Former Apache pilot now plans strikes on NFL opponents

Phil Briggs
October 19, 2018 - 4:51 pm

Washington Redskins

The life of an NFL coach comes with a lot of anxiety.

Hearing the quarterback shout the snap count, the players pounding footsteps as they sprint into action, the crack of the pads as they collide in a fight for extra yardage and the success or failure of the play called. Add the fact that any play could result in life-altering injuries, and it’s enough to give a coach heartburn before the game even starts.

But for Washington Redskins Special Teams Coordinator, Ben Kotwica, the stress of any given Sunday pales in comparison to his previous job- US Army, Apache helicopter pilot. Kotwica has served in Bosnia, Korea and in 2004 he deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom II, serving as a Combat Attack Helicopter Commander and flew combat missions over hostile battlefields.  


We recently had a chance to talk with Coach Kotwica about everything from Combat Ops, Army-Navy football rivalry and recent rule changes in the NFL.

What was it like providing close air support for the troops on the ground?

“In that helicopter, in Iraq, it was a little more up close and personal … when it becomes a 2-way range it becomes a different story.  The dynamics over there were up and down.  When we relieved the 1st Armored Division the tempo was down a little bit, it was a stability operation and there were lulls … things were going okay. Then after the first month, we were there, we lost an aircraft.  And that’s when hostilities really started to pick up.  It was a rollercoaster ride.”

Is coaching different than leading troops?

“Y’know you’re still mentoring people.  When I was company commander I was dealing with everything from 19-year-old Privates to 35-40-year-old Warrant Officers that had been in the Army longer than some of them had been alive.  But whether it’s the Army or the NFL you’re dealing with people who are highly competent at their craft.   But like the Army, here it’s cool to work with such high-level athletes who are also really good young men, who want to accomplish a mission.”


Do you think the NFL has gone too far with respect to the quarterback and the roughing the passer rule?

“One thing I’ll share with you is that these men are so big and so fast .. in order to have an appreciation for it you really have to be in the arena and on the field.  In this day of HDTV and multiple replays it’s easy to make that critique, but having been there for 12 years I can tell you it’s not an easy job … y’know they’re just trying to make the game exciting but keep it safe.  One of those is keeping that player who holds the ball on every play safe … because the game is more exciting when you have guys like Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady in the game.”  

Most importantly, will Navy stop the 2-year losing streak and beat Army this year?

“Well, it’s like the Zen master said, ‘We’ll see’.  It’s just a tremendous rivalry and a really special football game that I was lucky enough to be a part of for a handful of years.”

To hear our entire conversation with Coach Kotwica check out the latest episode of VetStory.