broadcasting of the voice of Luciano Pavarotti singing “Nessun dorma”, the famous aria from the opera “Tourandot”.
The first time the team broadcasted the “Nessun Dorma” performed by Luciano Pavorotti during their final maneuver was in 1992 during the Frecce Tricolori’s second North American tour for the celebrations of the 500th anniversary of the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus. Boosted by the experience accrued during their preceding overseas transfer, the Frecce Tricolori achieved a remarkable success with the public, flying, between Jun. 11 and Jul. 31, 1992, 14 displays and flybys in the USA and Canada. It was at that point, during “Columbus 92”, that the practice of broadcasting the famous aria became the norm: the “Nessun Dorma” was preferred to other musical pieces test-broadcasted during the displays carried out during the North American tour.
As an Italian who has watched the Frecce Tricolori perform their display hundreds times, that final maneuver that draws in the sky the longest Italian flag, always gives me shivers.
As said, the clip posted these days (that, based on the setting, was probably filmed at Jesolo, on the Adriatic coast near Venice, during one of the airshows held there in the last years), has gone viral. Some users on social media said the scene symbolized the end of the Coronavirus: the larger formation trailing a tricolor smoke encompasses the smoke trail of the soloist “virus plane”, turning it invisible. Whatever the meaning you give it, it’s the moving end of the Frecce’s display.
Even President Trump used the clip for a tweet of encouragement to Italy.
For those who don’t know them, the Italian Frecce Tricolori are one of the world’s most famous display teams. They also hold several records.
First of all the team’s size: the Italians are the only ones to fly with 10 aircraft.
Another peculiary which makes the Frecce (also known as PAN – Pattuglia Acrobatica Nazionale – Italian for National Aerobatic Team) unique is the fact that the whole display is executed in sight of the public. Separations, transformations and rejoins are always performed in front of the spectators, a circumstance which requires absolute preciseness in all phases of the display.
By the way: another record accomplished by the Frecce Tricolori is the fact that they separate into two formations (one flight of 5 and another of 4 aircraft) which then fly an opposition pass and subsequently rejoin in less than two minutes. Rejoin time is a factor that can influence deeply a flying display.
One more peculiarity of the PAN is the Downward Bomb Burst, a maneuver which has been part of the Pattuglia’s tradition since its creation, having been part of the Italian Air Force heritage for 90 years now. It is a maneuver in which the aircraft, starting from a high altitude and in formation, dive towards the ground and then separate into 9 individual elements which depart in different directions, finally returning for an opposition pass, at three different levels, over the same point. This is a very spectacular and complex manoeuvre, which no one else is capable of reproducing, especially due to the difficulty in opposition passing and rejoining in the very short time frames required for a display.
The other record of the Frecce Tricolori is tied to the Solo’s Lomçovak. This is a display which is typically executed by propeller aircraft, and foresees a “standing roll” followed by a vertical spin, reverse and subsequent aircraft pitch down. Such a manoeuvre is usually “outside the flight envelope” for most jet aircraft, but the PAN’s Solo pilot can execute it in complete safety, thanks to the outstanding handling capabilities of the MB.339.
The aircraft the team flies is the PAN variant of the single engine tandem seat training and tactical support aircraft. Apart from the livery, it differs from the standard model serving with the Aeronautica Militare’s 61° Stormo (Wing) at Galatina (Lecce) airbase by the presence onboard of the coloured smokes generation system; this device is controlled by two buttons: one on the stick, for white smoke, and one on the throttle for coloured smoke. The system is fed from an under wing fuel tank filled with a colouring agent which is discharged through nozzles placed in the jet exhaust. The agent, vaporised in the jet exhaust, produces a coloured trail. Another PAN aircraft peculiarity is that in order to enhance manoeuvrability along the aircraft longitudinal (roll) axis, and to reduce wing loading, it flies with no tip tanks. These are cylindrical 510 litre tanks which are only mounted on the aircraft for long-range ferry flights. They are replaced by an ad hoc wingtip fairing which covers the wingtip tank attachment points. Since 2002, the PAN also received Mid Life Updated MB.339s. This MLU programme has integrated the previous series models with updated structural features and avionics, such as GPS, formation flying position lights, a new V/UHF radio equipped with a new tail antenna, in addition to reinforced nose and tail. The MB.339 has equipped the PAN since 1982, when it replaced the FIAT G.91, a light fighter bomber aircraft which entered service with the Frecce Tricolori in 1963. The MB.339A/PAN will be replaced by the M-345 HET (High Efficiency Trainer).
It was a beautiful, summer day in Arlington, Virginia, on the bank of the Potomac River on that Tuesday, September 11, 2001. The sky was clear. The blistering heat and humidity had departed the area. It almost felt as if a huge broom had swept across the area, cleansing the air of soot, pollution and pollen.
I was serving as a Navy Reserve officer assigned as the Program Objective Memorandum (POM) Editor and Publisher in OPNAV’s Programming Division N80, (the Bullpen in Navy parlance) at the Pentagon, Room 4D683.
At the time, I was personally burdened by the fact that my latest set of Reserve orders were about to expire. As most military folks know, being on active duty as a reservist is a lot like being a contractor. You are brought on board for a set amount of time. The Navy Reserve was working with my N-80 colleagues to get another set of orders to take me forward through the end of the calendar year. I was quick to answer every phone call or check each incoming email to confirm whether my orders had been approved, or whether I needed to prepare to pack up and head back to Indiana.
With no answer from the Navy, I was concerned by the uncertainty of my situation. I consider myself a devout Christian, having given my life to Jesus as a teenager, and followed Him as closely as I could. I made this issue a matter of prayer before I slept each night, but, beginning on Thursday night, September 6, and the nights following, I perceived it was perhaps something more.
Each of those nights after laying down, I was seized by a terrible weight on my being. A sensation like a bird flapping over my face and chest, depriving me of rest, visited me. The feeling left only when I rose to walk and pray aloud or quote Scriptures (quietly, so as not to disturb my roommates) for hours, before finally falling into an exhausted sleep.
This same routine interrupted my sleep until Monday night, 10 September. That night I slept like a baby, undisturbed.
At my office in the Pentagon the next morning, it was the usual busy routine of checking messages and correspondence and listening to my colleagues as they chatted back and forth. We were arranged in a double row of cubicles, with one side of the cubicles with their back to the outer wall, where the plate glass windows behind us had just recently been replaced with newer blast-proof materials. We had moved into 4D683 recently, occupying the newly remodeled section, relocating from an older section of the Pentagon.
I could hear my colleagues talking about the news, when I heard someone say, “Hey, a report here says a plane flew into one of the Twin Towers in New York City!” It was quiet for a moment as everyone logged onto the news to confirm the story. “Must have been bad weather, and maybe a Piper Club lost their way,” one said. Another offered, “Nope, that hole at the impact site doesn’t look like a Piper Cub, and the weather is as clear as a bell”.
Moments later, at 9:03 a.m., we understood what was happening.
Recorded live, a Boeing 767 passenger airliner crashed into the South Tower of the World Trade Center. Silence descended on the Bullpen, as we all tried to make sense of this terrible, deliberate attack.
At that moment, I was impressed in my spirit that the Pentagon would be the next target. I said a quick prayer and sent an email to my wife to alert her as to what was going on. I also called and left a message on our answering machine, letting her know my concerns, and sending her and the children my love. A calm descended upon me, and I went back to my work.
Little did I know that she was unaware of the situation but was at home praying for me at that very moment.
At 9:45 a.m., we experienced the odd sensation of a pressure drop in our office area. It lasted only a split second before we heard a muffled explosion. The blast windows actually bulged inwardly for a moment, knocking against the blinds. The lights went out, and some of the overhead tiles popped out. I jumped from my seat and looked out the window, where I could see a dark cloud of smoke coming from the outer ring of the Pentagon, and fine debris falling into the courtyard between our Ring D, and Ring E. I immediately yelled, “We’ve been hit!”
An automated announcement instructed us to evacuate immediately. The smell of burning jet fuel (which I was very familiar with, having lived on several air bases, and served on an amphibious assault ship that carried Harrier jets) began to infiltrate the space.
Everyone began moving quietly to the outside corridor, and from there to the Pentagon Courtyard, a five-acre, open air space in the center of the Pentagon nicknamed “Ground Zero” (because everyone assumed the Soviets used it as their aim point for a nuclear strike). There was no panic that I could detect, only people checking on each other, and trying to make their way to safety.
When I got to the corridor, I hesitated. I knew that somewhere below me was a burning, exploding aircraft. I was seized momentarily by a desire to run. But across the corridor was a lone Marine major. He was kneeling on one knee, and, looking toward the outer ring of the Pentagon (where smoke was beginning to pour out like a chimney) he was yelling over and over ‘Follow my voice’. Encouraged by this sight, I decided to stay and help. We took turns shouting out, until the smoke was so thick we were lying on our bellies. No one showed up, so we looked at each other and nodded, and made our way to the Courtyard.
The Courtyard was an incredible sight. Over a thousand military, civilian and contractor personnel stood or sat silently, their eyes trained toward the sky. Again, I was struck by the calm and the orderliness of it all. Finally, a civil defense officer appeared with a bullhorn, asking everyone to move out into the South parking lot. I thought I would join the crowd, but I noticed the Pentagon health clinic professionals setting up a triage area there in the Courtyard. Since I had received first aid training many times over the years, I thought I would remain for awhile to assist as needed.
I made my way into the first floor entrance on the west side of the Pentagon, where the aircraft had obviously impacted the building. Smoke was escaping from the upper floors through broken windows. The first floor was filled with a smoky haze, but you could see figures moving in and out of the corridors. I saw the same Marine major standing there. He had been asked to prevent folks from probing deeper into the burning belly of the Pentagon, since most of us didn’t have any fire protection, breathing gear or helmets, but his efforts were fruitless. People wanted to help and were headed in anyway. He asked me to take his place on guard, but I couldn’t stop anyone trying to help, either.
At that moment, someone came out of the smoke and said they badly needed fire extinguishers. I stepped out into the Courtyard and yelled for everyone’s attention. I asked them to go to the other parts of the Pentagon not affected by the impact or fire and grab whatever fire extinguishers they could find and bring them to the first floor entrance. Within minutes, we had quite a pile, ready for rescuers.
I decided to probe a little deeper into the Pentagon myself to see if I might find someone in need. Just 50 feet or so down the smoky corridor, I could see a figure walking toward me. As I approached him, I could see he had been badly burned and was in shock. There was nothing left of his dress shirt, and about all that remained of his undershirt was the collar around his neck. His skin hung down in sheets from his body, resembling wet newspaper. I tried to find a place to put my hand on him so I could guide him out. I made the mistake of placing my hand on his burned back, and he moaned loudly. I finally figured out that I could get up under his arm. A Navy colleague of mine got him on the other side, and we led him to the Courtyard, where we called out for a medic.
I turned to go back and saw a few men bringing out a Navy petty officer, an African American lady in her summer white uniform. She was clearly in shock. When she reached the clean air of the Courtyard, she rolled her eyes to the clear sky above, slightly smiled in relief, and then collapsed in a heap.
In the Pentagon corridor again, I saw another figure in the smoke, and walked toward him. It was an Army enlisted man. He was as red as a boiled lobster, and soaking wet from the sprinklers. His glasses were fogged up, and he kept asking me over and over if he was burned bad. I assured him he had what looked like first degree burns, and that he would be okay. I got him to the aid station, where he was collected by the medics.
Finally, a call rang out for stretcher bearers from inside the Pentagon. An Army officer, Navy officer and I grabbed the only available stretcher, a backboard, and we raced into the smoky darkness.
By the light filtering through windows and broken doors in the corridor, we could see the floor littered with pieces of mortar and stone, unidentified objects, and what looked like body parts. Figures moved in and out of the smoke with flashlights. We entered the courtyard between Ring C and B. We put down the backboard on a metal desk sitting on the ground. The courtyard was filled with about a foot of water from the broken fire mains. The water was filled with small, sticky pieces—it reminded me of the remains you throw into the lake after cleaning fish. I had a strange feeling as we walked around in it, trying to find a survivor.
Fire was coming from a large hole that had been punched through the exterior wall of Ring C, probably by what looked like the remains of an aircraft wheel strut. Smoke poured out of the upper floors. Suddenly, there was an explosion, and a few large pieces of the Pentagon façade came crashing down, along with an intact blast window. An Arlington Fire Department officer approached us and asked us to leave immediately, due to the danger and our lack of protective gear. Reluctantly, we departed, finding our way out through one of the many service tunnels that honeycomb the Pentagon.
There are many other things I could share personally about that day: the long delay trying to get through to my wife and family with the news I was okay; the emotional toll; trying to find my way back to my rented room some 12 miles away with the highways and all public transportation shut down; the shock of discovering the Twin Towers had collapsed; the rumors; and the reunion with my colleagues and friends.
But my final thought is God’s keeping power in the midst of the worst terror attack on American soil in our history, for which I am continually grateful. I mourn the loss of my Pentagon colleagues, some who I knew, and many who I did not know. May they always be remembered and honored. I know I will never forget.
I never went to Afghanistan. Iraq was my war, and when I think back about my deployments, there are very few things that I miss. I definitely don’t relish the sand storms or the dirt or the myriad of dangers lurking behind every piece of trash (and there is a sh#%load of trash).
Instead, I sometimes think back to those quiet moments of deployment, especially ones when I needed the rush of nicotine before stepping off on patrol or the pull of a long drag to settle down from one. Those frequent cigarette breaks with my fellow Marines were some of the most memorable moments of my life. I cherish them.
It’s been a decade since I was in the sandbox and I don’t smoke anymore, but as I unlock the door to We Are The Mighty, I have the crazy urge to light up. I’m nervous. Unlike other conflicts in our history, there isn’t a sacred place, a monument, for veterans of my generation to visit and reflect on our war and maybe even smoke a cigarette like old times. While that place may come someday, today we only have each other, and that’s why I’m nervous. I’m about to meet Staff Sgt. David Bellavia, the first and only living Medal of Honor recipient from the Iraq war.
The Medal of Honor is the nation’s highest award for valor, and it often comes at a significant price. Since WWII, 60% of all medals awarded for valor are posthumous and, for those who are able to receive the medal while living, the process is often long and arduous. Many are forced to relive and describe one of the worst days of their life — over and over again. As I prepare for the interview, I want to be sensitive to all Staff Sgt. Bellavia and his platoon in the 2-2 Ramrod faced during their war. But their story is special. They fought, and Staff Sgt. Bellavia earned his honor during hand-to-hand combat while clearing houses [Official Citation] in one of the most iconic battles: Fallujah.
Fallujah is a place that almost every Iraq war veteran has heard of. Like Iwo Jima or Hue, this battle defines an entire war. As I contemplate this idea, Staff Sgt. Bellavia and his full Army escort enter my office. As I reach out to shake Staff Sgt. Bellavia’s hand, I can’t help but think I am shaking the hand of a man who is the living monument to my war.
As I meet Staff Sgt. Bellavia, thankfully, he calms my nerves. First, he’s a very humble, open guy. He introduces himself as “Dave.” A modest father of three who’s been called back to service to tour the country in the wake of his medal ceremony. Second, he’s funny — like, really funny. He cracks a joke about how hard it is to put on a uniform after fifteen years, and I can relate; there’s no way I could wear my uniform now either. This is exactly the kind of guy who I would share a cigarette with. We laugh together as the cameras turn on.
Staff Sgt. David Bellavia MOH Lincoln Memorial Visit.
Welcome to We Are The Mighty. So, we all have a crazy story of how we got in uniform… What’s yours?
DB: Sure. I joined the Army in 1999. My Army story’s a little bit crazy because my son was born with some birth defects. He’s good now, but the Army didn’t know what to do. So they put me on what’s called a “compassionate reassignment.” So right out of basic training, infantry cord, I go to a recruiting station for two and a half years, which is the worst gig because you’re not a recruiter, you’re not an infantryman. You’re just there telling the Army story, which you don’t know anything of because you don’t have an Army story. And when September 11th happened, the Army was like, “Hey, your son’s not officially healthy. You either get out or go on what’s called an ‘All Others Tour.'”
What’s an “All Other’s Tour”?
DB: So, I had a choice of basically getting out of the Army or just going for three years without my family… and I chose the Army. And so I went to Germany for three years. I didn’t see the family except for block leave, and that was really tough. But it was the best decision I made because of the relationships and the guys, it was really special.
Special? How so?
DB: Yeah. It’s always great to introduce young 18-year-old Americans to Bavarian beer.
Haha. Nice. Did you deploy from there?
DB: Yeah. I deployed to Kosovo in 2002, and then back-to-back from Kosovo to Iraq for 12 months, 2004 to 2005.
Kosovo? What was that like?
DB: It’s unbelievable. The one thing that I learned is that, for whatever reason, those kids in Kosovo could burn a DVD of a movie that is still in production. I don’t even know … they’re like, “Hey, have you seen X-Men 2?” I’m like, “It comes out in a month,” and like, “Here it is.” I’m like, “How is that possible? How do you have access to B-roll footage of a Marvel film before it’s made?” But these guys, [they] can’t figure out plumbing. [They] can’t get a mass transit system, but [they] can burn any movie within hours of Ron Howard saying, cut.” It’s done. It’s crazy.
Do you have a family history of military service?
DB: I grew up on Lake Ontario. Small little town. My dad was a dentist. I was the youngest of four kids. Every one of my brothers has like either multiple master’s degrees or like PhDs. I had two brothers who went to seminary. My grandad was in the Normandy campaign. [Not] D-Day. This was the 35 days after D-Day, but it was the hedgerows, ton of fighting. He would tell me his World War II stories at like … I’d be six years old just listening to this stuff. He’s still with us. He’s 99.
Was he your inspiration for joining the Army?
DB: The other thing was, I remember in high school, before the book came out, before there was a ‘Black Hawk Down’ movie, I watched the [bodies] being just dragged through the streets [of Mogadishu], that really affected me. I wanted to avenge that.
So before you got into the Army, what did courage mean to you?
DB: I had no idea what I was getting into. They told me 11 XRAY meant like extra special infantry. So courage to me was being able to endure rain and having wet socks because there was no thought of combat. Kosovo was the big war and no offense, but it wasn’t really much of a war. It was kind of a … when I got to Kosovo it was like, “Hey, take your helmets off. Soft cap.”
Let’s jump ahead. So you end up in 2-2 from 1st Infantry Division, The Ramrods. And now we’re at war with Iraq. What does that feel like?
DB: Well, I mean, first of all, we’re watching the invasion of Iraq in like a chow hall with a potato bar in Kosovo. And so the 1st Infantry Division had such an incredible legacy of just always being first to fight. We had our own movie. I remember watching The Big Red One movie, if I’m going to join the Army, I want to be in The Big Red One. No one questioned why Lee Marvin was like a 62-year-old squad leader in D-Day. You know what I mean? He’s got all white hair.
Yeah, he must have been passed over a few times…
DB: Do you know what I’m saying? Like, why is he here? I love that movie. I loved just all the stories of what The Big Red One stood for. And the take away was that, we were a peacekeeping, forward-deployed division in Germany and a war was happening in Afghanistan. A war was happening in Iraq, and we were going to miss out on it. And so my chain of command took it upon themselves in nine months of Kosovo to just train us for what was coming down the road. And we hated that because we were doing 15-hour patrols and presence and yet we were doing bunker drills and clearing houses and my God, all that training ended up saving our life because we were so ready when the fight initially came.
A year later, you were in Iraq outside Fallujah. And it was also your birthday?
DB: Yeah, November 10th  was my 29th birthday. And I just remember thinking … as a kid, I’d walk through a cemetery, and I would see people born and died on the same day on their tombstone. And I just thought, “Man, that’s gotta just be the worst.” I was just, “Get me to midnight. At least I can have something different on there.” There were a lot of times where you just give up.
And you were a squad leader at this point?
How did you manage the stress maybe even fear that you were about to lead your soldiers in one of the most violent battles of the Iraq war?
DB: When I was on block leave from Iraq, I ran into a crusty Vietnam guy, and he told me … I was telling him everything I was going through. I was so mad. I saw like a UPS guy, and I couldn’t understand why people were normal. They had no connection to what the hell was happening. And I was looking at this UPS guy deliver packages and be so happy, and I’m like, “What the … how is this?” … and this Vietnam guy told me, he’s like, “You still believe that you’re coming home. And once you give that up, once you just acknowledge that you have no control over this, everything is far more manageable. You can compartmentalize everything.” It was the best advice that we had is that it’s not about you… don’t worry about your own survivability, worry about your subordinates, worry about them, put all your … anything that causes stress, put that below your young guys and then if you come home, that’s a bonus.
Is that what you were thinking when you got to a house full of insurgents in Fallujah? The house where you earned the Medal of Honor?
DB: So yeah, this is basically what happened in Fallujah. So [in] Anbar Province, 82nd Airborne leaves, Marine Corps comes in. This is their fight. It’s very awkward to be receiving anything for Fallujah when so many Marines… you got Brian Chontosh, Brad Kasal, and Rafael Peralta, legends in the Marine Corps, did so many incredible things. We were there just to supplement them.
You did much more than support.
DB: Fallujah was left basically unmolested for six months, and the Marine Corps had a very difficult time breaching through. So what ended up happening is everyone was on one side from the north pushing in, and the only real clear breach lane [was ours]. We got into the city expecting everyone to be on our shoulder. And when we pushed through, it took like two days for the rest of the task force to get into the city. In that 48-hour period, we had very little support, and we were pretty much the only game in town. And it developed this really odd way of, you got to your objective, you cleared it, and then you massaged back, started the invasion again, cleared it. Uh-oh, come back, do it again. And so you’re refighting in neighborhoods that you’ve been almost four times at that point. And so we got a report that there were six to eight, possibly 10 bad guys in a little neighborhood block. And we were clearing all these different buildings out and nothing. I mean, we’d get blood, or you’d see a weapons caches, but you just missed the guys, and we finally end up in the last house, and that’s when it all went down.
And then your soldiers get trapped inside?
DB: Yeah. So I’m on one side of the house, the other guys are on the other side, and basically, these guys are shooting belt-fed machine guns through a door. We have to break contact. My two guys outside with 240 Bravos that were John J. Rambo firing those things from the shoulder. Those rounds are coming in, the PKM rounds are coming out. No one can move. If anything that night that really took the most intestinal fortitude, it was standing in that door with that SAW because, again, I don’t know how many people there are. I just know that there’s fire coming out. And I got to be honest with you, you come up with a plan, and then you’re going to execute the plan, and then you just want to stall because your legs won’t walk, your body won’t move.
So you grab a M-249 SAW and charge inside? What were you thinking? What was going through your head at this point?
DB: I remember thinking to myself, “I want to hook my finger around this trigger, not the way we’re trained to do, which is to three-second burst. But if I get hit, I want to just hold it down and just get enough fire.” And as soon as I get in that door frame, I’m looking at these guys [and] they’re not intimidated at all. The SAW was a runaway. On the range, you would break the links, point it to a safe direction. But here it’s just, “Well, I’ll just keep it on them.” I’m not hitting anything, I’m not hitting them, and I just clunk out on ammo. Those 200 rounds went like nanoseconds. It felt like far too quick. So I’m like, “could I have shot 200 rounds at like five feet and missed every single person?” I just found my body just running out of the house. And as I’m doing it, you hear, and you feel rounds everywhere, and you’re just like, “Man, that was worthless.” And so I was upset. I was angry.
And you traded the SAW for an M-4 and went back inside the house?
DB: Well, it was me, [and] Scott Lawson, who died in 2013, but he went in with me, and I had three SAW gunners. I was worried that these [insurgents] were going to run out of the house and we’re going to lose them and then they’re going to kill someone or we’re going to get killed by them down the road. So I set up the SAW gunners around the courtyard, and I was just going to run in there like an idiot and try to push them out. And again, I had no real idea how many were in there. I like my chances against wounded guys that we’ve been shooting at repeatedly. So I figured me and Lawson could at least ding them up and then the next wave of Americans could finish them off.
And you did finish them off. Five to be exact. I have one specific question. There’s a moment that I read about that. Did you smoke a cigarette during the fight?
DB: I did. I did. So, okay, understand that when you’re in [the house] … your night vision works like a cat’s eye, right? I’m not telling you anything you don’t know. I’ve never been in this building before. And after this guy jumps out of a wardrobe and I hit him five times, I was just like, “Man, I need a smoke.” I don’t have my helmet, my IBA is open, I don’t … my rifle is somewhere in the smoke. And I just am like, “You know, I need a smoke right now.”
With the enemy still in the house?
DB: I’m an infantryman. I know how to smoke at night. I’m well-rehearsed at cupping the hands and holding. And so my biggest fear was that my guys were going to come in the building and because I was just around the enemy, I was going to get popped. So I just tried to hug a wall where I knew I couldn’t be hit by anything and just have a quick smoke and that’s when this guy jumps off the roof right in front of me and breaks his leg or does something horrible to himself. But it was just, yeah, it was stress level … that’s the weird thing about that close quarter proximity. You’re super confident. “I’m Thor, I could do all of this, America.” And then you slip and fall and almost get your head blown off, and you’re like, “What am I thinking? I’m an idiot. This was a horrible idea.” And then you see fear in the [enemy’s] eyes, and you’re like, “Oh, they’re scared, I got this, everything’s great.”
That’s the most badass smoke break that I’ve ever heard of.
DB: In the moment, grab a smoke.
Let’s move into afterward. You got out of the Army. What have you been doing since you left?
DB: So I came home right during the whole political soccer ball of Iraq. So I started a group with a bunch of other Marines called Vets for Freedom, and we just went out there and said, “Hey, don’t send us to fight unless you want us to finish it. Right? I mean, we didn’t vote for this thing. We’re the ones adjudicating this fight. You want to defund it. I mean, we lost our buddies out there. This is more important than some political soccer ball.” And so in order to become apolitical, we became uber-political, and I just hated it. That’s not what we wanted to do. So I started focusing more on just veterans in normal life.
Do you think Veterans can find some kind of “normal” in civilian life?
DB: We’re not walking around with high and tights, we’re not wearing camouflage to work, but the type of men and women who served this country are special, and we’re volunteering to do it. And when we come home, we would like to make America as great as we did serving it in uniform and we want to be teachers and we want to be coaches, and we want to lead at home the way we did in battle.
What was it like taking off the uniform and leading in a different way?
DB: The first thing I learned right off the bat is that no civilian wants to know when you’re going to the bathroom. Right? Because I’m accustomed to being like, “Hey, I’m going to go to the bathroom. I’m going to go take a leak.” No civilian ever wants to hear that. So I learned some tough lessons right off the bat.
And now, as a business owner, what do you tell other veterans when you see them?
DB: When I wore the veteran thing on my sleeve, I found that I was a bigger spectacle. And so I just decided to just compartmentalize that. Let it go, move on with your life, tell them, “Oh yeah, I served too,” and most people, especially the Vietnam generation, they didn’t get any of this reflexive love. They didn’t get free tickets to Bush Gardens. They didn’t get applause when they walked through the airport. So I’ve been really appreciative of that Vietnam generation protecting us from what they went through, and also their ability to kind of do a victory lap for our generation when we come home. And these guys in the workplace, what they’ve been able to accomplish. I love that. When I find out someone’s a vet, it’s like a Christian in the Catacomb, a little wink. You do the secret handshake, and that resume goes right to the top. I want that … I don’t care what you did.
You’re also a family man now, what do you tell your kids about courage and service?
DB: I tell them that the United States Army is the greatest … we’ve been fighting bullies since 1775 right? I’ve always told my kids, “I will never … if you come home with a fat lip because you were defending someone who couldn’t defend themselves, I don’t care what the school does, I don’t care what the law does. You will defend people who can’t defend themselves. That is why we’re on this earth.” We’re there to take care of our weaker brother. We’re there to take care of our weaker sister.
You also co-wrote a best selling memoir about your experience in Fallujah called House to House. Can you tell me briefly about the book?
DB: Well, yeah I’ve been going through that for a while. When I came out, there were very few memoirs written but, I don’t know if I would’ve made that choice again because I didn’t want to write [about me]. I wanted to write about my soldiers. My soldiers were the greatest men I’ve ever met in my life. They still are. And what we did together, we weren’t SEALs, we weren’t Green Berets [or] Recon. We were just knuckle-dragging, mouth-breathers. That’s what we were, just average soldiers doing above average things because we found ourselves in those situations.
One last question. Do you still smoke?
DB: I am a recovering smoker. I do some tobacco products here and there and nicotine lozenges, a little dip. But I’m trying to beat that. But now the smoking is definitely gone. I’ve graduated.
Dave, this has truly been an honor. Anything else I missed?
DB: No, you got it.
Click HERE to read more about Staff Sgt. David Bellavia’s actions which, earned him the distinguished role as the first and only living Medal of Honor recipient of the Iraq war.
There are certain things that some soldiers and service members may take for granted: equipment provided, a full plate of food, ammunition for their weapons. It might seem like there is a mystical force operating behind the scenes to make these resources magically appear, but it’s a result of the organized, detailed planning, and execution that is logistics.
Soldiers, sailors, and civilians with the U.S. Transportation Command helped to further advance the efficiency of military logistics by testing a high-speed vessel to transport troops and cargo across the Black Sea, Aug. 24, 2018.
“This is a great opportunity to test this vessel and the crewmembers,” said Navy Cmdr. Steven Weydert, the USNS Carson City military detachment officer in charge. “Hopefully it opens up more options for the Army and any other service to develop interoperability in this area of responsibility for multiple missions and to support our allies.”
Members of U.S. Transportation Command oversee the docking of the USNS Carson City (T-EPF 7) at the Port of Constanta, Romania, Aug. 24, 2018.
(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Kris Bonet)
Soldiers, Abrams Battle Tanks, and Bradley Fighting Vehicles departed the Poti Sea Port in Georgia on Aug. 22, 2018, aboard the USNS Carson City and docked at the Port of Constanta, Romania after a two-day voyage. The Carson City is the first high-speed vessel of its kind to travel the Black Sea in support of U.S. Army Europe operations.
Carson City (T-EPF 7) is a Spearhead-class expeditionary fast transport, a high-speed, shallow draft vessel that can hold up to 600 short tons, sail across 1,200 nautical miles (1,381 miles) at an average speed of 35 knots (40 mph). The vessel’s role is to support joint and coalition force operations for the Army and Navy by transporting troops, military vehicles, supplies, and equipment.
Sgt. Matthew Grobelch, a transportation management coordinator with the 839th Transportation Battalion, helps to load U.S. military cargo at the Port of Constanta, Romania, Aug. 24, 2018.
(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Kris Bonet)
“Looking forward to future exercises being planned to take place in the Balkans as well as the Black Sea region, the T-EPF is perfect for some of those smaller ports that we want to utilize but can’t get the larger ships to dock,” said Lt. Col. John Hotek, commander of the 839th Transportation Battalion. “This proved that its a very viable solution, very cost effective, [and] very economical and efficient.”
This proof-of-principle operation brought together two of three service component commands that make up USTRANSCOM: the Navy’s Military Sealift Command and the Army’s Surface Deployment and Distribution Command.
Soldiers with the 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment stage their Abrams Battle Tanks at the Port of Constanta, Romania, Aug. 24, 2018 after downloading them from the USNS Carson City.
(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Kris Bonet)
“We’re trying to incorporate other services like the Navy’s MSC and see how well we can use this asset to deploy and redeploy units to various exercises and real-world missions,” said Sgt. 1st Class Miguel Elizarraras, cargo specialist with the 839th Transportation Battalion, 598th Transportation Brigade. “We’re testing the capabilities of the vessel to transport a company-size element of infantry or mechanized units in and out of port in a faster way.”
As part of the Army’s Surface Deployment and Distribution Command, the mission of the 839th is to provide strategic transportation support to joint military forces throughout the Mediterranean, Caspian and Black Seas as well as the vast majority of the continent of Africa.
Pfc. Albert Hsieh, an armor crewman with the 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, inspects an Abrams Battle Tank after it is staged at the Port of Constanta, Romania, Aug. 24, 2018.
(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Kris Bonet)
Equally important, the Navy’s MSC has the responsibility for providing sealift and ocean transportation for all U.S. military services, as well as replenishments and controlling the military transport ships.
“I have a tendency sometimes to say ‘we work in the shadows,'” said Hotek. “We are that strategic link between the tactical and operational force, and the Department of Defense’s command structure that determines the movements.”
The USNS Carson City’s success in traversing the Black Sea will affect the planning of future exercises within the European training environment.