June 12, 2015
TUCSON, Ariz. — Introducing my 26th annual All-Pavlovich Team, a remarkable collection of people who typify what the game should be all about.
My National Player of The Year was an easy choice in Columbia University’s Joe Falcone.
He had a marvelous season as the designated hitter. He hit .354 with 11 homers, 18 doubles and 51 RBI and was a unanimous first team All-Ivy League selection.
What separates Falcone from others is that he witnessed more suffering and death than anybody should be allowed as a medic for the U.S. Marine Corps infantry during three tours of duty in Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan prior to playing at Columbia.
After Joe finished high school, he decided to enlist in the Navy because he didn’t apply himself academically in high school.
Falcone said he embarked on a seven year odyssey in the military that took him to some of the most dangerous places in the world in Iraq and Afghanistan fighting for the United States and caring for soldiers who were shot or blown up by road side bombs as a medic.
After boot camp for nine weeks, he was trained to be a medic as he learned everything it took to keep wounded soldiers alive for an additional 16 weeks.
Falcone said the Third Marine Division flew to Iraq in February of 2008 and performed numerous dangerous missions in the suburbs of Fallujah.
“That place was pretty nasty,” said Falcone.
“We went to a forward operating base, and we were right in a middle of a third world, run down war zone slum with bullet holes in all the buildings. The place smelled like smoke, gun powder, crap and sewage. We lived in a little Iraq police station which was essentially a little hut of concrete.
“Me and another guy were medics for over 60 Marines. We worked out of there and pushed out on missions in incredible heat which was over 120 degrees as you were wearing uniforms complete with bullet proof vests over your chest, right and left flanks and back along with an 80 pound back pack and medical bag to treat wounded soldiers. You also had to carry ammunition and a rifle. Plus you have your Kevlar helmet on.
“You are extremely uncomfortable in this oppressive heat carrying all this weight. We had to get used to hauling all this stuff and wearing it. Every day was just an endless march among these slums as you pushed out on missions for hours at a time and even days. At times, you were just moving like a mule and trying to survive.”
Falcone said you were always being watched by the bad guys during these missions.
“It was like Russian roulette going out on these patrols. You never knew if you would step on a mine, and you never knew if you would make it back alive. Every day was like this…an endless march with the possibility of dying.
“You had sniper fire and people who would walk up to you and detonate a bomb which would blow themselves up along with a Marine. The enemy would blend in with the people of the town. And you never knew who was who. A guy might come up to you and try to shake the hands of a soldier and praise him by saying, ‘American forces good’ or something like this. But that night, he might be the same guy who places an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) in the ground to kill us.”
Falcone said that maybe the most horrifying situations during his deployments took place when vehicles ran over IEDs which then destroyed the vehicles and anybody inside.
“Often times it would be a big fireball. Out of the corner of your eye at the top of the fireball, the vehicle would get propelled over a power line almost as if it was a toy. And your friends were in there. Then you had to fight if necessary. If there was only the blast, you more than likely had dead bodies. You might be there for hours cleaning up the vehicle debris. In addition, you were required to clean up any human remains of your friends that were left. You put body parts in body bags. But sometimes you ran out and had to put them in garbage bags.”
Falcone said the smell of the decaying flesh was difficult to stomach.
He was asked if he ever saw any beheadings as the Taliban retaliated against others.
“They would bully the local people quite a bit. One time we saw the remains of a local school teacher who was filleted and diced into many parts with a knife. Maybe the Taliban thought the teacher was being sympathetic to Americans. Who knows? It was so difficult as an American to comprehend people doing things like this.
“I remember getting shot at by the Taliban. One of their techniques was to hold an infant in the arms of a soldier while his buddy, close to him, would be shooting at us with an AK-47 assault rifle. And he knew we wouldn’t shoot back at him with his buddy holding an infant in his arms right next to him. I didn’t want to shoot at him with him holding a little kid. None of us fired back.”
Falcone can play on my team any day.
To read about other amazing people picked for the 2015 All-Pavlovich Team, purchase the June 12, 2015 edition of Collegiate Baseball by CLICKING HERE.