The chaotic temperament of contemporary American politics has given our citizens the perception of hopelessness tempered by anger with no avenue for venting. Amidst this cauldron of uncertainty, a gathering of eagles is steadily maturing into an unstoppable force of dedicated men and women capable of exercising common sense across both sides of the aisle.
One is Georgia State Senator Hunter Hill, West Point graduate, combat veteran, a trained leader and uncompromising patriot. Another promising man of the people is District 112 freshman State Representative Dave Belton, and this is his story.
The ability to lead suitably regardless of political affliation comes from a mental aptitude based on duty, honor and country. Dave Belton’s life is a tribute to those qualities. His father, Dave Belton, Sr., served aboard submarines during the Vietnam War and had a long successful career as a Navy officer. “Junior” was born while “Senior” was stationed at Subic Bay in the Philippines. He recalled, “We moved quite a bit, from Subic to Charleston, South Carolina to the University of Oklahoma where dad served as an instructor in their Navy ROTC program. Japan was home for a few years then dad was sent to Washington, D.C. to write Navy history books. Dad had a Master’s Degree in History so that assignment fit him to a tee. He finished his career in Charleston.”
Like father, like son; Dave Belton, earned a scholarship to the University of Oklahoma and graduated from their Navy ROTC as an Ensign. “While in the ROTC program, we were allowed aboard nuclear submarines for educational purposes. Like dad, I planned for a career in subs, but the junior officers kept asking me, ‘What’s wrong with your eyes,’ and I’d tell them, ‘Nothing, I have 20/15 vision.’ Then the reply would always be, ‘Then go fly a plane.’ I thought about their comments and decided above the water would be better than under the water.”
Pensacola Navy Air Station, 1989: “That was a great time to be in the Navy. An Officer and a Gentleman plus Top Gun were blockbuster hits and the Navy was 600 ships strong.”
Belton earned his wings in Pensacola, Fla., first on the fixed wing T-34 Texan and then completed his training on the rotor winged CH53E Super Stallion.
“I requested Italy and got it,” he said. “My high school sweetheart and I tied the knot and off we went to Sigonella NAS in Sicily. We lived at the base of Mount Etna which is still an active volcano.”
Belton and his bride were in love with each other, and with Italy.
“We loved Sigonella,” he said. “My Navy job was basically following the 6th Fleet around the Mediterranean resupplying ships from land bases. We were known as the HC-4 Black Stallions. While I flew Stallions around the Middle East, my wife ran athletic programs on two bases. Language is her forte and she was soon speaking fluent Italian. We met folks who thought I had married an Italian girl.”
Italians still appreciate Americans, still remember being liberated from Nazi domination, and still honor the memory of warriors like General George Patton.
“The Sicilians protected the Americans for a number of reasons,” Belton said. “Our apartment complex was owned by the Mob, ‘nothing personal, strictly business,’ and we didn’t fall victim to petty thief or any other problems. We lived in a small town known as Camporotondo, about 1,000 residents, about one mob killing per year, but we were never touched.”
NOTE: I ain’t lying, folks, as I entered the information on Camporotondo into my laptop, Channel 820s ‘Beautiful Instruments’ was piping in the ‘Love Theme from the Godfather’ — hope that’s not an omen.
Belton continued, “I flew some really neat missions, goat herding as we called it over Turkey, flying low level over the Egyptian pyramids, next week we’d be in Germany or France or England, join the Navy and see the world, as they say.” Then came war.
The men and women of the American military fly and sail and walk into Harm’s Way without press coverage or recognition in hot spots all over the world. Such was the Liberian Civil War.
“We’d fly into Sierra Leone then on into Monrovia, Liberia without navigation aids to support the American Embassy,” Belton said. “We had to land in the courtyard, a very small courtyard. The weather was terrible. If we’d been shot down we’d never been found. We even had spears chucked at us.”
Due to his knowledge of the Mediterranean, I asked Belton to comment on the 2012 Benghazi attack.
“I’ll voice an opinion, without intended criticism,” Belton said. “Resources were available on the Italian island of Lampedosa and Sigonella and various other locations. Guys were chomping at the bit to go but were told to stand down. Benghazi really upset us. We do not leave folks behind, and you’re talking about saving an ambassador of the United States of America. If not (launch a mission) for him, then who?”
Belton also flew out of Cyprus to Lebanon, out of Saudi Arabia during Desert Storm, and transported Secretary of State James Baker to meet the Kurds at a secret base on the Turkey-Syrian border.
“You know, the Kurds have been loyal allies to America,” he said. “I feel at times that we have let them down. Those guys fight to win. I liked the Kurds.”
Secret Service agents took a hop on Belton’s chopper when George Bush, Sr. met with dignitaries at a secret villa in the Med. “I also met George, Jr. at Robbins AFB,” he said. “But George, Sr. is an American hero. I think most Americans have forgotten that George, Sr. was the youngest Navy pilot shot down in WWII.”
After three years in the Mediterranean, Belton returned to Pensacola as an instructor on T-34 Texans. In 1994 he was instructor of the year.
“We lost an average of one plane per year, things happen in training,” Belton said.
The Navy utilized Belton for eight years and eight months then he made the switch to the US Air Force Reserve.
“Guys activated for the Gulf War, like Fed Ex and Delta pilots, were coming home to six months of special training to transition from C-141s to C-17s,” Belton said. “Instead, they just got out. The Air Force was hiring all kinds of pilots; I politicked for the job and got it.”
On the newer C-17s: “A great plane, about ½ billion for each aircraft. She can take off in 3,000 feet, land in 1,000 feet. I flew one to Pago-Pago…don’t ask me why because I don’t really know…and Japan and Hawaii, even Nicaragua. We could load a tank in the bay, which the load masters did not like, just too little room for error.”
Belton served his country in uniform for more than 23 years. As a parent, he became active in the Morgan County High School PTO and was asked to run for the school board. He did, and won.
“I’ll make one comment about schools today,” Belton said. “We need to get politics out of the school books, period!”
Asked to run for state rep, he did, and won.
“I’ll say this on state politics, we work together, across the aisle, that’s how you get things done,” Belton said. “We are not fractured like national politics.”
The military trains people to follow then lead; to make decisions based on the best way to do the right thing; to accomplish a mission with men and women you care for and work with. Disagreements are handled as opportunities for compromise, except in battle, that’s where leadership takes control. America’s best have fought the good fight and continue to defend their country. We, as American citizens, when considering our next generation of political leaders, need to judge on character not confrontation, on patriotism not promises, on people who are skilled at making decisions not division.
We need A Gathering of Eagles.
Pete Mecca is a Vietnam veteran, columnist and freelance writer. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or aveteransstory.us.