As a crew chief and door gunner on a UH-1Y (Huey), Bart Davis' life has literally flown by in the last eight years.
Since joining the U.S. Marines on Nov. 12, 2003, Davis has spent most of his time maintaining his Hueys, supporting ground forces in two different wars and training other Marines as a weapons and tactics crew chief instructor and quality assurance representative.
Davis graduated from Francis Howell High School in 2000. He was a football and wrestling standout for the Vikings. His parents, John and Jana Davis, live in Foristell. Davis said he misses home, but after four tours of combat it sometimes seems like a million miles away.
"It does," said Davis, who is stationed at Camp Pendleton, Calif., and is a crew chief instructor with Training Squadron HMLAT-303. "I still have really good friends back (in St. Charles County) from those days that I'd love to go back and see. I love that area, and when I get done with the military, I can't wait to get back."
That won't be for another 12 years, because Davis plans on retiring from the corps. He's not ready for civilian life because he loves his job and is inspired by his fellow Marines. Davis isn't alone, though. He met his wife, Ursula Davis, while both were in the Marines. Ursula, who is from Olympia, Wash., is out of the Marines but has told Bart she's happy to move to his hometown.
"I miss the people," he said. "It's the simple things I miss."
The Marines are glad to have Davis and showed him how much on May 21 when he was selected as the Enlisted Aircrew Marine of the Year by the Marine Corps Aviation Association. The award Davis won is named after Danny L. Radish, who earned the Silver Star for his gallantry in flight during the Vietnam War.
Three days later, Davis was honored again when he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross with Combat V for heroism in flight. Davis was given the medal for his actions during a combat resupply mission in the Helmand Province in Afghanistan in June 2010.
"It was humbling," Davis said. "At the awards ceremony all of the generals treated me and my family very well. It was an eye-opening experience but a lot of fun. I got to meet (Radish). He saved a lot of lives in Vietnam, so that was an honor."
His parents attended the awards ceremonies with Bart and Ursula. The family sat with Maj. Gen. Thomas L. Conant, commanding general for the Third Marine Aircraft Wing.
The making of a Marine
John Davis said he's not surprised by his son's success as a Marine because he was always intense and intent on outworking everyone as an athlete in high school. Bart's success on the gridiron led to him playing for Greenville (Ill.) College. Bart left college to work at the company John works for, Millstone Bangert Inc., before joining the Marines.
"That was always his nature in sports, to go hard and all out all the time," John said. "He would have joined the Marines right out of high school but had a chance to play football in college."
Larry Branson, who retired from Francis Howell in 2007, was the Vikings football coach for a decade and Davis' head coach. Branson served in the Marines in Vietnam and was awarded the Bronze Star with V (valor in combat). Branson has moved to Arizona and is the head football coach at Mountain View High School in Mesa.
Branson said he would often use examples of his time in the Marines to help instill discipline in his players. He said Davis took to that kind of teaching like a fish to water.
"I remember he was one of those guys who had intensity out of the world," Branson said. "At first you thought, he's not the fastest or biggest guy in the world, but I'd always see him as a punt returner. I can see him standing in front of me right now. There wasn't anyone any tougher. He gave everything he had for us."
Mark Malawey, Davis's wrestling coach at Howell, said Davis probably would have placed at the state tournament if he hadn't dislocated an elbow.
"When Bart came in the room you knew you would get nothing less than 100 percent," Malawey said. "He was a Viking in every sense of the word."
Now he's a Marine in every sense of the word.
After boot camp, Marine Corps Combat Training School, Air Candidate School and Survival Evasion Resistance — which Davis called "fun" — he trained as a helicopter mechanic before entering flight school.
When his most recent combat deployment ended last November, Davis was assigned as a crew chief instructor with Helicopter Marine Light Attack-303.
"I've been showing I need more patience," Davis said. "I'm trying to prepare them for every situation that pops up. It's hard to do everything pre-planned, so I throw scenarios out there as far as there could be pop-up targets and make sure they get the terminology down pat. I go into the lessons learned and tell them what they did right and wrong and to think everything through."
In 2010, Davis was responsible for training 19 crew chiefs and eight aerial observers that resulted in nine mission-capable combat crews. He logged 376 flight hours and delivered accurate and deadly fire in support of the ground combat element on 13 occasions.
Even after serving four combat tours, Davis said he's ready to jump back into action as soon as he can. He said the multiple deployments don't bother him. He just wants to be where he can make the most difference.
"That's what I want to do," he said. "I've lost buddies over there (Middle East) and I have buddies going back, and I feel I can help them through the tours. The crew chiefs that I'm training, I want to be there to help them through the combat tours. I'd also like to go and help out on relief projects in the world. There's nothing else like being with your buddies."
A day to remember
In June 2010, Davis was part of a flight of two Hueys sent with an emergency supply of ammunition and water for a unit from the U.S. Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command in the Helmand Province. Davis' Huey landed and unloaded the supplies while under rocket propelled grenade (RPG) and small arms fire.
"(The special forces) were surrounded, pinned down and in the red when it came to ammo and water," Davis said. "They were hunkered down in two separate compounds when we flew into the area."
When the Hueys got to within 100 yards of the beleaguered special forces, the enemy fire became more accurate, and Davis said the two Huey crews didn't have a fix on their positions because of erratic communication with them.
"They popped smoke and we pressed the (landing ) zone and had a couple of RPG's go past us," Davis said. "Just outside the compounds we unloaded linked and unlinked (ammo), water, C4 (explosives) and had insurgents in the treeline walking rounds up to our aircraft. (Special forces) was on top of buildings giving us as much cover fire as possible."
When Davis' Huey took off, the pilot, Maj. Trey Smith, got the craft out low and fast when insurgents stepped out of the treeline and opened fire. Davis unloaded 40 rounds from his .50-caliber machine gun and neutralized the enemy fire. When Davis ran out of .50-caliber ammo, Smith was shot in the calf and also suffered wounds to his thigh, forearm and triceps. A round struck an inch behind the copilot's head.
Davis helped hold Smith in his seat as the copilot took control of the Huey and piloted it back to their base 30 minutes away as Smith floated in and out of consciousness.
"(Maj. Smith) was as calm as can be the whole time," Davis said. "Every time he came to I was amazed. With his arm he'd try to hit buttons and I'd say, 'Don't worry sir, I've got it.'"
Davis said that was not a typical mission during his tour in Afghanistan. His crew did a lot of armed escorts, air reconnaissance and helping out ground units. His Huey was always attached to a Cobra.
"That mission we did in the morning and we knew the area," Davis said. "After our shift ended, (Special Forces) were in trouble but we got back on the (Huey) and went back out to help. We knew we were getting into a situation, but those didn't pop up that many times."
Smith made a complete recovery and is training in Quantico, Va. Davis has met Smith's wife and parents. Davis said that when his crew was airborne, rank melted away and the mission was to protect all aboard.
Davis thought about all the Marines he served with as he stood in his dress blues and collected his medal and award.
"I enjoyed (the ceremonies) and called a lot of my buddies and thanked them for getting me there," Davis said. "It was everybody that got me there. They really pushed us when we were in Afghanistan to be the best we could be."