A Tribute to Bruno

Intro

I did my best to capture the spirit and essence of Bruno. Such a great man deserved a stirring tribute.  Everyone who knew Bruno loved him.  I hope you guys enjoy it.  Bruno is missed greatly, thought of often and loved always.

Paul and Bruno

Background

I served in Afghanistan in 2008 on an Oregon Army National Guard Embedded Training Team, sent to mentor the Afghan National Army. It was in the company of this remarkable group of men I had some of the most memorable experiences of my life. The links we forged from our time there will bind us together forever. But for me, one event stands out above all others.

On September 20, 2008, a convoy hit a massive Improvised Explosive Device (IED). The explosion flung the 37,000-pound vehicle 20 feet into the air, and it slid 70 feet. Three good men died that day. One of them was my friend Bruno.

In Captain Bruno G. DeSolenni, we see the best of a generation that has served with distinction for more than a decade and a half of war. I was proud to call Bruno my friend, and I am so grateful to have been part of the team I served on in Afghanistan.

Bruno, Paul, Dom

Why Men Go to War

For almost two centuries the nobility, the devotion and the selflessness of those who defend America and protect liberty by going to war has never been a matter of debate. A lot of the time we use the word “hero” is to describe the young people who volunteer to go to war.

My father, a decorated veteran of Korea and Vietnam, said, “Real heroes die in war. What more can you give than your life?”  Maybe he was right. I don’t know. I finally came to understand why he was so uncomfortable being called a hero. Heroes are something we create, something we need.

It’s a way for us to understand what’s almost incomprehensible and tragic, of how people could sacrifice so much for freedom, but for my dad and his friends, the risks they took, the wounds they suffered, they did that really for one reason: their buddies.

Patriotism or duty never inspire men’s performance in combat. What stirs brave men to action is a feeling of loyalty to their buddies they are facing hardship with. The brutality of war mixed with the tight constraints of military life allows them to feel love and tenderness towards each other.

Noted war correspondent named Tim Hetherington once said, “War is the only opportunity men have in society to love each other unconditionally.”  Risking your life to save the life of another is the definitive and a sometimes final act of that love. It’s the ultimate expression of what they have for each other. That bond is a promise made among brothers that allow men to serve and die together with no fear, and most of all with no regrets, facing those times with courage and professionalism.

Over time there is nothing you wouldn’t for the members of your team who you deploy with. The team becomes your family. The bonding has to do with the intensity of the experience.  It is the warrior calling: Life and Death along with Love and Violence. Brave men may have fought for their country, but they died for their friends. The greatest hero I have known with this warrior ethic was Captain Bruno G. DeSolenni.

 

Bruno with Turtle

Bruno the Man

Bruno was born to lead. He started out as an Army recruit who pushed himself to his limits, both physically and mentally, to earn the title Officer, United States Army. Bruno was an Infantry Leader who, on his tour in Iraq, was called the “best Platoon Leader” by the men he led because they loved him for his spirit and fearlessness.

Bruno, Mark, Paul

When I first met Bruno in January 2008, he was a Lieutenant in the Oregon National Guard. He was a short, strong-looking man with piercing blue eyes and jet-black hair. He was about to do his third deployment in six years. Bruno was known in his Battalion, 1st of the 186th Infantry as a legendary leader. As I served with him in Afghanistan, I found him to be an instinctive warrior from the cradle to the grave.

I didn’t know Bruno in Iraq, but I think of his service in Afghanistan as the finest hour in his career as a Soldier. He showed himself to be an outstanding commander: clear, decisive, forceful, inspiring on several occasions personally brave.

Bruno never seemed in doubt about the reason he was on this deployment. He was totally committed, he served with outstanding professionalism and a crazy sense of humor. In front of the men he led, both Afghan and American, his resolution never faltered.

Sense of Humor and Kindness

As I got to know Bruno I came to like him more and more. Bruno was emotional and sentimental beneath his easygoing, tough guy exterior. One of the best things about him was he never feared emotion, never dreaded any commitment of spirit. He was never helpless to translate the murmurings of his heart into words. Bruno always spoke his mind.

One day he came strolling into our hut at Camp Dubs, right outside of Kabul. Wearing nothing but a towel, he said, “How does it feel, Dom, to come from a race of men who once ruled the earth, who brought order to the Mediterranean world in an empire called Rome?”

Striking a bodybuilder pose with his arm flexed.  Bruno flashed me his lopsided grin and said, “The both of us are Italian, but I come from the part of Rome, where men were masters of the universe, while you came from the part that evolved into the guys rolling dough and eating pizza!”  He laughed and grabbed me into a headlock. For Bruno shows of emotion were always a form of martial art. It was never with a verbal expression.

Bruno and Dom

You could always tell Bruno loved others, and deeply. You could see in the way he listened to other people’s problems, the way he was attentive to other’s needs. It really came out in how he would get physically close to wrestle you or punch you in the arm after a kind ribbing.

This was Bruno’s way of showing affection without being seen as “too emotional,”- his words. Besides demonstrating bravery in the face of enemy fire, he was kind to those who served with him. Being Bruno’s comrade-in-arms always seemed to demand something more of yourself because he encouraged all those around him.

The Sacrifice of Volunteering

By volunteering for a deployment, a soldier does it with the knowledge that by embarking on this adventure they know they may die. Bruno knew that duty and love to one’s country demand certain things, certain responsibilities.

But this is something more. Bruno’s volunteering was not only answering the call of duty. I always thought such commitment was truly “above and beyond.” Bruno understood this better than anyone.

Bruno explaining his sniper position. Patrol Base Sanford, August 1, 2008.

I have known several young men who have died for their country. They are our country’s best, the nation’s sons, who answered the call of service to defend this country in a time of war.

They answered what Theodore Roosevelt described as “the trumpet call,” which he said, “Is the most inspiring of all sounds, because it summons men to spurn all ease and self-indulgence and bids them forth to the field where they must dare and do and die at need.”

Bruno answered that trumpet call, as did every member of our team. Bruno came to represent that extra measure of courage and determination to be at the very tip of the spear in America’s wars.

In Bruno’s case, that meant leaving a loving family and prosperous job to join the Oregon Army National Guard to become an Officer, where he quickly earned the respect and trust of his fellow soldiers. This is no small feat among that brotherhood of arms where so many men are veterans of multiple combat tours.

Whenever a particularly challenging mission came up, Bruno would be the first to volunteer. At just 32 years old, Bruno was the embodiment of that special breed of warrior that he had long aspired to become, a grizzled combat veteran who cared more for others than himself.

Bruno checking the perimeter of Patrol Base Sanford.

Every human impulse would tell someone to turn away, especially after a harrowing tour in Iraq in 2004-05. He could have stayed home. But when his friends needed him, Bruno was always there. Instead of staying, this young Captain, my friend, a 32-year-old man with his whole life ahead of him, did something extraordinary.

Bruno volunteered to go with a team of his friends to a faraway land, live and fight in an alien culture because he knew he was needed. His skills as a soldier would allow other men to live. In the end, he did just that.

Bruno in the battle of Arghandab, June 18, 2008.

Bruno’s exceptional qualities – his intellect, curiosity, agility, and determination – were in demand and on display during his two combat tours in Afghanistan and Iraq. Along with his legendary athleticism, Bruno had a real affinity for learning about cultures and history.

Bruno quickly picked up the nuances of the culture while in Afghanistan and, because he was honest and learned their culture. He developed a bond with the Afghan National Army soldiers he was mentoring; they respected and trusted this young American.

Even as Bruno was winning the confidence of the Afghan Soldiers he mentored, he never stopped being a warrior. That is why on the morning of September 20, 2008, Bruno volunteered to be a gunner on a routine convoy.  An Improvised Explosive Device destroyed the vehicle he was in and killed him instantly. I am sure even if he had known the outcome of that day I know that he would have put the lives of his brothers in arms – Afghan and American – ahead of his own, it was just the way Bruno was.

Mourning his Passing

At his funeral, his deeds and incredible life were celebrated. I remembered a conversation we had on our way home to see our families one more time before we left for Afghanistan in March 2008, Bruno said, “People can tell me whatever they want about going over there, I’ll listen… but I’m just a middleman here, representing all those who have sacrificed and served in Iraq and Afghanistan.”  Bruno’s modesty, humility, together with his valor, indeed set him apart.

Bruno sleeping with Rufus.

Though Bruno would call himself, and I quote “average,” he was exceptional. Even among his fellow warriors he so graciously extolled when talking about his teammates.

In his sacrifice, Bruno has become a living example, a reminder to America that there are heroes—modern heroes that live and walk amongst us. Heroes like Bruno who are still fighting and dying to protect us every day as he did.

Bruno as a Leader

I have served with many great leaders, but Bruno was among one of the most inspirational field commanders I have ever known. His enthusiasm and “can do” spirit was infectious. Bruno was an uncommonly talented leader that, led by personal and physical example in everything he did.

Bruno in Class A’s

The Roman Military historian Tacitus said; “In valor, there is hope.” With Bruno’s passing, he has become a symbol of that hope. That is why we bestow the honor on those rare individuals who’ve already proven their ability to bear such burdens for the sake of our country and call them “heroes.”

Bruno’s valor and ultimate sacrifice offer enduring hope for the future of our nation. Pericles’ speech to the families of the Athenian war dead, in which he said, “What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.” His story is certainly interwoven with mine.

A plaque honoring Bruno in Crescent City, CA.

Today and in the years to come, we may find peace and some comfort in knowing that Bruno gave his life doing what he loved — protecting his friends and defending his country. His family gave a son, brother, and uncle to America and America is forever in their debt. We are reminded that behind every American who wears our nation’s uniform stands a family who serves with them. And behind every American who lays down their life for our country is a family who mourns them, and honors them, for the rest of their lives.

His Legacy

Bruno’s legacy endures in the service of his teammates – his brothers-in-arms who served with him, bled with him and fought with him. Those brave men embody the spirit that guides our troops in Afghanistan every day – the courage, the resolve, the relentless focus on their mission: to break the momentum of the Taliban insurgency and to build the capacity of Afghans to defend themselves.

Bruno endures in the Afghans that he trained, and he befriended. In valleys and villages half a world away, they remember him – the American who respected their culture and who helped them defend their country.  We honor him most by living our lives to the fullest, and I suspect Bruno would be especially proud to know he had a nephew named after him.

I’ll close with my favorite line from Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar”: “Cowards die many times before their deaths; the valiant never taste of death but once.” Bruno is now known to history as one of those valiant. His name, and his story, belongs to the ages.

May God bless this brave young man. And may God grant peace of heart and soul to his loving his family and to the men who have served with this brave American.  Bruno is missed.

Mark Browning, a good friend of mine and Bruno’s, wrote this about Bruno and read it at his Memorial Service in Kandahar two days after he was killed:

“He is a hero, a champion, a gift from God. His good nature and genuine care for others was infectious and spread not only to our team, but other nations, including the Afghans, the British and the Danish. Everybody loved Bruno. He was a force of nature.”

Bruno, you’re really missed, buddy.

Bruno’s Grave in Crescent City, CA, his hometown.