By Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Samuel Nasso
Special to American Forces Press Service
July 29, 2009 - Marine Corps Maj. Richard "Bart" Bartolomea says he feels at home serving with his brother, Bill, in an operational environment. "It's awesome," he said. "I brought the board games, but haven't had the chance to break them out yet." The officer in charge of the Scan Eagle detachment from Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron 2, Marine Aircraft Group 40, Marine Expeditionary Brigade Afghanistan, Bart was commissioned as a Marine officer after earning a bachelor's degree at Pennsylvania State University in 1994.
Bill, known as "Chakka," is the director of the department of safety standardization for Marine Light/Attack Helicopter Squadron 169. He also earned a degree from Penn State, graduating in 1995.
As many boys do, the brothers aspired to be professional athletes. But once high school rolled around, Bart had become became interested in aviation and had aircraft posters covering his walls.
"When I was in high school, "Top Gun" came out, and I imagined what it would be like to be a pilot," he said.
The military already had a prominent role in the Bartolomea family. Their father, Richard Bartolomea, and their uncle, James Craft, joined the Marine Corps in 1967. Even though Craft wasn't related to the family at the time, he was a significant influence in why the boys joined the Marine Corps.
"Uncle Jim went to college with our father and encouraged him to join the Corps with him," said Bart, whose father was an infantry officer in Vietnam. "Twenty-six years later, our father retired as a lieutenant colonel, and here we are now in Afghanistan."
So when the time came, the decision to join wasn't too difficult.
"After growing up in Quantico and observing my dad and his friends when I was younger, it was an easy decision when I actually thought about it," Bill said.
"Bill actually knew what he wanted to do," Bart noted. "He didn't join because I did; he was enrolled in the ROTC at Penn State for a while."
With their father working at Penn State as the director of sports camp and managing the ROTC program, it seemed military service was inevitable.
"After I got my degree I wasn't sure what I wanted to do, so I went and talked to my father," Bart said. "I told him I didn't really want to pursue journalism and I wanted to go to law school. He told me that I would have to pay for it, so that was out of the question. Then he asked me if I ever thought about the Marine Corps."
Both brothers not only were commissioned as Marine Corps officers, but also became pilots. Bill started flying AH-1W Super Cobras in 1997, and Bart started flying CH-53Ds in the same year. Bart eventually transitioned into flying Cobras 10 years later and transitioned again to fly unmanned aerial vehicles.
"Flying UAVs is neat, but after flying a Cobra, there's nothing really like it," Bart said. With different billets but the same line of work, it was just a matter of time until the brothers encountered each other in the fleet.
"It is really cool," Bart said. "One day I was watching a few Cobras complete a mission with our UAVs, and later that day I asked my brother if he was flying. He said he was, and I told him I watched him with our UAVs. Even though I am not flying Cobras at the moment, I still get to operate with my UAVs and watch my brother fly his Cobra."
This is Bart's first deployment and Bill's fifth. When it comes down to it, the brothers are here to complete their duties as Marines.
"The reason why I am here is to provide air support for the grounds guys," Bill said. "Whether you're a grunt or with [the combat logistics battalion] or whatever, our mission is the same: to provide air support for all of our Marines."
The brothers are happy to be deployed at the same time, and their families fully support them.
"Our mother was a Marine Corps wife for a while, and she helps my wife and Bart's wife when they need anything," Bill said.
Although they may not be working side by side, the "Bart Brothers" patrol the skies over Afghanistan's Helmand province, flying top cover for servicemembers helping to free the local population from the intimidation and aggression of insurgents.
(Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Samuel Nasso serves with Marine Air Group 40.)