Full excerpt below:
– Welcome into our February, 2023 NFM Salute. I’m NFM TV’s Greg Sher. We are heading south, to St. Augustine, Florida, where we are joined by retired Marine Lieutenant Denis Oliverio, who gave us 20 years of service. Served two tours in war zones, has some interesting stories to share and we are so delighted and honored to have you with us Denis on NFM TV. Thanks for agreeing to be with us and thank you so much for your service.
– Thank you Greg, honored to be here.
– You’re one of 10 children. You’re from the Boston, Massachusetts area originally and you went into service right out of high school. Let’s start right there. What made you serve? What gave you that conviction to know that’s where you needed to head?
– Yeah, I had a very strong desire to join the military from an early age. I had a brother that was in the Air Force and watched him come home with his training and his uniforms, and my mother was a very, very big supporter of the military. Six of us, five and me all decided to go down to the recruiter’s office and join together.
– And before you knew it, you were in a war zone. Desert Storm was your first tour of duty, 1990 to 1991. How long after you joined, until you ended up there?
– Yeah, I joined in ’87, got out of bootcamp and went to schools and things. The beginning of 88, did some workups, did a Mediterranean deployment and then on my second Mediterranean deployment was my first combat zone, which was, you know the end of Operation Desert Storm.
– What was it like there?
– Unbelievable. So coming from the United States and the way our life is and going over to another country is significant. And it’s, you know it can change your opinion on how, how you have life. But let alone that, going into a country that’s at war and seeing how things are there, Americans, people from the United States they have no idea what that looks like until they’ve gone over to another country and seen it at war.
– And you were there for almost a year. You came back home and then were later deployed in 2005 into Operation Iraqi Freedom. So that’s a big gap between the first time being in Desert Storm and then going back some. I don’t know, looks like 14 years later. Is that unusual?
– So I think it is. In between Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom, I was a helicopter gunner at the time and I went the whole gamut of aviation maintenance and quality assurance and was a survival instructor in Northern Maine.
– Survival instructor? What are some things that you have to cover there?
– Well, the school where I was is called the SERE School. SERE stands for: Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape. It’s kind of like a POW school. We teach high risk of capture personnel how to survive after ejecting or evading enemy captivity.
– Did you ever talk to a student after they were forced to use the tactics that you showed them?
– During my tour as an instructor, Captain Scott O’Grady was actually, you know, in Bosnia. Was shot down, evaded captivity and our school, of course, we debriefed him and heard of his exploits and what happened to him. The interesting part there is, where I work now, with a company called Precise Systems, the CEO of Precise Systems, is a Marine, Scott Feaster. And Scott Feaster was actually the guy in the helicopter, that rescued Scott O’Grady from Bosnia.
– Oh my goodness. So you are a Purple Heart recipient and let’s get into why. What happened to you in 2005 during Iraqi Freedom?
– Yeah, I was a Tank Platoon Commander with the Bravo Company, 1st Tanks. We were deployed to Western Al Anbar Province and we were engaged with enemy fire. An enemy insurgent shot me through the arm, penetrated the arm but hit me in the chest and luckily I had a vest on.
– Did the vest save your life?
– It certainly did. It was in just the position to stop that bullet and save my life.
– When you were wounded, you couldn’t lift your arm. You couldn’t get back into that tank. You were still taking on enemy fire. And one of your teammates did something extraordinary for you. What did he do and how did it save your life?
– Yeah, Lance Corporal Jared Malone, who was in the tank with me, he jumped out of the safety of the tank and grabs my arm, pushed it into me, and pushed me down inside the tank commander’s hatch. You know, risked his own life under fire and save me from getting shot again. So he had to go into my pocket, pull out my tourniquet and he ended up manipulating all my, you know, exposed broken bones and things, to put my tourniquet on high enough, to actually stop the bleeding. The surgeon, the first surgeon I had said, “If he didn’t act as quickly as he did, you would not have made it.”
– And for Kate, your wife, she had just been married to you for a couple of months prior to being deployed and all of a sudden here you are, being rushed back to the United States to be put back together. You had 16 surgeries. It’s not just you serving, it’s the families.
– Yeah, absolutely. For Kate, our first year of marriage sure was a test. You know, it wasn’t long after we were married I was injured, get flown back to the States. She stayed by me and refused to leave. She was with me through thick and thin and you know, there was a lot of trying times in the hospital going through surgeries after surgeries.
– You chose to donate the $2,500, that we make available to you to the charity of your choice, and you chose to donate it to an organization near and dear to you that focuses not on the soldier but on the family and families of soldiers, IHOOT. IHOOT has helped 28,000 families take trips to get away and it’s run in part by a gentleman who also served in the Marines by the name of Philip Strambler. He’s a friend of the NFM Salute. Tell us about IHOOT, what it’s meant to you.
– Needless to say, we didn’t really get a honeymoon. So after a couple of years in and out of the hospital, Phil recommended I take one of these trips and I said, “You know what? You’re right.” So I filled out an application and sure enough I got to go to Hawaii, one of my bucket list places.
– I mentioned you are a Purple Heart recipient. The lions share of those who served that receive these medals don’t get to hold them in their hand. You were fortunate. You’re among the fortunate few. What does it mean to you?
– Yeah, you’re absolutely right. Nobody wants a Purple Heart, but if you get it and you’re able to hold it in your hand, you’re one of the lucky ones.
– And you’re able to use your left arm, which is the one that had all of those surgeries. So you don’t have full mobility but you’re able to golf, ride horses, rope cattle. So, I guess you’re having some fun?
– I absolutely am, yeah. You would’ve never thought a kid from Boston would be sitting on a horse roping steer. But my daughter got into horses at a really young age. She’s a competitive rodeo gal. So what kind of dad would I be if I didn’t try and get on a horse and get out there and now we’re out there as a family ordeal.
– You risked your life for this country. Thank you for that.
– Thank you, Greg. Thank you for what NFM does, what it means, and people like Phil Strambler and his organization. We thank you.
– We appreciate your time. I’m Greg Sher from NFM TV. We’ll see you again next time.