U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Paul Bisulca Jr., who earned his undergraduate degree in business administration and marketing from the University of Maine in 1996, worked a few months at an advertising agency near Boston, then did an about-face and joined the Marines. He has since risen almost as high as one can as a member of an elite Marine Corps detail, the Marine Corps Helicopter Squadron One (HMX-1), charged with providing military support for White House functions, including presidential transportation, emergency medical services and hospitality services as a member of the White House Military Office.
For the past year and a half, Bisulca, a helicopter pilot with two combat tours in Iraq, has been a member of a select team of Marine aviators to fly President Barack Obama in Marine One, the VH-3D “Sea King” helicopter on and off White House grounds to airports, Camp David and other places in the Washington, D.C. area.
Bisulca, now 39, grew up on U.S. Army bases around the world with his mother and father, Paul Bisulca Sr., a West Point graduate and career Army officer who grew up on Indian Island in Old Town, Maine. Bisulca Sr., a member of the Penobscot Nation, retired to Maine in the early 1990s and has represented the Penobscot Nation in diplomacy and advocacy as the Penobscot Nation Tribal Representative in the Maine House in the 117th and 118th Legislature. Since 2010, he has chaired the Maine Indian Tribal Council.
Bisulca Jr. recently was honored by the United South and Eastern Tribes (USET) for his achievements as a Native American in the Marine Corps.
Describe your career path since 1996
I was commissioned a second lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps in December 2000, and designated a naval aviator in March 2003. After completing CH-46E flight training in August 2003 at Marine Medium Helicopter Training Squadron 164 at Camp Pendleton, Calif., I was transferred to Marine Medium Helicopter (HMM) Squadron 161 in Miramar, Calif. I was promoted to first lieutenant, attached to HMM-161from 2003 to August 2006. I participated in two combat tours in Iraq, conducting various assault support missions that included casualty evacuation, raids and search and rescue. When not flying, my ground jobs included safety officer, logistics and communications officer.
I transferred in 2006 to the 1st Battalion, 7th Marines in Twentynine Palms, Calif., where I performed duties as the air officer conducting aviation fire support to the infantry Marines and assistant to the operations officer.
In 2007, I transferred to the Fleet Readiness Center East in North Carolina, where I performed the duties of flight functional test pilot and production officer for the CH-46E rework facility. I flight-tested nearly 100 CH-46E aircraft, along with numerous check flights in the CH-53E, UN-1N and the AH-1W aircraft. During this time, I also completed various levels of defense acquisition training, and the Marine Corps command and staff course, and was promoted to the rank of major.
In August 2010, I reported to Marine Helicopter Squadron One (HMX-1), where I currently am assigned for presidential support flight duties. My flight designations have expanded to the VH-3D and the VH-60N. My ground duty includes being the operational test and evaluation director for the CH-46E.
What is it like to pilot the President in Marine One? What was the first flight like when he was aboard?
In order to be part of a team that flies the president, there is a great deal of education and flight training associated with the mission. By the time you are sitting alongside another pilot and flying into the White House south lawn, you have been preparing for this job for nearly a year. Correction, you whole career. This is a job that involves being hand-selected based on your reputation and skill set in the fleet.
On your first lift, you are so focused on making sure everything goes correctly — radio calls, talking the other pilot onto the pucks, which are the boards on the lawn — you never have time to think about what you are actually doing: flying the president. It is not until follow-on lifts that you have the situational awareness to stop, look around and absorb everything.
Every time the president climbs aboard Marine One, he takes the time to step up front and shake hands with both pilots and does this once more upon departure. He thanks us for the ride and is truly grateful for our service.
Would you describe the aircraft briefly, and its amenities?
VH-3D and VH-60N are single-rotor, twin-turbine, air-conditioned executive transport Sikorsky aircraft. Not too much more I can say about these aircraft with regard to capabilities. However, we are capable of handling whatever threat is presented.
What sort of security clearances do you need to qualify for such a job?
You need to have a minimum of a top-secret clearance to fly or work on the aircraft.
What are your other responsibilities as a member of this elite squadron?
Along with flying, everyone here has a ground job. Currently, I am leaving my position as the operational test and evaluation (OT&E) director for our CH-46E aircraft, which we use to transport press, security and gear, etc. I am now starting a new job as a White House Liaison Officer (WHLO), who are the individuals who travel to trip locations worldwide prior to the detachment and make all the coordinations for lodging, car rentals, hangar space, allocation of air space and landing zones.
What are some of the rewards of this duty?
Very few people have this opportunity to fly in locations that we do and in support of the president. One week you are spending a few days at Camp David and shortly after you are in Cannes, France for a G20 summit.
What is the single most difficult challenge?
Answering questions, due to the sensitivity of our mission — the administrative movement of the president and vice president.
Have you ever had an “oh-oh” moment in the execution of your White House responsibilities?
There are always moments; however, most are within the aircraft and are transparent to controlling agencies or VIPs. I never have heard of anything affecting the safe and timely transportation of the VIPs, and if any issues were to rise, we already have a plan for it.
What are your plans for the future?
Planning for the future is difficult, no matter what service you are in or detail you stand. The needs of the service come first, then the service member’s wishes. Once I leave HMX-1, I will be entering my 15th year in service and will be most likely too senior to transition to another airframe. There are many nonflying jobs available and we will just have to see what cards are dealt at that time. Over my time in the Marine Corps, I have had the privilege of flying all rotary wing aircraft in our inventory, plus the two airframes here (VH-3D and VH-60N helicopters). I have been fortunate.
What degree(s) do you have from UMaine?
Business administration and marketing. I started working on a master’s in aeronautical science via online courses, but never finished due to limited available time. Last month, I was away from home for about 17 days. With a wife and three kids, that does not leave much spare time. I hope to pick courses back up in two years, once this job comes to an end.
Why did you choose UMaine?
I have traveled all over the world, but being Penobscot Indian, Maine has always been my home. UMaine was one of two schools I applied to while a senior at Seventy First High School, Fayetteville, N.C. I was accepted to both: mechanical engineering at North Carolina State University and business administration at Orono. The decision became final once I received a scholarship that could not be turned down. Why the difference in degrees, I don’t recall. It may have been an error on my part when applying to UMaine, but once accepted I just never changed it. I am sure I had planned to, but once I started taking classes, the versatility of a business degree became more interesting.
Do you have any favorite professors or classes, and what lessons did you take from the professor or class that resonate today?
I did have a favorite, Debbie Skinner, who taught marketing. She took the time to get to know her students and if you had a bad day, she knew it and took that extra time after class to talk with you. She did everything she could to ensure you succeeded. Also, during the last year in school, I realized the smaller the class, the more I enjoyed it. Yes, the larger classes made it easy to skip if you went hard at Margarita’s the night prior. (Which by the way, I worked at, and to this day, am sure I can still make all their margaritas.) But the smaller classes gave you a chance to get to know your classmates and develop academic teamwork skills.
Where do you look now for inspiration or leadership?
I have had the privilege of working with some of the best leaders in the world. Some got promoted to general and others to corporal. I get my inspiration from the success of the pilots next to me and the Marine who turns the wrenches and keeps those aircraft flying. I have and continue to take a little something from everyone, whether it is great leadership traits, or poor. To be honest, I have learned a lot from poor leaders.
Were there any classes you took that almost did you in?
No class ever almost did me in, but I had almost done myself in on a few accounts. During the first year, I thought that going to college meant I made it — I made the team, if you would. I did not fully realize that just getting there was not enough; you have to work hard to stay there.
Most memorable moment at UMaine?
Bumstock. It was a good time.
Favorite places or spots on campus?
I was very involved with the Mountain Bike Club and the Maine Outing Club. We spent a lot of time up at the cabin near Sugarloaf.
Advice to current UMaine students?
It does not matter what your degree is; what matters is who you are and what you want to discover during your life. Most important, be you and always strive to be a leader. Learn from others and take chances. Some chances may lead you to make mistakes, but you will learn from those mistakes and grow as an individual. Understand that leadership and management go hand in hand, but are vastly different. People work with leaders because they want to.
Also, you never know what you will end up doing for a career. Look at me. I got a degree in marketing and upon graduation, whole-heartedly believed that was what I wanted to do in life. Outside of a small detour working as a Maine whitewater guide with Northern Outdoors up at the Forks, I left school and got a job working for a small advertising place down near Boston. A few months later, I walked away. I was wearing the wrong suit! It was a flight suit, not a business suit, I was searching for. No regrets.
Image Description: Paul Bisulca Jr.