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|| News Item: Posted 2001-12-19

Major Ant Man
By Rod Mar,The Seattle Times

Anthony Bolante, Seattle-based contract photographer for Reuters is the coolest kind of sports photographer you'll ever want to meet. Born and raised in Hawaii, he's infused with the "Aloha Spirit" - a warm friendliness and laid-back demeanor, always ready with a quick smile and laugh.

Photo well overcrowded? Tight deadlines? Freezing rain and gale-force winds? "No problem, bro," he might answer, smiling.

And if you only know "Ant-man" (as he is known by shooters) from sporting events, you'd think he goes home to his wife just like many of us, getting ready for another game to shoot tomorrow, or maybe a press conference or portrait of a business executive.

But more than likely, Bolante won't answer to "Ant-man" that next day, when he's answering to the rank of "Major" Anthony P. Bolante of the Washington Army National Guard.

As Commander of E Company, 168th Aviation, Bolante pilots a CH-47D helicopter (price tag - a cool $16 million!), and is in command of 235 men and 16 helicopters.

The "Chinook", as the helicopter is nicknamed, weighs 25,000 pounds, can carry another 25,000 pounds (that's one Humvee beneath and another inside it's bay), and is known as a "heavy lift" helicopter. It also carries troops - 31 seated paratroopers, plus equipment including the occasional See-Doos, jet-skis, and Zodiacs required by Special Forces teams.

His job is to move personnel and equipment, often in dangerous territory.

Photo by Anthony P. Bolante

Photo by Anthony P. Bolante
"We're known as the semi-trucks or the bus drivers of the military," says Bolante, with his typical understatement. He and his crew of so-called "truck drivers" and "bus drivers" have been flying and average of every other day since the events of September 11, carrying out training missions, missions in support of the current "Operation Enduring Freedom", and "homeland security missions".

So, Ant-Man, what kinds of thing are you doing on these missions? "Can't tell ya, bro", he laughs, being polite enough not to add, "because then I'd have to kill you".

Suffice to say that not only is he flying more missions with the urgency of wartime conditions, he's also a phone call away from being given roughly 14 days to get his family and business things in order before being ordered overseas to help the current operations.

Bolante and his men spent most of the summer helping to fight forest fires in the West, using their helicopters to carry 3,000 gallons of water in huge buckets suspended below to douse raging flames.

He's also participated in Operation Desert Storm (another, "can't tell ya, bro"), and flew missions for the U.N. operations in Haiti.

Do photography and piloting helicopters compare at all?

"Hey, it's just as important to have journalistic coverage of the world," says Bolante, who spent much of the summer and fall covering the record-chasing accomplishments of the Seattle Mariners and Barry Bonds' assault on the home run record.

Bolante, also an avid outdoorsman with expertise in mountain climbing, is married to Clarissa, an attorney. "She's really supportive," he says, "she knows it's important."

The two have a pretty clear idea about the important things in life, as Bolante escaped mysterious ailment that left him gravely ill four years ago.

He's recovered all his strength, is using every last drop in his two careers as a photographer and military pilot.

"I do this because of my friends and family, really," says Bolante. "Some people are doctors and help people. I do this."

(Rod Mar, when not writing for Sports Shooter, works as a sports photographer for the Seattle Times though he really would rather be playing with or reading stories to his two children.)

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