Col. Brian C. Bolio doesn’t exactly fit the stereotype of a field-grade officer with 25 years of service currently commanding a brigade. A framed flyer for a 1986 Run DMC/Beastie Boys concert hangs on one of his office walls. A longboard rests against his combat gear, adjacent to a hockey goalie mask in the opposite corner. Resting on his bookshelf are a Mike Tyson and a Leonardo DaVinci biography, with a John Irving novel wedged in between. There are many sides to Bolio, and I had the pleasure of sitting down with him in his colorful office this past week and got to know what makes the newly minted commander of 1st Space Brigade tick.
Q: Where are you from? What was your childhood like?
A: I was born and raised in Waltham Massachusetts, just outside of Boston. My father was an automotive industry salesperson and my mother was a special education teacher - personifications of selflessness and toughness, respectively. I also had had two older brothers who helped me understand loyalty and perserverance.
Q: What got you interested in the military?
A: My father was always so patriotic but could never serve due to medical reasons. My grandfather had a big cabinet full of his war treasures from World War II, which sparked my intrigue. There was a mystique there. He lost an eye in the war from shrapnel and he had a Purple Heart to prove it - and I loved the idea of serving for something bigger than myself, but I really didn’t have the Army or WestPoint in mind. I didn’t even know what WestPoint was. I only knew that I was being recruited for it. I’m only 5’9 and if I’m going to play D1 hockey under financial contraints, and they are interested then maybe that’s a really good place to go. I may have gone to the Academy for some of the wrong reasons, but once I got there and put on the uniform, I no longer defined myself as a hockey player. I became a Soldier.
Q: Let’s get into Westpoint and your collegiate hockey career.
A: Yes, I was there from from 1991 to 1995. It was a great experience. A phenomenal character builder for sure because at the time the team was an independent. They weren’t in a division, which meant you could play anybody. So as a goalie, there were a lot of red lights going off behind me in those games, but that’s okay because that really helped humble me and develop as a person.
Q: What about the overall Academy experience?
A: I used to look back at it and used to laugh and joke about how I missed a real college experience, but I would disagree with that today. I would say that I got just a little bit different of an experience. The bonds you make with your fellow cadets are a little different than the bonds a traditional college kid would make with his classmates. It was outstanding. I got into a little trouble in high school – not a lot – but just enough that I needed a bit of an attitude adjustment, so WestPoint and the Army came right on time.
Q: What are some of the highlights of your career in Army aviation?
A: I was selected for aviation right out of college. I got the aircraft of my choice, which was Blackhawk and deployed to Korea for my first duty assignment after flight school. My first mission as a platoon leader was to look for North Korean soldiers that had infiltrated South Korea by way of a mini sub, so within months of becoming a lieutenant,
I was a part of a real-world mission. All my aviation experience has been incredible. From the 10th Mountain Division in Afghanistan to doing summer training with WestPoint cadets and being able to fly by the twin towers about a month before they came down – I've had some amazing experiences as an aviator.
Q: What got you into Army Space?
A: There was a time mid-career when I thought, maybe I want to try something new. I’d already been employing space in one way, shape, or form whether it was punching in coordinates into a GPS into a helicopter to ensure I put my infantry brothers down in the right (landing zone). In (Command and General Staff College) I started learning about this functional area during an elective. It was also a little bit more of a resume builder for life after the Army, so I was lucky enough to switch over. I kind of came in late in the game, but when you have good leadership, which I did, they were able to fill in the gaps and I learned at a rate I wouldn’t have otherwise been able to do. Great military leadership is why I am still in uniform today.
Q: What is your leadership philosophy?
A: Command Sgt. Maj. (Kelly) Hart and I want my Soldiers to be bold, to be ready, and to be right, because the overall end-state of my vision is that these warriors are the expertise driving all-domain operations. To get there, I want my Soldiers, from the lowest level, all the way up, to be bold. To have innovative, creative ideas, but be empowered by your leaders to assume a risk and have the courage to speak up and weigh in. Readiness – just be ready for that next stage. Readiness as an individual, as a team, and as a family. And by right, I mean, half the battle of being a good Soldier is being a good person and treating people with dignity and respect. Right now with what has been going on in our country, I think it’s the right time to hammer home and make it a priority.
Q: Aside from your family and the Army, what are your top three passions in life?
A: I love to run. I try to stay in the best shape I can. I love music – the Beastie Boys being on the top of that list, and my Boston sports teams. Go Pats.
Q: In closing, I always like to touch on family. You can’t do what you do without them, so what does that mean to you to have this family and have this support and how have they helped you through all these years?
A: My family is the most important thing in my life. My four girls I have at home – they're it. There’s no way I could do what I do here, or what I have done throughout the last 25 years of my career, without their support. My family has really matured me as a man and made me a better officer. The balance between my family and the Army has always been something I really struggle with, but I’m taking this position as the commander of the 1st Space Brigade as an opportunity to get it right and lead by example.