Our sister squadron was deployed and fully engaged in Mogadishu, Somalia. My own squadron was in full-bore planning to replace or reinforce should the need arise. Armed with accurate and up-to-date intelligence from the in-country squadron, we developed courses of action to better deploy against and neutralize the Muhammad Farrah Aidid regime.
We committed three weeks to planning and executing live rehearsals against very realistic opposing forces (OpFor) role players, thanks to the efforts of our unit operations cell and the dedication and enthusiasm of our support personnel. The specific contingencies gleaned from our in-country squadron were as follows:
- The target subject (principal) is traveling on foot, with protective forces in tow.
- Principal is holed up in a building/structure.
- Principal is on the move in a single vehicle or convoy.
On this day at our unit compound, helicopters from the revered TF-160 Special Operations Air Regiment, the Night Stalkers, absolutely jammed our helicopter landing zone (HLZ). We wedged ourselves into our assigned MH-60 Black Hawk helos, hooked into MH-6 Little Birds, collected our situational awareness, and waited for command to launch.
We had a company of Rangers from the vaunted 75th Ranger Regiment with us. They deployed to stay with us the entire three weeks if necessary, to plan and rehearse with us. These same Rangers deployed with us to Mogadishu when the time came.
They stayed in our gymnasium, sleeping on cots and making do the best they could. Some operators scoffed at them because they couldn’t play basketball with Ranger’s effects strewn about. How petty, I thought. I wandered respectfully through the gym greeting some, shaking hands with some, striking up small talk with others. Every Ranger I came in contact with interacted with me with utter respect; some jumped from their cots to stand at parade rest. I decided to distance myself from the gym, lest I disrupt their downtime.
At meal times, the Rangers lined up for much-deserved chow. It was announced that The Unit operators would have priority over the Rangers, moving to the head of the line. Again, I processed that as a gesture of disrespect to men who were working just as hard as we were. I stood in line where I came in. Some Rangers gestured for me to move up; I waited my turn in line.
Then, command for liftoff rang in every earpiece on the HLZ. Rotors flared and gripped the air tight, tighter, until our formation lifted off the ground in unison, rumbling toward our objective. Our formation was anyone’s definition of an armada—formidable and intimidating. Black Hawks stabilized in wedge configuration, MH-6 and AH-6 passenger and attack helos buzzed about protecting our flanks with their heavy firepower. Audacity was alive and well.
Our first aerial checkpoint was very close to our unit compound, and very recognizable with its many buildings, structures, and range fire facilities. This was the Special Forces Advanced Reconnaissance, Target Analysis, and Exploitation Techniques Course (SFARTAETC) compound. We roared over it at some 150 feet. From one of the apparently administrative buildings darted a tall, lean figure. He paused and gawked skyward, shielding the glare of the sun with his hands. He waved his arms and I waved back. Why not? On then to the objective.
Day after day we practiced contingency after contingency, with monotony eventually presenting itself. Over and over we lifted off and propelled forward like a juggernaut. Each time we oriented ourselves over the SFARTAETC compound. Each time the same tall, lanky brother ran out and gave us his traditional greeting. I got used to it. I actually expected it and would have felt somewhat cheated if he were not there. He made sure I didn’t feel left out.
As history will tell, we did in fact deploy to Somalia as a result of the October 3–4 Battle of the Black Sea to reinforce our badly bruised, but still in the fight, sister squadron. My assault squadron was lean; we had only three operators on a billeted six-man team. We were soon augmented with a solid hand from a recent unit inductee, Ranger Gaetano Cutino. We would never have a six-man team, but five would do.
It would still be another month before we got our man, as he still had to attend accelerated free-fall (AFF) parachute training. The course was taught in-house, featuring the U.S. Army Golden Knights Parachute Team for instructor support.
In the gym one day, lifting weights and such, we noticed the AFF students were in the basketball court profiting from the great expanse of floor to practice packing their parachutes. We requested one of the instructors point out Gaetano, who turned out to just go by the name “Guy.”
Once we had a tally on him, we three approached Guy and stood by him in silence with our arms folded. He noticed our boots but did not look up. “Do you really think that parachute will deploy properly with the crappy way you are folding it? Garbage in, garbage out, you know,” one of us began. “If you want to be here, you need to act like you want to be here; selection is an ongoing practice, you know that?” added another. Guy looked at our boots and kept packing. “Roger, Sergeant,” Guy finally replied.
“Hey, Guy.” He looked up, surprised. “Guy, we are your teammates. Welcome to the team. When the hell are you coming over? There is a lot of work to do!” He stood up. We chortled and shook hands warmly. We chatted only a short time so as to not put him behind the rest of the class during packing.
Guy was an excellent fit. Strong and motivated, he came to the table with much to offer, including the most ridiculous slap-stick sense of humor that kept me in stitches most of the day. We felt overall that we were not at a disadvantage by the absence of a sixth operator to complete our assault team.
Guy had a sterling reputation among the guys in all of our squadrons. I used to almost hate to walk with him to the opposite end of the main building to the chow hall. It took so long due to constantly being stopped by all the guys who wanted to chat up Guy for a bit. Guy never mitigated the situation either. If he saw someone nearby who didn’t notice him, he would blurt out words to the effect of, “Oh, sure…just walk on by, asshole!” Then there we would be, stuck again for another 10 minutes or so. “Don’t encourage them, dammit, Guy!” I would plead. “I’m hungry.”
There was a revealing conversation Guy and I had one day that astounded me. We were cleaning our weapons after range fire all morning. Guy confided, “You know man, I hate weapons cleaning, but dammit, this is the place I always thought I wanted to be, and I was right. Hell, I watched you guys fly over our compound every day for almost a month last year. I would drop everything and run outside and watch you fly over and think, ‘That is were I need to be!'” I asked him where he was assigned when all that happened. “SFARTAETC,” he replied.
Well, someone please pick me up off the floor, this had been the brother I had seen during our overflights. Here was the guy I had seen so many times, whose greeting I had grown so accustomed to, cheering us on as we thundered onward to prepare for deployment to Mogadishu. That revelation formed a solid bond between Guy and I, whether he liked it or not.
You could say Guy and I were pretty tight. Some days for range fire, usually on a Friday, Guy would check out an AK-47 and a few hundred rounds of 7.62 x 39mm ammunition, and we would just blindly pump hundreds of rounds into the range berm on fully automatic. Just kids engaging in a full-caliber hooah bout of enjoyment.
Some Fridays, Guy and I would check out an M-79 40mm grenade launcher and order a case of grenades from our ASP. We would go downrange and shoot accuracy for a soda. We would see who could shoot at and hit the thinnest tree downrange. A case of 40mm for the M-79 contains 70 grenades.
The weapon would kick like a really strong shotgun. Somewhere about three quarters of the way through our ammunition, our right shoulders would get pretty sore from the kick of the weapon. Stop? Oh no. We would take off our T-shirts, wad them into a ball, and put them between the stock of the weapon and our shoulders, and keep shooting. Eventually we would retire back to the squadron bay so Guy could enjoy his free Coke.
There was the year we went to Pittsburgh for building training for a couple of weeks. We assaulted various objectives with helo infiltrations. We jumped from helos onto roofs and gained access into them with explosive charges of all types. From the roofs, we rappelled down the exteriors of buildings to designated floors, blew the windows out with explosive charges, and rappelled in with guns blazing. We caused an intense uproar from the city inhabitants everywhere we went. So what? The fun and sense of purpose was powerful.
One particular night’s events inspired a cartoon I drew commemorating the experience. That night, Guy and I flew on a UH-6 Little Bird toward our objective. The flight route took us over the broad Ohio River. For that flight, we further engorged our ponderous combat gear with flotation devices. Guy and I sat on the external benches together on the same helo. We were both nervous about the long night time flight over the river. At some point, the helo inexplicably made a sharp dive toward the river. Apparently Guy and I had the same thought simultaneously: Ditch as much of your combat gear as possible and be ready to inflate flotation device as soon as we hit the drink!
Guy frantically struggled to unhook his armored vest, which held most of his gear. I stared momentarily at the river rushing up at me, then started to rip Velcro and undo straps. By God’s grace, the helo leveled out, regained altitude, and resumed station in formation. Guy and I looked at each other with that age-old what-the-fuck expression, and frantically reconfigured our combat kit. We hit our objective hard and took names. Mission complete. Below is the cartoon I drew immortalizing Guy in the squadron cartoon book.
Guy was a family man, and a superior father to his two young sons, Vince and Caleb. He was a devout husband to his beautiful and charming wife, Katherine. Guy had no vice. He lived in Fort Bragg post housing. Most of us lived off-post in town. Guy was the model neighbor. His yard and lawn were always impeccable. He even managed to win the “Yard of the Month” award from the base homeowners association. Such distinction won the family a sign planted in their yard indicating “Yard of the Month” in bold text.
Guy kept that quiet, but inevitably, someone in the squadron spotted the sign staked in Guy’s yard and brought it to the attention of the rest of the brothers, who hounded and teased him. Why? “Don’t bleed around sharks” is the best explanation I can give. The brothers see an opportunity to break balls, and they take it. Like my teammate Sam Booth Foster (KIA) for example: He would see a cut or sore spot on my body and immediately go for it, pressing down on it hard with his finger and ask, “Hey George, does that hurt?”
Just like that, I found myself with 18 years in the Army. I would spend my last two years with the Advance Force Operations (AFO) squadron. We would go into target areas ahead of the assault squadrons and provide for mobility, housing, and all measure of logistical and intel support.
I kept a tab on Guy’s squadron deployments, and Guy kept a tab on the AFO deployments. Over the months, we would track each other down and catch up on each other’s lives. We would get together whenever feasible. If we saw each other in the chow hall, we would always sit together. He recounted how he teased his sons at dinner, how he had not one, but two pieces of pie at lunch (which he did), and they would lament, “No fair, Dad, no fair!”
Sam Foster held a get-together at his house. Guy and I were both there with our wives. Guy’s wife Katherine was pregnant with their third son at the time. We gathered in Sam’s backyard, telling war stories of various deployments. We had to make them funny to dispel unwanted worry from our wives. Katherine laughed very easily, and each time she laughed her pregnant belly bounced up and down so. She was embarrassed by it, but we were beguiled and tried all the harder to make her laugh. We were victorious!
The boys wrestled in the lawn nearby. Guy and I whispered a quick Frag-O (plan) that we would tackle them both and toss them in the air until they said “uncle.” On three: one, two, three! We sprinted and mowed them down as if with a scythe. We threw them and caught them, flipped them and spun them until they were delirious with glee. Mama looked on laughing, belly a-bouncin’ all the while.
Guy’s sons were a real handful, as many boys are at that age. Guy confessed a tidbit to me about his matrimonial plight. On his most recent deployment, Guy had Katherine drop him at the main gate so that she could keep the one family car they owned. As his wife, pregnant with his third son, approached the main gate, his two sons in the back seat began to bicker and scream and fight. Katherine looked at him mournfully and uttered, “Well, here we go again.”
On my last three-month trip to Bosnia, in my 20th year of service in the U.S. Army, a well-respected brother of mine approached me as I sat at the only laptop computer with email for contacting back home. “Chik, do you have a minute? I need to talk to you outside.” Of course I had a minute. Once outside, he spoke. “George, Guy Cutino died in a helo assault last night. He was struck in the head by a rotor from a MH-6.”
The helo landed facing 90 degrees off from what was planned and briefed. That put the helo parallel to a slope. The helo tipped its rotor down toward that slope to compensate for the terrain. Guy was on that same side. He exited and moved up the slope and the rotor struck his head.
Guy was too tall in the saddle; the rotor was too low. The team leader on Guy’s team is one of the most highly decorated men in the military—Pat “Falcon” K. O. S. Pat recovered the top of Guy’s helmet, with the top of his head still in it.
Katherine would be rousted from slumber and greeted that night at 0230 by a team of Unit members, which included the chaplain, a graves officer, a personnel NCO, friends, officials…none of whom she wanted to see. Here we go again, Katherine, life without the comfort and support of your dear husband, this time for all of eternity. Guy would never know his third son. His son would never meet his dad, though he would come to know what a great man he was.
I took the news with me numbly back behind the safe house where nobody ever went, as it was a strewn mess of filth and debris. I lit a cigarette, pulled off a long drag, exhaled a long breath, and cried like a baby. I pulled myself together and returned. That night, I bawled my eyes out, and would do so again for the next three nights in a row, until I discovered the calming effect of a locally brewed plum brandy, Ṧlivovitz, available in every other house in my neighborhood.
I was back home at the Unit now, but Guy was gone. I went to the chow hall, keeping my gaze down to the floor. I didn’t want to search the room for Guy only to not find him, or worse yet, see him and approach, me elated and horrified at the same time, only to realize I had mistaken him for someone else. I had two slices of pie for dessert, with no reasonable explanation. I sat in the chow hall, lost in thought, and eventually realized I was the only one left in the room and the hour was long of tooth. I bussed my tray and walked, lead-footed, back to my desk.
I took a single material item from his wall locker in our team room—a Velcro shoulder patch with “XB3” on it, Guy’s rank on his Sabre assault team. Cos walked into the team room, regarded me briefly as I stood, holding Guy’s patch, and nodded in approval as he went about his business.
The next operator to join our team was Ranger Brian P., a powerhouse of strength, dedication, motivation, and raw tactical talent. Brian quickly outshined most of the team with his physical prowess and shooting skills. He had a small and insignificant shortcoming; he had a clinical fear of speaking in front of crowds, or just groups of people. We all know someone like that, who can’t stand up in front of a class and comment or teach a subject.
At Guy’s funeral, Ranger Brian P. stood up in front of a crowd at Ft. Bragg John Fitzgerald Kennedy Chapel and delivered the most moving eulogy quite possibly ever performed. He spoke with authority and confidence, with conviction and truth, with pride and yet sadness for our brother, Guy, who robbed us of muster for one more day in the team room. Brian ended his delivery with (words to the effect of), “When we got to our rally point that night, Guy was not there. We had not realized that God had issued orders to Guy to rally at a different place.” My respect for Brian spiked.
Thank you, Katherine, for sharing your husband with us, and for forgiving us of our many transgressions. Thanks for being such a stalwart bastion on the home front with your two challenging sons, while nurturing a third. Please be assured that Gaetano has many friends still in the world today that love him and miss him, and remember all the positive influences and contributions that he made to us, the U.S. Army, and the United States of America.
Thanks Guy, for having a dream, then having the guts to pursue and dominate it. Thanks for nudging the Unit standards up a notch with your high standard of daily performance. Thanks for sharing your family and your life with so many grateful Unit members. Thank you for being a friend who changed my life forever; I swear that I have never been the same person since.
Fair winds and following seas to Valhalla, Guy—clear skies! I’ll see you there one day for a couple of slices of pie—no fair!