ELLISVILLE – Real combat is nothing like what Hollywood has created in movies like “Saving Private Ryan,” according to former Army Staff Sergeant and author, David Bellavia. The guest speaker for Jones County Junior College’s Charles Pickering Honors Institute shared how he faced the realities of war with students.
“Fallujah is like the Super Bowl of war,” said Bellavia. “In one encounter, this guy was choking me and I could have put my finger in his eye but I couldn’t do it….His 45 pistol went off by my ear and now I’m deaf and bleeding and this dude starts biting my hand like an animal!”
As Bellavia was sharing his vivid and terrifying memories of fighting in some of the most heated battles of the Iraq war, the platoon commander admitted he was not prepared for battle.
“As an infantryman, I wanted to be in the battle but I was in Kosovo and we didn’t see any action until we got to Iraq in 2004,” said Bellavia. “I didn’t know what to expect because I didn’t know what war was like. However, (during training) I thought if I could be worse than what I thought combat would be like, we’d be ready.”
However he discovered no one could prepare for what they found when the Division arrived in Fallujah. The New York native led his men into a battle encountering an enemy that used high amounts of epinephrine and other drugs to tenaciously attack them. Feeling like a caged dog fighting for his life, Bellavia managed to survive.
“I hope you never have to see combat but if you do, never back down for what you believe in because the enemy is hell bent on destroying your world,” he said. “You can’t understand or rationalize with the enemies’ ideology because it doesn’t make sense to us. They are judged by the quality of their death. They are rewarded in heaven for what they do on earth,” said Bellavia. “My goal was to protect and avenge…your way of life, back here in the U.S.”
Touring the country speaking about his six years in the Army, the Iraq veteran found a way to continue his service to his country. The co-founder for the non-partisan veteran’s advocacy group, Vets for Freedom organization, encouraged students to find a way to serve in their hometown.
“You don’t have to serve your country by grabbing a rifle or grenade. You know service is paramount; it’s what makes our culture and our way of life so great. That you can serve your country just by walking out the door and doing things in your community,” said Bellavia, whose list of military honors includes the Silver Star, the Bronze Star, and the Conspicuous Service Cross, New York State’s highest combat valor award.
Sitting in the audience remembering with Bellavia was JCJC freshman and fellow soldier, Chris George of Hattiesburg. He was amazed to discover the two served in the same division, during the same time.
George explained, “I was in the college bookstore this morning and saw Bellavia’s book, ‘House to House: An Epic Memoir of War’, about door-to-door close combat in Iraq, and I recognized the patch in Bellavia’s picture. As I flipped through the book I recognized some of the men who he memorialized in his book. I eventually found out he was speaking today so I had to meet him!”
After Bellavia’s lecture, the former Infantry Army Staff Sergeant met with this fellow soldier and exchanged memories of their time together in Iraq.
“This is a small world,” said Bellavia obviously touched by the brief encounter.
George explained he wasn’t on the front lines. As part of the 201st support battalion, 1st Infantry Division, the JCJC computer service technology major kept night vision goggles and other equipment working. “Bellavia’s guys protected us,” said George. “We knew a lot of the same people and shared a lot of the same experiences. It was pretty cool getting to meet him.”
Bellavia and his platoon were the subjects of the Time magazine cover story, “Into the Hot Zone,” and were awarded the prestigious Presidential Unit Citation.