A Special Edition to THE QATSPY® SATURDAY’S SPORTS PAGE for YOUR LIFE for Memorial Day, when we honor those that have given their last full Measure!

Chief Warrant Officer (CWO) Donovan L. Briley KIA in Mogadishu, Somalia on 03Oct1993 in Operation Gothic Serpent

NOTE: Most Helicopter pilots have the rank of Chief Warrant Officer (CWO) in the U.S. ARMY. My friend was with the elite Night Stalkers. You hear in TOP GUN the term the elite of the elite, that’s what this group of warriors are that worked with SEAL TEAMS and DELTA Forces.

On Memorial Day as usual, at sunrise with my dog, Sebastian, and I make our way out to the flag pole next to the house to lower my American Flag to half mast until noon in honor of those that gave the last full measure. I have several heroes that I think about personally, but two are dear to my heart. One was my uncle, Colonel Robert C. Boatright, who served in three (3) wars. The other is a high school buddy Chief Warrant Officer (CWO) 3 Donovan Lee ‘Bull’ Briley.

My Flag Pole to honor those that have served and also those that gave their last full measure. I always fly Ole Glory everyday!

There’s not a day, and especially a Memorial Day, that goes by that I don’t think of my friend that I knew since 5th grade from Arkansas. We became close friends on the football field in early September of 1973. He was the quarterback and I was one of the running backs all 6-6 of me (that is all 66- inches tall). I was a powerlifter and was on the wrestling team, so the coach talked me into joining the football team as a running back. I was like a fireplug. I mean that I’m still like a fireplug.

Those days seemed like they occurred just yesterday, forging a friendship that we had up until his death on October 03rd, 1993, now some 31 years after we last spoke to each other. We became good friends over all those years going through high school and later both of us enlisted in the U.S. ARMY at the Little Rock, Arkansas Recruiting Station on Center Street.

One thing about Memorial Day: they bring up vivid memories of people and events that we can carry with us for a lifetime. Like any memory there are great ones, but there are also tragedies that are also part of our lives that we all have to face and live with over the years. These memories are like losing family members and/or close friends/ or a comrade in arms that we lose along the road of life’s journey. I call this road the road westward into the setting sun of life, that we must take.

This is a photograph below that was taken similar to days in the Mississippi Delta near Rosedale after a long day working storm damage from a tornado. It captures what we all experience in life when we feel alone.

Chief Warrant Officer Donovan Briley Last Mission

On Sunday, October 03rd, 1993, CWO Donovan Briley was piloting on the first of the two (2) HU-60 Black Hawk helicopters on a special mission in Somali. Both Black Hawks were hit by a RPG (Rocket-Propelled Grenade) fired from the ground by the Somali Militia during what was Operation Gothic Serpent. This was also carried out in conjunction with Operation Restore Hope. We call this mission creep. He was the pilot that Somali Militia dragged his body through the streets.

CWO3 Donovan L. Briley was killed soon after the Black Hawk was downed by the RPG. The accounts of this Special Operation where Rangers and Delta Forces join forces to apprehend General Mohamed Farrah Aidid. This is very well documented in the movie Black Hawk Down based on the book by the same name written by Mark Bowden, a great field journalist.

I could only watch the movie one time at the theater, but could never bring myself to watch the movie again since its release in December of 2001. I start shaking and sweating whenever it is played.

Decorated Service awarded to Donovan Briley– The Distinguished Flying Cross, two (2) Bronze Stars, two (2) Purple Hearts, two (2) Air Medals with “V” devices, two (2) Air Medals, Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal and Army Service Ribbon.

NOTE: One of those Bronze Starts should have been Silver, a metal right beneath the Medal of Honor.

My Early Memories of Donovan Briley, Our First Day of Football Practice

In a locker room, sit a bunch of young guys suited up in gray PT shorts and white t-shirts for the first day of junior high school football practice at Central Junior High School. We were waiting for the coach to make his entrance, he was a former Drill Instructor (DI).

Some of us had never played organized football before, and this was a new experience for some of us. Coach Tyler, a U.S. Army Veteran and Staff Sergeant, known for his hard-nosed, no-nonsense approach to coaching, rolled out a fire hose on the floor in front of us sitting in bleachers; the fire hose was marked off with line positions. Tight End, Tackle, Guard, Center and the same on the other end were labeled on the fire hose. This is basic Football 101.

Coach Tyler carefully described each position to us and the responsibilities on each side of the ball to a bunch of wide-eyed guys trying to grasp what skills and physical aptitude we had for each of those positions being described. After we went through calisthenics and sprints, then we broke out into offense and defense squads, based on our physical skills, strength, and ability selected by the coaching staff during tryouts that summer.

We, on the offense side of the line, ran through various drills trying out for various positions on the offensive squad. Since I was short, stocky, like a fireplug, could catch, and secure the ball and run like I was on fire and get low-to-the-ground, I was singled out for one of the three Fullback positions.

While this tall guy was selected as Quarterback, Donovan L. Briley, for his skills of agility and height. Briley ran like a deer and could throw accurate passes on the run, doing bootlegs left or right and was tough as nails.

Coach Tyler huddled us up with the offense squad calling “Draw fake 85 Hold.” This was a draw play where Briley, QB, would fake a hand-off to me (FB) and drop back for a slant left pass to the Right Tackle, position No. 5, in a slant.

Coach Tyler looked squarely at me and asked, “Boatright- Do you know your assignment”? I replied, “Sir Yes Sir, fake a hand-off and run-off right guard position.” No! Coach Tyler replied, “You are to fake a hand-off, then hold your position to provide protection for Briley in the backfield by blocking; don’t let anyone touch him!” Coach continued by adding, “I was going to tell you to squat, but for you I don’t have to.” At least I got something correct.

Blocking isn’t glamorous, sexy, or flashy, like a running off the Right Guard position with the ball would have been and getting some payback on an unexpected  linebacker. But it is essential to protect those behind you, especially the QB. In Football the QB is the most important position on the field.

For those women and men that put it all on the line in our military, protecting us, we owe it to them the time to listen to them, even if it is over a cup of coffee; to listen to their story. One of my service buddies asked me, Will they ever know what we did here? By listening to these Veterans you can answer that question and appreciate their service at the same time.

Senior High School Enlistment

Our senior year in high school, Donovan Briley and I had 4th period physics class together in the science building located at the far west end of campus. I would always park my CJ-7 4-speed yellow Jeep on the side street, just yards from the rear entrance in the Science Building.

We would sneak out for lunch and go to McDonald’s on JFK Blvd, in North Little Rock, Arkansas, for a Quarter Pounder and Fries with ice tea, one reason we went to McDonald’s was that we were watching our weight, making sure to consume as many calories and carbs as we could. We were going to need them in 6th period when we were about to burn these off during practice and during our strength and conditioning training.

During one of our lunch breaks in October of our senior year, we discussed our futures plans, where I was planning on joining the U.S. Army as a Combat Engineer (12-Bravo) with the 326th attached to the 101st after graduation. After a few weeks, Donovan decided to join me and enlist as well, but wanted to become a chopper pilot. We both joined during November of our senior year.

Few years after advanced training at Fort Belvoir, VA and taking my post at Fort Campbell, I injured both knees and right hip during a training jump mission. I received a medical discharge right before we were to go into Grenada to rescue the Medical Students. Soon after my Medical Discharge, I attended college where I earned my Engineering Degree in Civil and Chemical.

I then worked 2-years as a bridge project engineer in Florida Keys on three bridges and then worked 33- years for Entergy as a Grid Engineer in three different states in Transmission Lines, where I’m now retired, but I still dabble in aviation, as I did working flying aerial patrol. I also started a sportswear, fitness and performance business.

The motorcycle is my INDIAN Scout Bobber 60, the aircraft is a P-51 Mustang similar to the one that Tom Cruise flew in TOP GUN: MAVERICK. Still consider the No. 1 Fighter aircraft even compared to jet fighters of today.

Our Last Conversation I had with Briley

I talked to Donovan on a couple of occasions, while I was in Little Rock and while he was on leave from the Army. Last time I talked to him, he was stationed in South Korea with the Rangers as a Chief Warrant Officer flying Black Hawks. He mentioned to me about a humanitarian mission that was being discussed for Africa that was coming up in December of 1992, at the end of President Bush 41 Administration.

A Black Hawk Helicopter Encounter

The Black Hawks Helicopter has a significant amount of down wash off their rotors. If you recall, the young boy serving as a forward observer for the Somalia Militia held his cell phone out to capture the Black Hawks traversing up the coast line. The sound and wash are significant coming from Black Hawks.

I took the following photograph where I had just landed my 206(D) Bell Jet Ranger at the Greenville, Mississippi Airport on the tarmac waiting to take on fuel, Jet-A. The term Kerosene Cowboys comes from the smell of Jet-A burning from the turbines. I’m a proud Kerosene Cowboy.

The tower notified me of a flight of eight (8) incoming Black Hawks coming in for refueling. You can hear them coming from three-quarters-of-a-mile off. Our 206 Bell Jet Ranger was buffeted even parked a hundred yards down the flight line from where the eight Black Hawks landed.

The tower notified us of the approaching Black Hawks coming into Runway 1-8 from the north and will be landing on the tarmac just north of our position and informed us of possible turbulence. Black Hawks can create a significantly more down wash than a Huey can, much less having eight of them land close by.

Just a side note on the nomenclature on runways you see marked at the approach. The term from the tower of 1-8 refers to bearing on a compass. 1-8 means 180 degrees, or a South Bearing runway. A runway 3-6 would be a North runway in the direction an aircraft is landing. This allows the pilot or aviator to have reference to wind direction, especially crosswinds.

Operation Restore Hope & Gothic Serpent

This Mission that Briley was alluding to was Operation Restore Hope in Mogadishu, Somalia to provide critical aid and food to starving civilians, at first, but changed later, in what we call Mission Creep. The movie Black Hawk Down was based on this mission creep, Operation Gothic Serpent.

One thing about the U.S. Military service personnel, they don’t question orders, we just figure out how to accomplish the mission even with limited resources and political strings attached and restrictions in regard to what is known as Rules of Engagement. You love to hear those words going into a hot war zone.

Three Days of the Condor

One of my favorite movies is Three Days of the Condor with Robert Redford (as Joseph Tuner), Cliff Robertson (as J. Higgins), John Houseman as Mr. Wabash), and who can forget Fay Dunaway (as Kathie Hale), at least us guys can’t. There was one scene in Three Days of the Condor where J. Higgins asked Mr. Wabash in the situation room- “If he (Mr, Wabash) missed the early days of the S.O.S.?” Mr. Wabash replied- “I missed the clarity of leadership!” This is what we and those currently in the U.S. Military has to deal with current (D) civilian leadership.

Our Veterans

There is something that you will learn about our Veterans, when you sit down with them for a cup of coffee, and that is their- never quit true grit attitude, despite the obstacles that they will face. Basically, these Veterans are those common individuals that we pass in the street that endure the crucible of life that forms their metal when they are called upon to become the tip of the sword or The role of Excalibur.

I will always remember my friend, and brother, CWO3 Donovan Briley and hope that I can live up to just a part of his standards and courage of his metal that he exhibited. There are more untold stories by Veterans out there like my friend’s, and we just need to take the time to ask and listen to them. That’s how we can honor their service over a cup of coffee and just listen.

The Stars of Decorated Service

If you see a Bronze or Silver Star on a license plate, either shake their hand or just throw them a salute if they are in a passing vehicle or parked at a traffic light. The Silver Start is one medal right below the Medal of Honor.

If I see a Purple Heart, Bronze or Silver Star on a license plate while I’m parked in a parking lot after shopping, I wait for that person to come out and express my thanks and shake their hand. That is the least that I can do for them and their service.

Guys, I’m talking to you, those of you that are over the age of 40! GET YOUR PHYSICALS AND HAVE A PSA TEST DONE! My PSA Test and Dr. Runnels, my Urologist at Jackson Urology Clinic, with the skills that God gave him, saved my life. I had a PSA of 6.2 (4.0 is normal) in November. Even with a PSA of 6.2, I had a progressive Stage 1 Cancer in December of 2023 that progressed to Stage 2 by February of 2024. DON’T TAKE THIS LIGHTLY GUYS! Your life depends on IT! Prostate Cancer is the No. 1 Cancer among men, guys. This is nothing to ignore!

THE GOOD NEWS: I had my follow-up PSA Test on March 21, 2024 that was NEG (0); That was GREAT NEWS to HEAR! I’m schedule to go back on June 21, 2024 for a second follow-up.