'Combat Missions' star Scott Helvenston among 4 dead in ambush in Fallujah, Iraq
By Wade Paulsen, 04/02/2004
Scott Helvenston, 38, a former U.S. Navy SEAL who was one of the principal stars of the USA Television reality series Combat Missions, has been identified as one of the four Americans who were killed and then abused after death in an ambush by Iraqi terrorists in Fallujah, Iraq on March 31.
Helvenston, who bounced around northern Florida with his mother and younger brother after the death of his father in a car crash when he was 7, enlisted in the Navy at age 17and then became the youngest-ever graduate of SEAL training. He spent the next 12 years as a SEAL, including 4 years as a SEAL instructor in free fall. After leaving the SEALs in 1994, Scott found work as Demi Moore's training instructor for the 1997 movie G.I. Jane, in which Demi becomes a Navy SEAL -- and he was also cast as a SEAL instructor and stuntman in the film, his only film role.
The movie gave Scott a taste of the Hollywood life, and his next few years were spent in the peripheries of the movie business. He was a consultant for the Nicholas Cage-John Travolta film Face/Off. He made an exercise video entitled Navy Seal - Total Body Workout (which is still available). He subsequently made two more exercise videos, Ultimate Aerobic Workout and Ab Blast (the three-video set is available here).
But Scott remained on the fringes of show biz until he and his wife Tricia led a team in the 2000 Raid Gauloises -- an adventure race held in Kathmandu, Nepal that was scouted by the producer of USA Television's Eco-Challenge adventure race, Mark Burnett. Scott had originally met Mark Burnett at the 1993 Raid Gauloises (which came one year after Burnett first set up his company EcoChallenge Lifestyles, Inc. to promote the sport ... but two years before the first EcoChallenge).
Although the Helvenston's "Team Intergize.com" only finished 31st out of the 39 teams that completed the race (another 30 teams failed to complete it), Burnett remembered his fellow ex-commando. When Burnett became a superstar producer with the success of Survivor later that year and was contemplating making a series involving competing commando teams, which ultimately became Combat Missions, Scott was one of his first selections.
According to the Orlando Sentinel, Scott's exercise videos were a huge financial failure that drained his savings. Scott and Tricia divorced, although both remained in Oceanside, CA and Scott had daily contact with their children Kyle, 14, and Kelsey, 12.
The Orlando Sentinel quoted Tricia thusly: "I want everyone to know he died a hero, and what he was doing was very heroic and courageous. He was a wonderful father and a wonderful person. He will be missed by many." His younger brother Jason, 32, who was only 1 when their father died, said about Scott, "He was a hero all his life. He was my hero all my life. And he was probably the best father I have ever known."
In Iraq, Scott was slated to make $60,000 for three months' work for North Carolina-based Blackwater Security Consulting, a subcontractor providing security for the delivery of food in the Fallujah area. Scott's friend William Nissen, an ex-U.S. Army Ranger who was also on Delta Squad in Combat Missions, said that Scott was "basically a fearless type. But I wouldn't say reckless. He knew what he was getting himself into." And Scott's friend and fellow ex-SEAL Mark Divine said that Scott saw this as both a financial boost and a chance to see the combat that he never saw while in the U.S. Navy. "His feeling was, 'If your time is up, there's going to be a bullet out there with your name on it.' "
The Fallujah attack apparently happened during Scott's first month in Iraq. As has been widely reported, including by the Associated Press, a three-car convoy carrying food to Fallujah was ambushed by Islamic terrorists. In the ensuing battle, one of the cars was set ablaze, while the other two escaped. The four Americans in the burning car, including Scott, were the security detail. After their death, their charred bodies were attacked and mutilated by a crazed Iraqi mob, which drug them through the streets and hung them from a bridge.
Speaking to the Associated Press, Mark Burnett (who is now a superstar producer with The Restaurant and The Apprentice to his credit in addition to Survivor and Eco-Challenge) said, "It's not only horrible when someone dies whom you know and respect, but in the way it happened, it makes you sick." Burnett also said that it didn't surprise him that Scott had gone to Iraq to help in the U.S. reconstruction effort: "That's what, in a time of need, true American warriors like Scott would do."
If we may allow ourselves a moment of embarassment, we were very critical of Scott during Combat Missions. Our summary of his last episode even refers to him as "a total embarrassment to his team, his nation, and the Navy SEALs." In fact, the manner in which Scott Helvenston died -- sacrificing his life while the people that he was guarding escaped -- proves that we completely misread Scott's true character. All we can do now is offer our condolences to his family ... and our solidarity with the ongoing effort to root out terrorism in Iraq.