Robert Andrew “Gus” Kaminski, US Navy SEAL, and Commander of the US NAVY Leapfrogs.
I knew Gus and many of you saw him in action – an anonymous actor who jumped into a stadium or super-speedway to launch a great event. I was very sorry to hear that he passed away.
Gus was Alpha-500, my battle-buddy at Airborne school. We met in September, 1995, right before I moved to Korea. I was Alpha-501, the second senior student by date of rank. Gus had graduated from the Naval Academy the year before and had just finished his SEAL training. He needed to complete the Army’s basic airborne course before assignment to his first operational team.
Gus was a character – and he knew it. He had a highly developed sense of humor and perfect timing. Gus was also a physical specimen. He could do fifty consecutive one-armed pull-ups. This brought a lot of pain for me. Gus would mouth off to the Blackhats (Airborne Instructors) regularly so the rest of us spent a lot of time in the front-leaning-rest to pay for his sins. I remember vividly that my face hurt from laughing more than my arms did.
He led the way, but wasn’t the only one who would rib our instructors. Anytime Gus would take a break, Second Lieutenant Pendergast, from the Oregon National Guard, Alpha-503, and a recent Ranger school graduate, would shout, “I’d rather be a Leg-Ranger than a Tabless Airborne!” This insulted our Blackhats who would tear into a rage every time Pendergast said it.
We were bruised, tired, and happy in the 100 degree heat – Hurricane Opel had just trashed Fort Benning and we were covered in Georgia sand, pine needles, tics, sweat, dust, and god knows what else. Gus wasn’t even winded when he started yelling – “You can’t smoke a rock”. That got ‘em fired up again – I was between the two of them trying to get air between laughing and doing pushups. Now it’s my turn so the Blackhats are yelling at me (for laughing). Apparently I wasn’t taking my Airborne training seriously, that’s when Gus changed his tune again to “You can’t smoke a quitter.”
I was living through a moment I knew I would remember forever. Unbelievably I followed him out the door on his first jump. Kaminski is still the toughest guy I’ve ever known and one of the happiest. Although we never spoke again I enjoyed knowing him – and I’m confident there’s an entire country that will miss Gus. You can learn more here.