Two out of every three mornings former Navy football star Aaron Polanco wakes up knowing that his day probably won't end without a flight into harm's way. This sobering reality awaits him most of the time because the former quarterback is now a Marine Corps officer and pilot who is patrolling the skies over
Polanco, who graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 2005, is flying an AH-1W SuperCobra as part of Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 367 currently deployed to
Based out of
"We got here in late October. Hopefully, we should be out of here in a couple of months, perhaps the May timeframe," explained the Wimberley,
For security reasons, Polanco could not discuss any specifics in regards to his missions; however, he made it clear that his first combat tour has been a busy one.
"The (operational tempo) has been a lot faster than what I expected. It's a lot different from being at home and doing training. We fly double or triple the amount than during training. There is a lot to learn and it has been a good experience being out here," said Polanco
Part of that experience has included supporting Marine ground units with aerial gunfire.
"There's been plenty of (action). Just being the attack helicopter, we've been called in to support the ground guys (against) the Taliban insurgents that are out there. Our units have been pinned down and have had no way to maneuver…so they call us in and we free up (some space) for them," said Polanco.
Ripping a page from his football playing days, the selfless former quarterback wanted to make sure to give credit, for his squadron's success in Afghanistan, to his offensive line or in this case, the maintenance workers who are responsible for keeping his helicopter battle-ready.
"Our maintainers are doing a great job as well, fixing up the aircraft and getting them ready to fly everyday. They work really hard."
There is rarely any down time these days on the front lines, but Polanco has managed to keep on top of the recent successes of the Navy football team.
"I did watch most of the bowl game (against
Thanks to the Armed Forces Network, Polanco said that he was able to catch a few other Navy games, maybe even an Army one, but it's definitely a lot different then being at home where Saturdays are all about gathering around the television and watching the game.
"Obviously there is a lot of other stuff going on here," Polanco casually pointed out.
Part of his experience in
"Every now and then, I'll run into somebody out here. (Marine Corps officer) Dan Wendolowski and (Marine Corps officer) Anthony Picioni – are both with deployed ground units that I have talked with."
"It's a good feeling to be flying overhead of their units. It's crazy because you always hear stories (as a midshipman) from (officers) who tell you that some day you will be flying and hear some guy's voice on the radio that you will recognize (from the past). They were right - it really happens," continued Polanco.
Something that also happens every once is the site of seeing Polanco actually tossing the pigskin around in between combat missions.
"Every now and then I've had a chance to throw a football…I definitely have to work the arm back into shape," joked Polanco. "It's good to hang out with the guys in the squadron…you have to break out the monotony while you are out here."
End of Part One
In Part Two of my piece, you will read about: what Polanco thinks of current Navy quarterback Ricky Dobbs; his thoughts on teammate Kyle Eckel's NFL career to date; how he relates playing football with being a leader in combat; and a funny story regarding Navy offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper. Also in Part Two, Jasper will share his thoughts on his former quarterback.