Tag Archives: Afghanistan

Brave Soldier: The Bruno de Solenni Story- Introduction

“War is the province of danger, and therefore courage above all things is the first quality of a warrior.”

– General Karl Von Clausewitz

This is the introduction of my new book about my friend Bruno de Solenni. He died in Afghanistan in 2008.

Brave Soldier: The Bruno de Solenni Story

By Dominic Oto

Dedication

To

Captain Bruno G. de Solenni

Killed in Action near Maiwand District, Kandahar Afghanistan

September 20, 2008

And

Hanif and Ramin, our two intrepid interrupters, with us since the beginning.

Killed in Action near Maiwand District, Kandahar Afghanistan

September 20, 2008

If there is any glory in war, let it rest with brave men like these.

Foreword

On September 20, 2008, Captain Bruno de Solenni, a brave American soldier who was loved and admired, and with everything to live for was killed by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan.

How did this happen?

Why?

I was a close friend of Bruno’s. We spent almost a year together in training at Fort Riley, Kansas and in Afghanistan. I was talking to him right up until the moment he died. In that time I got to know about his life: his adventures, his dreams for the future, the triumphs and defeats of the generous, intense, fun-loving man who was Bruno de Solenni.

We were in the same gun truck when we hit a 500-pound roadside bomb. I was driving, and Bruno was the gunner. Bruno and two other brave men died that day. I lived, and he died. I can’t tell you why he died and I lived. No one can.

We were unlikely friends. We were two very different men. Bruno was physical and brave. I am bookish and afraid. We came from different parts of the country, with different backgrounds, different religious beliefs, and different political opinions-and yet we put all those differences aside and became buddies. But I can tell you about his life, but I must also tell you of his death and the events which preceded it. I have thought long, and hard about that- whether to go into it all or to keep parts of it suppressed, the feelings of anger, regret and sorrow over Bruno’s death have been bottled-up for almost a decade. In the end, I was guided by what Bruno told me when I wondered about whether I should be frank and open as he was about our mission to train an infantry battalion of Afghan soldiers. Bruno pointed to a quote in his notebook from Ernest Hemingway, “Every man’s life ends the same way. It is only the details of how he lived and how he died that distinguish one man from another.” I love that quote. I have been reading and re-reading Hemingway ever since.

Bruno was always open and blunt, and for him, there was only one way to account for things- to tell the whole truth about them, holding nothing back. I know he would want me to tell his story the same way. I attempt to tell the reader Bruno’s story truly, the way it happened. There are ecstasy and sorrow, fear and bravery, and with some luck, the reader will get to know about the brave soldier, his friends called, “the heart and soul of our team.”

This is the story of how Bruno and I came to know each other and help each other. We were both soldiers fighting in a foreign land far from home who became friends and developed an enduring friendship until tragedy struck.

This is what I tried to do in telling Bruno’s story, holding nothing back. This is as close as I could get to the “Why” Bruno died in Afghanistan on September 30, 2008.

The cover of Bruno’s book

Bruno de Solenni died at the age of thirty-two. He left behind a loving family and a great many loving friends. And with this book, I hope that when they think of him, it’s not how he died that they remember, but, rather, how this brave man lived. Bruno is deeply missed and never forgotten.

 

The Life and Legend of Bruno de Solenni– A Brave Soldier

“Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.”

Matthew 5:9 KJB

Introduction

I am almost finished writing a book about my friend Bruno. Trying to remember and capture Bruno is why I started writing.

Bruno was a fearless warrior, a loving brother, and uncle. Bruno led the life of an American hero. His renowned compassion and courage made him a legend to anyone that knew him.

I wanted to write a candid, essential portrait of this celebrated warrior – a man whose death only added to the legend of Bruno. But first I had to set the scene. I hope you like it.

SAINT JOSEPH CATHOLIC CEMETERY, CRESCENT CITY, CALIFORNIA- January 1, 2013-

I park my truck at the bottom of the small hill of the cemetery.  I slowly walk up the hill to the gnarled old tree that is beside the grave. I am stopped as soon as I see his tombstone.

I feel like I have hit an invisible brick wall. My breathing quickens, I feel like someone punched the air out of my lungs, my legs grow weak, and I fall to my knees in front of his grave. I began to shake, and my throat constricts. My eyes are riveted to his grave marker with his name:

BRUNO GIANCARLO DE SOLENNI, CPT, U.S. Army, Afghanistan

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

I see his grave, but my mind is reeling, and I dissolve into the day he died.

MAIWAND DISTRICT, KANDAHAR PROVINCE, AFGHANISTAN- September 20, 2008

We were on a convoy from our base in Helmand to Kandahar. I am driving the truck, and Bruno is the gunner. The steering wheel jerks in my hands as if it suddenly alive. The truck cab turns night into day as if the Sun suddenly appeared with a colossal roar and a mighty rush of wind from an explosion. Outside the world streaked by. I can see the hood of the truck folding into and crashing into the window.

“This can’t be happening!” my mind protests, despite the fact that I see impossible things. The blinding brightness slowly fades into crushing metal and then fire and smoke. I am spinning like I am in a washing machine, black and red, black and red, and suddenly the steering wheel is ripped free from my hands, and I am screaming…

KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, AFGHANISTAN- September 22, 2008

Bruno’s memorial service was not a funeral. His body was not here. It was a memorial service to say goodbye to a friend. The team gathered to honor their fallen comrade. We knelt in front of the helmet, boots, weapon, and picture of Bruno. We all openly wept.

The team was more than just a team of combat advisors, and we were a fighting unit. Over the last eight months, we had become a tightly knit family, best friends, and brothers. We would and did lay down our lives for one another.

Bruno was the “heart and soul” of the team, and now he was gone. We gathered to give a solemn salute and final goodbye to our brother-in-arms as he was returned home. The memorial service was held just before the body was to be flown back to the U.S.

Bruno’s coffin was draped in the American flag. It was carried the final few feet onto an Air Force plane bound home to America. The Chaplain said, “Today we remember our friend, comrade and a fellow American. We the sacrifice he made for us, our country, and our freedom.” In the end, heartbroken service members hugged, cried and comforted each other.

Spotting the rest of my teammates among the mourners was easy. We were struck with grief. The physical, mental and emotional loss of Bruno had taken a heavy toll. We were hunched over, fidgeting and crying.  Our physical bodies were in the chapel, but our minds were still on the desert floor 60 kilometers away, where Bruno had died. It was a place none of us would ever truly ever leave.

The remains our fallen hero were flown from Kandahar in Afghanistan to New Castle Air National Guard Base in Delaware. In Delaware, Bruno’s family was waiting to escort him home.

CRESCENT CITY, CA- October 4, 2008

Bruno’s funeral was like an extraordinary class reunion of all the people that loved him. Here were all the figures that he talked about in Afghanistan gathered in this chapel to say goodbye to him.

As a timber faller, Bruno labored through the spring and summer in groves of giant redwoods, cedar, and fir. As a soldier, he died in Afghanistan. The tree trunks he sawed and milled became his coffin built by his friends and brothers who were his pallbearers. They dug his grave at the St. Joseph’s Catholic Church Cemetery in Crescent City and laid him to rest.

The Man, The Legend

Bruno was a man whose life could come out of a novel. He had an exceptional mind and an incredible talent to relate to other human beings, whoever they were and no matter they come from. He was a compassionate man who could engage anyone on so many levels. Bruno could sense human issues and feelings about a subject. On another level and at the same time he could deal with hard facts like statistics. Usually, those two qualities seem to cancel each other out in an individual, but they came together in Bruno.

In 2008, when we went to Afghanistan, the war changed. We went as soldiers but also as peacemakers acting as combat advisors to an Afghan Infantry Battalion (600 men). Combat advisors on the ground advising the Afghan National Army could tell we were losing the war. The generals in Kabul maintained that we were winning the war. The Advisors were caught between the two. It was an adversarial relationship. Bruno always helped me to understand the war and what we, the Americans, were doing there.

I think a lot of this comes from Bruno being fearless. He could work at the tactical level, take what he saw down there, and apply at the strategic level. Bruno gave the entire team the perspective of how we were helping the Afghans. His daily talks shaped my view of the war. Bruno helped me to come to grips with the war in a way that I would not have been able to without him.

Something to remember is that America was at the High Noon of its power in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. We thought that whatever we were doing in Afghanistan was right and good simply because we were Americans. We succeed in this noble undertaking because we were Americans. Bruno embodied that idealism.

We wanted to win the war for the Afghans and for ourselves. Bruno felt the best way to do this was, to tell the truth. Bruno had a keen sense of honor as a soldier. Bruno was enraged by the way people back home saw the war.

Bruno was my friend and this how I remembered him.

SAINT JOSEPH CATHOLIC CEMETERY, CRESCENT CITY, CALIFORNIA- January 1, 2013

Tears are streaming down my face. I am back at the grave marker trying to compose myself.

I say to his tombstone, “I did my best Bruno, to remember you, to honor you.”

The tears are coming stronger. An intense swirl of emotions is stirring inside of me. Feelings of regret, sorrow, anger, and gratitude overwhelm me.

“I’ve tried never to forget you. I don’t know why you died and I lived. I have done my best to be worthy of the gift you gave me and what you gave me. I will never forget you. Until I see you again, old friend.”

I knew I had to get on with my life, and it was Bruno would have wanted.

Now I can write Bruno’s book.

Happy Belated Birthday, Devil Dogs

I love Marines. They are America’s Spartan warriors. They are always ready to do battle. They are closet idealists and pessimists.

Marines have an intense feeling of identity. They have almost a mystical connection of belonging to an elite fighting force of nearly invincible warriors.

Some of this attitude comes from their brutal and efficient training. Another part of that comes from their deep confidence and pride in their mission and leaders.

There is no better friend and no worse enemy than a U.S. Marine.

The Emblem of the USMC

 

Who are the Marines?

The United States Marine Corps is an all-purpose military strike force that can mobilize quickly and fight anywhere. Marines can be deployed almost anywhere in the world at a moment’s notice. The Marine Corps protect United States interests whenever a crisis flares up.

The Marine Corps is part of the Department of the Navy, but the Marines are still considered a separate branch of the armed services. The Marine Corps is the smallest branch of the armed forces. As of 2017, the Corps has around 185,000 active duty members and additional 38,500 reserve Marines.

What is the Marine Corps history?

The United States Marine Corps was created by the Continental Congress on November 10, 1775, during the Revolutionary War. America Marines first served on Continental Navy ships to protect them. The Marines also used amphibious assaults to attack ground targets, enemy ports, bases, and cities from the sea.

From 1800 to 1934, the Marine Corps landed 187 times in 37 countries “to suppress lawlessness or insurrection.” Marines saw constant action in countries as close as Latin America and as far away as the shore of Libya in Tripoli, as the “Marines’ Hymn” from the Marine Corps Hymn.

Throughout American history, the Marines have been American presidents’ force of choice when they send troops to fight in faraway lands. In 1805, the Marines fought Islamic Barbary pirates and captured the North African city of Derna, Tripoli in present-day Libya. In 1847, during the Mexican-American War, Marines were the first troops to storm and enter Mexico City, the enemy’s capital.

Throughout the 20th century, Marines have fought small wars in colonies or third-world countries: Cuba, Honduras, Mexico, the Philippines, the Dominican Republic and Honduras. The Marine Corps had a long tradition of fighting small wars.

In World War I, the Marines earned their tough reputation in several battles like Belleau Wood in France. During World War II, the Marines spearheaded a series of amphibious assaults in the Pacific. The Devil Dogs defeated the Japanese in legendary battles such as Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa. In Korea, the Marines froze in the bitter battle of the Chosin Reservoir. In Vietnam, the Marines fought through the siege of Khe Sanh, the worst battle of the war.

The United States Marine Corps War Memorial

In the 21st century, the Marine Corps has been deployed multiple times to Afghanistan and Iraq. In 2004, the Marines fought two fierce battles against insurgents in Fallujah, Iraq. In 2010, the Marines fought in the campaign of Marjah, Afghanistan to re-take Helmand Province from the Taliban.

What is Marines boot camp like?

Marines undergo 13 weeks of intense training at boot camp at recruit depots in San Diego, California or Parris Island, South Carolina. Recruits are transformed into Marines by becoming physically fit, receiving first-class combat training, and learn how to respond instantly to orders. They hone their bodies and their minds by learning highly valuable leadership skills.

The Marine Corps places great importance on infantry combat. One of the Corps’ important mottos is “Every Marine a rifleman.” All Marines, no matter what their job is, are well-trained soldiers in combat skills and specialize in shooting rifles and other weapons.

Today, the standard rifle of the Marine Corps is the M16A4 assault rifle and M4A1 carbine, a compact version of the M16 rifle. Marines are also well-trained in the use of the M9 pistol, M203 grenade launcher, M249 Squad Automatic Weapon (SAW), M240B light machine gun and the M2 .50-caliber heavy machine gun.

How do Marines fight?

Marines specialize in amphibious assaults, attacking land targets from the sea. The U.S. Navy transports the Marines to get them close to combat zones. Then the Marines can attack their objectives by using amphibious assault vehicles and support aircraft.

The Marines have a variety of vehicles that they use to fight. The Amphibious Assault Vehicle (AAV)-7 is a tracked, lightly armored vehicle. The AAV-7 can travel through water and on land. The AAV-7 can transport 21 combat-equipped Marines or 10,000 pounds of cargo.

The Marines use a version of the U.S. Army’s M1 Abrams main battle tank. The M1 weighs 70 tons and fires a 120mm smoothbore cannon that can destroy most enemy vehicles.

The Marines get dropped into combat zones by several aircraft. Marines use the CH-46 Sea Knight and the MV-22 Osprey, a plane that has propellers that rotate like helicopters so it can hover.

What other missions does the Marine Corps have?

In addition to combat duties, the United States Marines Corps has the honor of standing guard at the White House and Camp David. Marines also operate Marine One, the helicopter that transports the President of the United States. Also, the Marine Embassy Security Command protects U.S. embassies and consulates in more than 140 foreign posts around the world.

Proud, marching Marines

What is the future of the Marine Corps?

The Marines are a quick-strike force that can fight anywhere. They are America’s Spartan Warriors capable of doing the hard work of protecting American citizens and interests around the world. With the best-trained infantry riflemen and technology available, the Marine Corps is prepared for whatever the future holds.

 

My Mom’s Greatest Gift- Reading

Intro

I want to tell you about the greatest gift my mom ever gave me.

My mom is a great reader. She passed her love of books on to me. My mom taught me to read when I was four years old.

A sight of happiness.

OAK PARK, IL- July 1979

When I was four years old, my mom took me to the most exciting place in the world. Every Saturday we would walk to the Oak Park Public Library. I had no idea the Oak Park Public Library was only two miles from where Ernest Hemingway was born.

When I was five years old, my dad bought a stack of old Spider-Man comic books. I was hooked. Both my parents encouraged reading.

I love libraries. In a library, you have a wonderful ambiance. All those stacks of books are new friends waiting to be met. Stephen King is up there watching you. John Masters is waiting for you to pick him up. A library is a great place to read and learn.

Discovering Hemingway– STUART, FL- August 1990

In high school money was tight. I tried to educate myself by going to the library every weekend. I stumbled across Hemingway by accident. Hemingway was never “required reading” in my high school.

A buddy told me there was a lot of sex in ‘A Farewell to Arms’ (he lied). The story grabbed me. I thought there must be a mistake. Hemingway used simple words in short sentences. The book was easy-to-read. Hemingway painted a picture with words. It was the opposite of what my teachers told me.

I’d had crushes on girls but had never fallen in love with a writer. I read every Hemingway book I could get my hands on. Hemingway was the “bad boy” of literature. He wrote about love, bullfighting, deep sea fishing and big game hunting. At fifteen-years-old, all I understood was that he was easy to read.

I read and re-read his novels, his war correspondence, and short stories. I learned something new each time.

In the Army- FORT KNOX, KY- April 2003

When I was in the Army, the first thing I did was to find the post library and the local library. Within a month of arriving at Fort Knox, KY or Fort Polk, LA or wherever I knew every library within fifty miles.

Everything I needed to know I learned from books in libraries. Each library book collection is unique. Each new library was a new friend waiting to be discovered.

At War- FOB DANGER and FOB LIBERTY, IRAQ- July 2005/ FOB TOMBSTONE, AFGHANISTAN- August 2008/ CAMP MOREHEAD, AFGHANISTAN- January 2011

In each of the places I was stationed overseas, there was a Morale, Welfare, and Recreation (MWR). The MWR was a place that gave away free coffee, bottled water, and sometimes sandwiches. Most soldiers remember the MWR for their internet services. I remember the MWR for its stacks and stacks of free books.

In Iraq and Afghanistan, the MWR had reading rooms made out of plywood. On the walls of the reading room were five shelf bookcases crammed full of used paperback and hardcover books. Soldiers and the Family Readiness Groups (FRG) donated these books.

I would head over to the Green Beans coffee shop, get a cup of black coffee, sit down on a red ratty old couch and read a book. Soldiers surrounded me playing pool, using a ping-pong table and a dartboard. I am alone, at home, with my book.

I love books.

An Education

When I graduated from high school, there was no money for an education. I made my own homemade education by reading. I was lucky to get a scholarship to go to Kemper Military Junior College. In college, I discovered beer and girls, but I kept reading. Kemper had a fantastic old library

I was fascinated by knowledge and what I was learning. I read books about everything from history, religion, places, and people. My mom taught me something powerful when she taught me how to read: all you have to do is to want to learn.

Teaching me how to read and to love books was the greatest gift my mom ever gave me.