Admiration expressed for Rutland navy officer

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(Host) With war underway against Iraq, one Vermonter is playing a very key role in the U.S. battle plan. Rear Admiral Barry Costello is a Rutland native who now commands nine ships in the Persian Gulf.

VPR’s John Dillon talked to Admiral Costello’s friends and family, and prepared this profile:

(Dillon) Fifty-two year old Barry Costello is responsible for 7,000 people and nine war ships. His command post is the aircraft carrier Constellation, one of three carriers in the Middeast region.

Costello grew up in landlocked Rutland, the youngest of four brothers in a close knit Irish-American family. He’s now the lead Navy spokesman on the early phase of the Iraq war.

(Sound of a school hallway, PA system announcements) “Everybody, please do not forget the March madness basketball game tonight….”

(Dillon) The admiral’s older brother, Brian Costello, teaches English at Rutland High School. He found a quiet corner of the school library to talk about his brother’s career.

The Costellos’ father was a lawyer. Three of the four boys – including Barry – also went to law school. But Brian Costello says the sea and the Navy pulled his brother away from a life in the legal profession.

(Brian Costello) “He said, ‘You know, I went to law school and passed the bar exam and it was kind of expected I would go into business with either my big brother or my father. And I had this calling, I wanted to drive ships.’ So off he went.”

(Dillon) Barry Costello went to Holy Cross College as a Navy ROTC student. He’s commanded ships and worked desk jobs for the military, including a stint on Capitol Hill for the Senate Armed Services Committee. Eighteen months ago, he was at work at the Pentagon.

(Brian Costello) “When 9-11 happened, he was at the Pentagon, the Pentagon got hit. So we were all frantically trying to get in touch with him, cell phone or whatever. It was a while before he was able to communicate out. So that was kind of scary.”

(Dillon) As a commander of a Naval battle group in the Persian Gulf, Admiral Costello obviously is once again in harm’s way. His family worries, especially about the unpredictability of Saddam Hussein.

(Brian Costello) “This person is not what you’d call stable, or totally sane, I don’t think. So you worry about what he’s got up his sleeve. Is there a USS Cole in his future?”

(Dillon) Tom Costello, a lawyer in Brattleboro, says his brother probably doesn’t have much time now to reflect on the danger.

(Tom Costello) “Barry’s view of it is to create an environment where they can accomplish the mission. Very steady guy, very capable person. And he’s just the right guy to create that environment. He recognizes it, and he recognizes his role.”

(Dillon) Tom Costello also served in the military as a combat marine in Vietnam. An uncle, General Leonard Wing, was a decorated World War II hero. Tom Costello says that for his younger brother Barry, being an admiral is the job he’s always dreamed of.

(Tom Costello) “He’s a very, very efficient guy, and a very humble man. You see him walking down to his ship, it’s just like he’s walking down the first fairway at the Rutland Country Club, just as relaxed. And the burdens that he carries, you’d never, you’d never see them. That’s what makes him what he is. We’re really lucky to have him there.”

(Dillon) Old friends from Vermont now see Admiral Costello on the network news as he briefs reporters about his fleet’s role in the war. Chittenden County Senator Jim Leddy remembers Barry Costello as a youngster in summer camp 40 years ago. The Leddy and Costello families were very close.

Leddy says that when he saw his old friend on the news, the Iraq conflict suddenly became more personal. Leddy says he can only imagine the awesome responsibility that Costello must now bear.

(Leddy) “I worry about him because of the magnitude of responsibility. A leader of soldiers, a leader of military folks is not just a leader of strategy. He’s a leader of people who are putting their lives at risk. And from that standpoint I worry for all of them. But for those that make the decisions carry can extra special burden.”

(Dillon) Before the war began, Barry Costello conducted an e-mail interview with the Rutland Herald newspaper. He said the men and women under his command are extremely well-trained and, like himself, feel honored to be doing their job.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon, in Rutland.

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