Remembering Guy “Bear” Barattieri

bear29.jpgold friend, now serving in Iraq. In 2006 Major Decker attended the Command and General Staff College for a year. General Petraeus was his commandant for most of the year. He expresses gratitude for the “privilege to be able to interact with this great leader.”

Major Decker attended West Point with Guy R. “Bear” Barattieri, killed at age 36 while serving in Iraq two years ago today. Major Decker writes:

Guy is one of the most amazing people I have met in my military career. He had a kind and winsome personality. When we were plebes together at West Point, he told me he turned down a football scholarship to Penn State because he wanted to lead soldiers into battle some day. He got his chance, more than a few times. Guy was, without a doubt, the leader and soul of the West Point class of 1992. It is still hard for us to believe that he is gone.

Major Decker directs us to James Robbins’s 2007 NRO column “The Bear was a goat.” Major Decker writes: “I can assure you that there is no embellishment in this column.” Here is Robbins’s remembrance of Major Barattieri:

In May of 1992, Guy R. “Bear” Barattieri achieved the singular distinction of graduating last in his class at West Point. Bear was aptly named, an imposingly large but extremely friendly cadet with a crooked smile whom everyone loved. He was a high-school football star, playing outside linebacker on the 1986 undefeated Purcell Marian Ohio State champion team. In 1988 he was offered a full scholarship to Penn State to play under Coach Joe Paterno, but he turned it down. Bear had always dreamed of being a soldier, and he took his gridiron skills to the United States Military Academy.

Bear played on the West Point varsity football squad as a plebe, having been an all-state linebacker at Purcell. However, in the first season he injured his back and neck and was forbidden by Army doctors to ever play football again. It was a severe blow to Bear, since the sport had always been a big part of his life. But, as his classmate Chris Jenks relates, “demonstrating the lack of intellect and common sense notable amongst Army Rugers, decided that technically the doctors never said he couldn’t play Rugby, he started playing rugby our yearling year, playing a devastating wing forward.”

As with many West Point goats, Bear was a fun loving, charismatic, and resourceful cadet who would rather find ways to have adventures than to study. Classmate Dana Rucinski said he was “one of the most cheerful, friendly, positive people at school. You couldn’t help but smile when talking to Bear, and nothing ever seemed to get him down — no matter what his academic worry of the week!” His grades kept him out of sports for his firstie (senior) year, but he hung on and graduated on time, albeit at the foot of his class. As is traditional, he received the loudest applause, and was given a dollar by each of the other 961 graduating members of the Class of ‘92. Some of his rugby pals had plans to help Bear spend his windfall that summer at Ft. Benning when they went for the Infantry Officers Basic Course, but by the time he showed up the money was long gone.

Bear served first as an infantry officer, then became a Green Beret with the First Special Forces Group out of Ft. Lewis, Washington. He deployed to the Balkans and served with distinction, winning the respect of all who came into contact with him. Bear left the Army as a Captain in August 2000 to join the Seattle police department. He was much more serious about law-enforcement training than he had been about West Point and became president of his police academy class. But Bear kept a hand in the military as a Major in the 1st battalion, 19th Special Forces Group of the Washington State National Guard. Bear’s unit was activated following the 9/11 attacks, and in 2002 he found himself in Kuwait preparing for the eventual attack on Iraq. Bear fought bravely in OIF. His team was attached to the 101st Airborne Division and led the way on the advance towards Baghdad in March 2003. Bear was credited with capturing three of the Iraqi leaders featured on the famous “deck of cards,” and was recognized with a Bronze Star citation.

Bear made several trips to Iraq, both with the special forces and working for private security firms. At one time he provided security for the FOX News Baghdad bureau. Bureau Chief John Fiegener recalled, “Bear arrived on his first assignment to head up our security team in Baghdad. We all knew right away that Bear was the man. You just knew no one would mess with us because Bear would make sure of it.” When car bombs went off outside the bureau, Bear coordinated the response and kept the situation under control. Producer Gordon Robison said, “Throughout it all [Bear] remained calm. When it was over he was confident and smiling, and that attitude helped the rest of us to understand that we, too, were going to make it through.”

Bear married his wife Laurel in Washington in 2005, and in July the following year they welcomed their daughter Odessa to the world. But Bear was not yet through with the war and he returned to Iraq in late September 2006.

On October 4, 2006, Bear was part of a three-vehicle convoy supplying security near Forward Operating Base Falcon. He was riding in the back of the second vehicle, an armored Ford F-350, driven by Kurdish peshmerga fighters. The group they were escorting was visiting a nearby power plant. On the way to the site the streets had been lined with Iraqi police, but the egress route was empty. The security guard sitting next to Bear radioed, “Streets are clear. That’s kind of odd isn’t it?”

Three seconds later an IED ripped through their vehicle. The Kurds in the front were killed instantly, the driver’s body left burning and the passenger’s having disintegrated. The man next to Bear was severely wounded, and in and out of consciousness. Bear had lost both legs below the knee.

The two other vehicles in the convoy stopped to render assistance. Small arms fire erupted immediately after the explosion, from both sides of the street and the nearby rooftops. All the attackers wore Iraqi police uniforms. The security detail returned fire while others helped the wounded men. Tourniquets were applied to Bear’s legs to keep him from bleeding to death. It took ten minutes working under fire to free the two passengers.

The two surviving vehicles sped from the area and a running firefight ensued. The tail gunner of the trailing vehicle fired at anyone he saw wearing an Iraqi police uniform. The convoy drove to the International Zone, about 13 kilometers distant, and went directly to the combat support hospital. Bear’s partner was declared DOA. Bear was taken immediately into surgery where he was stabilized, and moved into surgical ICU. There, a short time later, he died.

The news of Bear’s death was devastating to all who knew him. The National Guard Association of Washington established a “Bear Fund” for contributions to help support his young wife and their new baby and his stepdaughter Rees. Scores of family, friends, and coworkers attended his funeral. Yet through the sorrow, all the tributes to Bear reflect his own joy of living. Those who knew him cannot help but celebrate him for the spirit and sense of life he brought to everything he did. His high-school classmate C. E. Pope said “he was an American hero in every sense of the word. He was one of the most down to earth, giving individuals I ever knew, he had a love for his family that was enormous, and he wore his belief in this country on his chest like a badge of honor.” Fellow West Pointer and friend Christopher F. Carr, said that “Guy had an amazing capacity to live life to the fullest and a strong desire to dedicate his life to protecting all that he held dear.” And his sisters Gina, Becky, and Nicole said, “We know our brother died so that others could live. He died for what he believed in. And lets just say heaven has its hands full now.”

Like so many who have paid the ultimate price in Iraq and Afghanistan, Major Barattieri was the best America has to offer. Today we join Major Decker in remembering his friend on the anniversary of his death. May we prove worthy of his sacrifice.

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