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Rescuing injured Marines

Maj. Mitchell Bell ('88) serves in Al Taqaddum, Iraq
By Hali Chiet ('07)

Marine reservist Maj. Mitchell Bell ('88)

Marine reservist Maj. Mitchell Bell ('88) takes time out from rescuing Marines to enjoy a quiet moment in Al Taqaddum, Iraq.

"Being in the military is an incredible and honorable job," says Maj. John Mitchell Bell ('88). "You work real-world situations, go to places that others only dream of and develop leadership skills that others pay money to learn."

From JMU to Marine Corps Reserve

Bell graduated from JMU as part of the Marine Platoon Leaders course, a reserve officers program. After graduation, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps Reserve. "They offer a guaranteed flight contract, and the fact that I was a history major didn't stop me from being a pilot," Bell explains. "The Navy requires a hard math background, but the Marines said if I could pass the flight test, my major wasn't a factor."

Adventures overseas

After he was commissioned, Bell attended Basic School for six months, then transferred to Pensacola, Fla., for flight school. From there, he was sent to Corpus Christi, Texas, to fly the T-34 and King Air. Bell's next two destinations were Little Rock, Ark., where he was assigned to fly the C-130, and Cherry Point, N.C., where his squadron was located. By the time he arrived in North Carolina in March 1991, the first Gulf War had ended, and he spent the next three years as a cargo pilot, traveling to more than 30 countries.

"...in the military...you work real-world situations, go to places that others only dream of and develop leadership skills that others pay money to learn."

"They offered me a vacation to Okinawa, Japan, for a year and that was the most fun I have had in my life," Bell says. In Japan, Bell embarked on various adventures, including scuba diving and flying all over the Far East. He says he has wonderful memories from his journey, and one in particular stands out. "Christmas in Hong Kong in December 1994 was incredible as I sat 65 stories high overlooking the harbor reflections of festive lights from the decorations on all the buildings."

Flying for American Airlines

After traveling to Japan, Bell was a recruiter stationed in Kansas City, Mo., from 1995 to 1998. "That was a great tour, taking college kids up for airplane rides to try and entice them to join our ranks as aviators," he says. While working as a recruiter, Bell met several former Marines flying for American Airlines in Fort Worth, Texas. "They invited me to fly down and hang out for a weekend," he says. "That did it for me, and after 10 years in the Marines, I put in my papers to resign my commission and joined American Airlines." Fortunately, Bell was hired the same day he left the Corps.

Al Taqaddum Air Boss

After being out of the Marines for six years, Bell decided to return, and volunteered for duty in Iraq. He is currently stationed in Al Taqaddum, Iraq, located in the Sunni Triangle just west of Baghdad. Bell now serves as Al Taqaddum Air Boss and is in charge of the airfield. As the airboss, Bell coordinates all the medevac launches to rescue injured Marines, soldiers and Iraqis. He is also in charge of all issues dealing with the airport and runways, including crash fire rescue, security and fuel.

Bell says he and his staff cover a variety of missions and work around the clock. "The days are long and you have no days off," he says. "I will be on the desk from noon to midnight, then my non-commissioned officer comes in and takes over."

"... you know a difference is being made."

Bell says serving in Iraq has been an incredible experience. "This place is not like what you see in the papers or news every day," he says. "They only concentrate on the negative stuff, but when you see little Iraqi kids following a patrol around begging them to play soccer or these people proudly say that they voted, you know a difference is being made."

Family back home

Bell met his wife, Teresa, who lived four houses down from him, in Fort Worth, Texas. They were married in 2002 and have two daughters -- 3-year-old Susan and 9-month-old Megan. "Being over in Iraq is difficult for me in terms of missing my wife and kids -- missing Megan learning to walk or hearing Susan say, 'Daddy, come home I miss you!'" Bell admits, "That is tough, but living where we are, that's just life; and we suck it up."

Bell says when he returns to Texas in spring 2006, he will work as a Super 80 first officer with American Airlines. As for now, he is proud to be serving our country with his fellow Marines. "Marines have to be able to improvise, adapt and overcome all situations," he says. "I love being around Marines who work hard and have pride in their work."

Supporting soldiers

"Anyone who wants to support soldiers can do so by sending letters, packages, toiletries, food and other necessities by visiting anysolider.com," says Bell. "It's a top-notch program and one I highly endorse if you are thinking about supporting a service person in the war."