David Bellavia

David Bellavia addresses soldiers from the Iowa National Guard in August 2008. (Photo courtesy of David Bellavia)

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Staff sergeant David Bellavia, the first and only living Medal of Honor recipient from the Iraq War, has been chosen as the recipient of the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl Great American Patriot Award.

Presented annually by Armed Forces Insurance at the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl, the Great American Patriot Award honors a candidate in recognition of their exemplary service to the United States.

Bellavia was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions during the Second Battle of Fallujah for “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty.” His actions occurred on Nov. 10, 2004 – his 29th birthday – when his platoon was assigned as part of Operation Phantom Fury to clear a block of 12 buildings from which insurgents were firing on American forces.

His actions were first documented in the Nov. 22, 2004, Time Magazine cover story “Into the Hot Zone” by journalist Michael Ware, who was attached with Bellavia’s unit during the fight. Originally awarded with the Silver Star, Bellavia’s commendation was upgraded to the Medal of Honor this summer.

Upon leaving the service in August of 2005 with the rank of staff sergeant, Bellavia cofounded Vets for Freedom, a veteran advocacy organization that sought to separate politics from the warriors who fight in the field. Its membership consisted of tens of thousands of veterans who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Bellavia returned to Iraq as an embedded reporter in 2006 and 2008 where he covered the heavy fighting in Ramadi, Fallujah and Diyala Province. In 2007, he wrote a book, House to House, detailing his experiences in Fallujah. A portion of the book’s proceeds go to supporting Deuce Deuce Relief Fund Inc., which helps benefit soldiers from David's prior unit in Fallujah.

“Armed Forces Insurance takes great pride in recognizing Sgt. David Bellavia as this year’s recipient of the Great American Patriot Award,” Lt Gen Sid Clarke, US Air Force, Retired, Chairman, Armed Forces Insurance said. “David Bellavia’s actions during Operation Iraqi Freedom are without question worthy of praise from a grateful nation. His repeated recognition of his fellow soldiers who served with him during the conflict is admirable. But we also recognize that David’s post-service actions earn even more praise as he continues to work on behalf of other warriors and demonstrates the highest caliber of ethics and selfless dedication.”

Bellavia’s awards and decorations include the Medal of Honor, Bronze Star, Army Commendation Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster, Army Achievement Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster, Army Good Conduct Medal with Bronze Clasp and two Loops, the National Defense Service Medal, Kosovo Campaign Medal with Bronze Service Star, New York State’s Conspicuous Service Cross, the Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, the Noncommissioned Officer Professional Development Ribbon with Numeral “2,” the Army Service Ribbon, Overseas Service Ribbon with Numeral “2,” the Presidential Unit Citation, Combat Infantryman Badge, Driver and Mechanics Badge and the NATO Medal. He was inducted into the New York State Veterans Hall of Fame in 2005.

“Almost 15 years ago to this day, David’s heroic actions saved the lives of many in his unit,” Brant Ringler, executive director of the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl, said. “But what is just as remarkable is he continues to carry the torch for those that serve around him. He is a humble servant to his brothers and sisters in arms and that is definitely one of the main factors in his receiving this award.”

Bellavia joins a prestigious group of previous Great American Patriot Award recipients that includes Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, General Mark Welsh, General Peter Pace, Medal of Honor Recipient Salvatore Giunta, Admiral William McRaven, General Norton A. Schwartz, Congresswoman Kay Granger and Team Rubicon among others.

Candidates for the award must be of high moral fiber and good character, having spent their lives and/or careers serving the common good of the United States. They should have gone beyond the call of duty to serve and protect this country, with proven dedication and loyalty in upholding the Constitution and the laws of the nation. Finally, the Great American Patriot Award winner should have worked tirelessly to make the U.S. a better and safer place for all its citizens.

The Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl, played in honor of the Armed Forces of the United States, is the only collegiate football bowl game that has hosted all three U.S. Military Academy football teams –Air Force (2007, 2008, 2009, 2012, 2015), Army (2010, 2017, 2018) and Navy (2013, 2016).

The bowl has featured the “armed forces” theme since 2006. Patriotic overtones recognizing all five branches of the service are prevalent throughout the game. Past Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowls have included fan-fest adventure areas showcasing armed forces hardware; flyovers; demonstrations by several of the military's top skydiving teams; custom homes awarded to wounded warriors; on-field induction ceremonies; armed forces bands and honor guards; and the annual Great American Patriot Award presented by Armed Forces Insurance.

The Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl is one of 16 bowl games owned and operated by ESPN Events. The 17th edition will be played Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020, at TCU’s Amon G. Carter Stadium. Kickoff is set for 10:30 a.m. CT.

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