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From Mountains to Desert Skies
By Maj. Enrique T. Vasquez, CAB PAO
Nov 3, 2008 - 8:32:36 PM
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Blackanthem Military News
Capt. Ryan Husted (front) and Lt. Col. Donald Nitti, Black Hawk helicopter pilots with the Combat Aviation Brigade, 1st Infantry Division are both natives of Lynchburg, Va. and are serving together in Operation Iraqi Freedom. (Photo by U.S. Army Spc. Casimer Rzanca)
Tikrit, Iraq - What do mountains have in common with desert sands?  Well for three Lynchburg natives there is a special link between their homes near the Blue Ridge Mountains and where they currently find themselves, fighting a war over the desert sands of northern Iraq. 

Three Soldiers now serving a tour of duty in Iraq discovered they were all from the same hometown shortly after arriving at Contingency Operating Base Speicher just outside Tikrit, Iraq.  UH-60 Black Hawk pilots Lt. Col. Donald R. Nitti and Capt. Ryan Husted, and UH-60 Black Hawk crew chief Spc. Brandon Kennedy, all met and realized they had all attended local high schools in the Lynchburg area.  Nitti is a 1983 graduate of Heritage High School, Husted is a 1999 graduate of E.C. Glass High School and Kennedy attended Jefferson Forest High School. 

As most citizens of Lynchburg know these high schools have a long standing friendly rivalry, but these days it's all about teamwork for these three Soldiers.  Today these Lynchburg natives are all part of the same team and a band of brothers in their own right.  Nitti, Husted and Kennedy all serve with the Combat Aviation Brigade, 1st Infantry Division and wear the historic patch of "The Big Red One." 

Like the legacy of "The Big Red One" the traditions of Lynchburg's service members transcend through time.   Here in Iraq, Nitti, Husted and Kennedy would meet in the present and bring with them the rich military past of Virginia into the Army of today.  According to Husted it was Kennedy that brought the three men together.

"I first learned of the presence of fellow Lynchburgians when I was told that Spc. Kennedy had been sent a picture of my wedding announcement from the Lynchburg newspaper by his grandmother," said Husted.

"From him I learned that Lt. Col. Nitti was also from Lynchburg and I was surprised to have three individuals from three different Lynchburg high schools here in the same unit serving together," added Husted.

Once the three men figured out they were all from the same town they began to coordinate to fly together.

"I flew several missions with Kennedy and we were working to arrange a mission for the three of us to fly together," said Nitti, "However, before we could, Kennedy had to return to Fort Riley, Kansas, our home station, for personal reasons."

On September 18, 2008 Nitti and Husted did fly a support mission together, transporting personnel and equipment in and around Baghdad and northern Iraq.  During the seven hour mission both men shared memories of being raised in Virginia.   The picturesque landscapes surrounding their town served as a vivid conversation piece during the long flight over the open desert.

"Being surrounded by the Blue Ridge Mountains and close to so much history was amazing as a kid.  Lynchburg is a great place to grow up," said Husted.  "The community is close knit, friendly and caring."

Nitti too has fond memories of a very supportive Lynchburg community, which continues to support their men in uniform.

"The people of Lynchburg and my friends and family are just amazing; they continue to support me and our efforts here in Iraq," said Nitti.  "The letters and emails I receive from the people of Lynchburg are always positive and encouraging and always raise my spirits." 

The hospitality that Virginians are known for has extended far across the ocean into the desert sands of Iraq said Husted.

"Over the course of the deployment individuals from throughout Lynchburg and specifically Peakland United Methodist Church have been extremely supportive," added Husted.

"The community has sent countless cards, care packages, baked goods, and other creature comforts that have helped us all get through the deployment," said Nitti. "I especially appreciate the care packages I received from Heritage High School."

Supported by a strong community back home, Nitti and Husted are now successful military officers and both agree their success in life can also be attributed to the encouragement they received from their former community.

"We owe part of our success to the education and mentorship provided during our days as students in the Lynchburg Public School System.  The coaches and teachers provided a top notch education and gave us a solid foundation that allowed us to succeed as officers and pilots," said Husted.

Nitti agrees and says the support he received in Lynchburg was critical in his development.  "I owe a lot to the coaches at Heritage High School who mentored me and taught me leadership, discipline, and that never quit attitude early in life."

Not only has the support of the Lynchburg community helped Nitti and Husted bond in Iraq; it has helped them succeed in their military careers.  Nitti is a 20 year Army officer and senior aviator who commands the 601st Aviation Support Battalion; a       780-Soldier battalion that provides a wide range of maintenance and logistical support for the 3,500 Soldiers and 200 helicopters of the Combat Aviation Brigade.

Likewise, Husted commands a combat experienced aviation company of 50 Soldiers that fly UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters.

"I am currently the Company Commander of A Company, 3rd Assault Helicopter Battalion, 1st Aviation Regiment.  We fly and maintain the UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter and have collectively flown over 10,000 hours here in Iraq," said Husted.

Nitti is a 1988 graduate of James Madison University and the son of Donald and Elaine Nitti of Lynchburg.   Husted is a 2003 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy and the son of Dr. Stewart and Kathy Husted.


Lt. Col. Donald Nitti (left) and Capt. Ryan Husted, infront of their UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter after their September 18, 2008 mission in northern Iraq. Both Lynchburg natives are assigned to the Combat Aviation Brigade, 1st Infantry Division and are serving together in Operation Iraqi Freedom. (Photo by U.S. Army Spc. Casimer Rzanca).
Spc. Brandon Kennedy, Black Hawk crewchief (left) and Lt. Col. Donald Nitti, Black Hawk pilot, perform a preflight inspection before a mission over northern Iraq. Both are flying with the Combat Aviation Brigade, 1st Infantry Division and are natives of Lynchburg, Va. (Photo by U.S. Army Spc. Casimer Rzanca).

Capt. Ryan Husted (left) and Lt. Col. Donald Nitti, UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter pilots prepare for a mission on September 18, 2008. Both Lynchburg natives are assigned to the Combat Aviation Brigade, 1st Infantry Division and are serving together in Operation Iraqi Freedom. (Photo by U.S. Army Maj. Enrique T. Vasquez).

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Andrey Azarkin
03 May 2009, 22:52
I have served under then Maj. Donald Nitti's command during OIF1 in Iraq. Great man and great commander. All due respect and best wishes!.
07 Dec 2008, 18:18
i would love to do that! :)

08 Nov 2008, 22:22
I'm CPT Husted's wife and I am thrilled to see him and the other Lynchburgers being recognized! I am so proud of all of you and am super excited for everyone to come home, almost there guys! I love you Ryan!
08 Nov 2008, 22:19
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