Ranger Up Interviews: David Bellavia
Veterans are increasingly getting involved in our government and increasing their activism in general. One program involved with this is Vets for Freedom, and one such man is that group’s co-founder, David Bellavia. Bellavia is a former Staff Sergeant in the U.S. Army and author of House to House. He is also a recipient of the Silver Star, Bronze Star, and New York State Conspicuous Service Cross. He is now running for congress as the Representative for New York State’s 27th Congressional District.
I conducted a phone interview with Mr. Bellavia to find out what his positions were on issues that specifically affect the military and veterans. Here’s what he had to say.
Q: Do you miss serving in the Army?
A: Oh everyday, everyday of my life. My biggest regret is the way things kind of went with the way I got out. Especially when it came to some of the decorations, they had a little different standard back then than they do now. Essentially what they wanted to do with my Infantry career was put me out to pasture in a museum somewhere and talked about [me] staying in TRADOC the rest of my life. I just never got the feeling that I would get the chance to do what I wanted to do, and it’s something I regret every single day. When you’re in combat and you’re able to do thing that defy odds and you and your men are able to do thing that you never thought you could do, you get this false sense of superiority; and when you see your friends die after you’re out of the military you feel like there was something you could have done to save them… and the amount of guilt… That’s why I’ve tried to dedicate so much of my time and my efforts to actually making a difference and doing something, because it’s the only thing that fills my heart, that I’m actually still serving.
Q: What is your main motivation behind this run for congress?
A: You know what, I want to serve my country. I think that military service, of all the different values… I run my candidacy on the principals of Honor and Integrity. I could go through all the Army Values but the fact of the matter is that these are [two] words that nobody understands, very few people outside of uniform understand, and elected office… I just think that decisiveness… When a veteran and especially an infantry man or combat arms, a war veteran… A combat veteran understands decisiveness. We don’t need an 80% risk assessment to make a decision. Sometimes we look around and realize this is the best thing to do and let’s do it. And there’s far too many indecisive leaders out there that don’t understand the importance of getting out there and doing something. Don’t just talk about it, get something done. I got twelve brothers and sisters now that are in the House of Representatives. I’ll automatically caucus as soon as I get in. I’m really proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with those combat veterans and tell the Baby Boomer generation, “Listen, God bless you for your service but it’s time for you to move aside and let our generation come in and handle this thing.”
Q: If elected, will you work to increase the size of the military, keep it the same, or shrink it?
A: Listen, 17% of our budget is spent on defense, 60% of our budget is on entitlements. At this time, with our operational tempo, with this administration increasing the battlefield… Look at the Democrats, they love the Air Force, that’s their branch of service right there; there’s no commitment to it. We can go anywhere and knock out satellites and terrorist camps and everything else; the fact is that now more than ever we need a robust military. Not the way it was back in a 1992 number. General Schoomaker talked about 75,000 infantrymen. General Schoomaker talked about more research and development into our military. Especially now the number one killer of democracies in the world is debt. Now more than ever we need to have a strong military presence. Now more than ever we have to act like a super power, and take the punk nations, these rouge nations. China has their first air craft carrier group and they’re buying it with our debt money. Now is the time when we need to be bigger, just like Reagan taught us, and there’s no excuse to cut defense spending right now. And you know what, [Obama] talks about we need to employ all the combat vets coming home, well with all due respect Mr. President, you shouldn’t have laid off 100,000 veterans. They had jobs and careers. Keep these boys in, increase the Marine Corps. I still believe that when we increase special operatives, we cheapen them. I think that sometimes in the efforts to get more Rangers and more Green Berets, we dilute the system by lowering the standards, so I would just encourage more studs to go to a higher level but that PFC, that SAW gunner, we need ten times [of that] than what we have now.
Q: Following up on that, you do want to increase military spending if it’s possible?
A: I’m going to find a way to do it. There’s so much fraud, waste and abuse; now I believe you can increase military spending with the money you have now dedicated to military spending. I think there’s a whole of things we’re wasting money on, especially when it comes to the nation building that we’re doing in Afghanistan. We’re just throwing [money away]. We’re wasting a lot of stuff. I mean, look at the… what was it called, the Crusader? It was a LASER guided cannon that the Army came up with. What we did is we took this billion dollar cannon that would have had LASER guided… essentially 155mm guided JDAMs. But we just killed the entire program and we killed the munitions. We could have very easily kept those munitions that were LASER guided, or coordinate focused, and we could have used those in the current Paladin system. So I don’t think we use our heads when it comes to the money we spend.
I would find ways to cut entitlements and to keep our military strong. Missile defense, I would consider part of that plan. In pacifying Iran, I think the best way to do that is to have a strong naval presence. I think the Navy is one of the branches of service that we’ve neglected for far too long, as far as research and development goes and putting out more ships; and by the way that increases jobs. The more that we put into defense industry, the more jobs that are created in America. I also don’t want to see these defense contractors forced to work with [other] countries, outside of America. The F-35 is a great example; we’re making more F-35s for NATO countries than we are for our own.
Q: Which is better budgeting when it comes to national defense; more technology and a smaller force, or a larger force with perhaps more training but less technology? You kind of answered part of that, but if you could expand on that a little bit?
A: I really think that’s a situation where you could have it both ways, when it comes to smart technology. For example, this new rifle that we’ve got, the XM, this future weapon with the helmet; that stuff’s nonsense. Do we want air-conditioned suits and motor cycle helmets and little 40mm rockets on your hand? Those are fantastic but at the end of the day, we still have kids out there that are still shooting Mossberg shotguns. There’s a world out there screaming for 870s, there’s a world out there scream for a larger ballistic on the NATO issued round; that’s where the technology needs to grow. I’m very careful and I’m very passionate about training, good quality training. I see that the more some of these politicians want to increase our maneuver warfare stencil that we have right now… They want more Rangers, they want more Delta guys, more SEALs; but the fact of the matter is they’re elite for a reason and if you just say we’re going to need 30,000 more special operatives across the board, you’re going to start lowering standards and I think the more you lower standards, the more you put men in harm’s way.
I’m a firm supporter of Warrant Officers running combat arms platoons. I think that mold would make us a far more effective military. I have nothing against Lieutenants at all, but I believe that [a] Warrant Officer running an infantry platoon would be the most effective and deadly [method]. And also it would increase retention, especially for gentlemen who have come through the NCO system. There’s a lot of people who want to make an E-10 rank. I think that’s complete nonsense. There’s no need for that. Let Warrant Officers run infantry platoons, let these Lieutenants become XOs of their platoons, and watch the effectiveness we have [increase].
Q: Should the US be considering more strongly the possibility of military action in Syria, Iran, or North Korea?
A: I think we need to have a plan. One of the things that just absolutely devastated me was the idea that we don’t have a plan. We have people in the Pentagon, for the first time, coming up with ways to take out Syria! I want a Pentagon and a DOD that has a plan to take out Canada. I want a DOD that has a plan to defend out nation in any way it needs to be defended. I don’t know what the importance of Libya was, and yet Syria who is a known enemy of the Americans, a known enemy of the Israeli people, and has 20,000 Katyusha rockets pointed towards Tel-Aviv and Hebron. This is something we have to be prepared to [deal with]. I think if there was outrage over what was happening in Libya, losing civilians left and right; I don’t see how you can look at Bosnia or you can look at Kosovo and think that this is a mission that we still need to be involved in today and yet ignore those guys.
I think intervention is definitely something that should be on the table. As far as Iran goes, I don’t see how this administration has any teeth to any of their Iranian policies. We have to consider every single enemy; to have a plan for [them]. North Korea is obviously the most difficult. North Korea is the one that’s going to take the most precision and the most tact, because of the fact that Seoul is basically eliminated the first time that you cross the border.
But as far as Iran goes and as far as Syria goes; I’m not interested in rebuilding Iran but there are a ton of people in that Green Party, there are a ton of people that are ready to take over that nation. Where in Iraq we didn’t have that middle class, we didn’t have a middle class that was able to replace Saddam, we [do] have that in Iran. As long as we’re not ready to occupy that thing and we’re ready to just destabilize it and create a vacuum, get the Islamists out, the Mullahs, take out the Ayatollahs, and let the middle class run their country, I’m all about it. I’ll be the congressman that not only votes for it, but I will resign and enlist to fight it. I think that’s an important step, if you’re not ready to sacrifice yourself then I don’t think that you should vote to send men into the war.
Q: Do you think the U.S. Consider a first strike option with any of those countries, or should we wait for an aggressive action towards us?
A: Absolutely. I’m all about premeditation. If you feel that there’s an imminent threat, I think that… What did they used to say, General Maddox used to say, “strike the rattle snake while it’s coiled”? There’s no point whatsoever in waiting for cities to burn and innocents to die if you have ability to control it. [If] you know that they’re moving vessels and they’re preparing for a strike, they’re massing troops, [then] we still have an obligation to do the right thing. I’m all about preemptive measures.
Q: Moving on the Arab Spring movement, do you think that the current regimes in Egypt and Libya can be considered potential allies in the Middle East?
A: Not at all. I think that Arab Spring was about food riots. There’s a whole lot of things that you could point to with the Arab Spring; how president Bush dropped the ball and President Obama kicked the ball down the hill, but the fact of the matter is with the Islamic Brotherhood, I don’t see how there’s any common ground. If you won’t even acknowledge that Israel has a right to exist you’re never going to be a [friend] of the United States.
We really had the momentum, we really had the ability to tell Mubarak, “look, there are such things as benevolent dictators”. It’s the way the Middle East is, but you don’t get it. You know, some of these people have never been there, they don’t understand it. Mubarak, he didn’t like musical theater, he didn’t like books being written, but you know what? The Gaza Strip, the West Bank, these areas didn’t have the infiltration that they’re going to have now. Right now the Sinai Peninsula is the sieve, and there are people coming over there ; they’re holding up in the Palestinian strongholds with the radicals. It’s a bad day for America, it’s a bad day for Israel. So I find no commonality with them until they recognize Israel.
Q: What is your stance on Guantanamo Bay, and military tribunals vs. civilian courts for terror suspects?
A: I have some problems when it comes to American citizens being tried. Article 3 of the Constitution is pretty clear. Section 3 talks about rather than treating American citizens as enemy combatants, I think they should be charged with treason. When an American’s charged with treason, it’s an open court process. But when it comes to foreign nationals, Guantanamo Bay is the only solution we have. No one’s put up anything else, and if these guys are on the battlefield, I trust the military system.
Now what I do have a problem with, and I’m very disappointed in the veterans who have been elected to congress (some of these guys I consider brothers), but we have kids in Leavenworth right now that have done some things that obviously are not legal and they’ve done some horrible stuff but let’s look at the way that they adjudicated their sentencing; let’s look at the way the military system treated them. We’re releasing known killers of American soldiers, we’re releasing people that have planted IEDs and taken out eleven heroes at a time ,and yet we got kids in there for taking out a known terrorist? It’s the same thing.
What I would do is open up an investigation on every single person at Leavenworth and I would ask for reduced sentences on all of them. If we can tell a terrorist at Guantanamo Bay, “We’re going to release you because you’re no longer a threat to the population of America, you’re a threat to men and women overseas,” then I would say the same thing to those kids in Leavenworth. I would say “You’re not a threat to America, you’re a threat to the Iraqi people so I’m puling your visa; you can never go to Iraq, you can never go to Afghanistan,” and give them back their lives because we have a double standard out here and it’s unnecessary.
Q: What is your stance on the Patriot Act?
A: You know, I have a lot of issues with the Patriot Act. I think when it comes to picking and choosing, I don’t think the Patriot Act should be broadened. I find nothing wrong with getting a warrant for any of these internet searches or tapping phones or getting into people’s lives. If you’re not an American citizen and you’re living in this country I can do whatever I want with you. I believe doesn’t apply, ’cause you’re not a citizen. If it’s a phone call between two foreign parties we can maybe stretch those rules, but when it comes to American citizens living in the country, [checking] emails, going into people’s phone calls; you know what, our founding fathers would have… There’s no difference between [that and] what King George was doing in the times of the Revolution. [With] the intent of what the founders wanted, I don’t think that that’s necessary. We have an open society and we’re going to be victims of people that exploit our open society, but I think it’s just a matter of having a strong… a big stick, defending out culture and our way of life overseas and domestically. And as far as the provisions of the Patriot Act, I have problems with it.
Q: What is your position on co-pay for Tricare Prime?
A: I love how we’re talking about Tricare, we’re talking about military benefits, we’re talking about retirees getting a thrift savings plan instead of a pension; but we have no problems with Medicaid. We want to fundamentally change Medicare for people who paid into a system for forty years but we have no problem block-granting Medicaid to people who have no intent to pay it back.
These are not entitlements. People that signed, people who put their hand on the Bible, whether you’re in the Coast Guard or you’re in the Army Rangers, you are not saying… you are making a statement that you are prepared to die for your country. We’re really going to start cutting corners on insurance? I mean, I’m blown away at that.
I would actually double down, especially on combat vets. I would propose that the Iraqi government pay reparations to any family member that lost a loved one in Iraq. I would ask the Iraqi government pay reparations to anyone that lost a limb or eyesight out there. For us to attack insurance, for us to attack… these are not entitlements, they were bought and paid for, they were earned. They were earned the old fashioned way. It really is one of the things that really just infuriates the hell out of me.
Q: With veteran unemployment being 12.1% last year according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, do you have any plans to help veterans get jobs upon leaving the military?
A: I would increase incentives to re-enlistment, I would increase our benefits while we’re in the military, but I would also want those veterans to maintain unemployment for a ten month period when they left the military, and allow them to also seek employment while they were receiving the benefits; and obviously some tax breaks and some incentives for businesses to hire veterans.
I think it’s [the unemployment rate] actually higher than that. The U6 rating is far more accurate than the department of Labor Statistics. We’re talking about people that have quit looking for jobs, entrepreneurs that lost their jobs, that number is much higher.
Q: What is your position on fast-tracking citizenship for illegal’s immigrants who were brought here by their parents as children, and now that they’re adults they want to enlist in the military?
A: You know, I actually have a charity that actually deals specifically with that. First of all I don’t believe in anchor babies, I believe it’s unconstitutional, and just because you have a kid in the United States doesn’t necessarily mean they should be an automatic citizen. We’re the only western country that actually does that. But if you join the military and you serve for over four years, and you go to combat, I believe that your family should be naturalized; your immediate family, your wife and your kids. If you lose a son or daughter, a Rafael Peralta situation where your parents are not citizens and your son or daughter gives [their] life, I believe your parents should automatically be American citizens as well.
Q: If you had one thing to say to veterans and service members, what would it be?
A: Get active! This is our time. We saved the world with a rifle, we need to save our country [with] elected office. 1948; John Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, came to the House of Representatives based on their veteran resume. We need to start running for office, we need to start joining School Boards, we need to run for community positions, town counsels, and more importantly we need to vote! We need to set it up so that [the right] people receive the vote; we need to take back our government from people who have shown that they’re poor stewards. The military is the perfect institution to do that. Democrat and Republican, it’s a bi-partisan military and we have to be focused on leading in civilian clothes the way that we do in helmets.