Humans of NYCFC | Staff Sgt. David G. Bellavia

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On June 25, 2019, New York native Staff Sgt. David G. Bellavia became the recipient of the Medal of Honor. Ahead of Military Appreciation Night, Sgt. Bellavia shares what this honor means to him and how his time serving in the United States Army was impacted by the power of soccer. 

Humans of NYCFC | Staff Sgt. David G. Bellavia -

I served in the United States Army Infantry for six years. I joined in 1999 and left the service in August 2005. In 2001, I was stationed in Germany in the 1st Infantry Division. Then in 2003, I was deployed to Kosovo for nine months before receiving orders to deploy to Iraq. When I was in basic training, we would read the citations of former Medal of Honor recipients and they were held up on such an incredible platform. They were superheroes to us. You would never in a million year think that you could be a part of that same conversation as Bobby Murphy, James Doolittle, or any of these other guys. But today, you realize that these guys didn’t do it on their own. You have an entire team that surrounds you, and you just play a small role. It really is a team effort, and you share the Medal of Honor with your entire unit. It’s all of our awards. So many people in New York have served in Iraq, and they say to me that it feels like they share this honor with me. It’s such a great feeling to know that so many other Iraq veterans see this Medal of Honor as something we all share.

In Kosovo, you have ethnic Albanians who are Muslim and you have Serbians who are Greek Orthodox Christians. When we deployed, we were defending the Albanian people of Kosovo from the Serbians. These people don’t speak to each other. There is a lot of mistrust and animosity, dating back hundreds of years. Our command asked them what is the one thing they all liked to do, and they all liked to play soccer. So we held a soccer game. We forced the Albanians and Serbians to be together on the same team and play against the Americans. We took a bunch of guys and put them on the soccer pitch and we played a full game. We got the entire village, thousands of people, to come out and watch people they didn’t like, people they didn’t get along with playing soccer. Soccer really brought us all together. After that, more and more people came up to our gate. They wanted to play soccer again. They wanted to be a part of what we were doing. It really led to healing and it was a huge part of what we did in Kosovo.

I played soccer growing up, I was a goalkeeper. Soccer was a big deal to us. I was a senior in high school during the 1994 World Cup, so that whole team was a huge part of my growing up. I have a lot of fond memories of US Soccer. Now, I’m super excited to see young Americans playing soccer, and not giving up the sport when they became teenagers. Being deployed in these different countries, we were exposed to all of these different leagues. While I was stationed in Germany for three years we’d watch the Bundesliga, we started to follow the Premier League. Soccer became a huge deal for us. We’d watch it all the time. So when MLS kicked off, a lot of these guys missed their time in the Army, missed when they were young and got to hang out with their friends. Soccer is something that brings us all together. It reminds us of the time we were in Germany. It reminds us of our 20s. It’s kind of like soccer became our reunion.

It’s amazing to see professional franchises like NYCFC give back, especially when they don’t have a reason to. A lot of these players are from other countries, but they respect the American military. They respect what we’re doing in their life or maybe in their country. For a major organization in their sport to acknowledge service, first responders, veterans, it shows us a great deal of respect and it makes us want to root for them. I’ll tell you what, if I had a favorite MLS team it’s NYCFC now. I’ll be a fan for life because of the kindness the club showed me and my friends.

Humans of NYCFC | Staff Sgt. David G. Bellavia -