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Watertown native’s career goes ‘Full Throttle’


Eric B. Soluri’s life took off once he joined the Air Force. But lately, it’s gone “Full Throttle.”

The Watertown native was recently promoted to chief master sergeant, a rank only 1 percent of enlisted Air Force personnel holds. But away from that profession, Chief Master Sgt. Soluri can be seen on national television as a regular and chief of security on truTV’s “Full Throttle Saloon.”

How he got the television gig demonstrates his drive and eagerness to succeed, with a plan to eventually return to Watertown to become mayor.

The 1991 Watertown High School graduate, operations superintendent of the 28th Security Forces Squadron at Ellsworth (S.D.) Air Force Base, said he joined the Air Force because his best friend from childhood, Kenneth G. Shean II, decided to join and they hoped to serve together. Chief Master Sgt. Soluri said he also wanted to impress his girlfriend at the time.

“That was how I made my life decision,” Mr. Soluri said in a phone interview from Ellsworth. “It was pretty odd.”

Mr. Soluri, son of Ora L. and Juanita M. Soluri, Watertown, has served in several posts, including security forces flight chief, non-commissioned officer in charge of security forces training, chief, investigations section, enlisted accessions recruiter, recruiting school instructor and instructor supervisor and superintendent. He has been deployed in support of Operation Southern Watch, Eskan Village, Saudi Arabia, and Operation Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, Ali Al Salam, Kuwait.

He has always been a fan of the truTV’s “Full Throttle Saloon,” which is in its fourth season. The rowdy, reality television show documents the happenings at the world’s largest biker bar. It’s open for just 10 days a year in August during the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, one of the largest bike rallies in the U.S. The saloon hosts biker-friendly acts such as dancing girls, burlesque shows and music acts.

“I always watched the show and saw how inept their security was and how they had issues with the individuals they had running their security,” Mr. Soluri said.

Two years ago, he and an associate drove to the saloon in Sturgis, S.D., and asked for a meeting with owner Michael Ballard.

“He came out and I gave him my sales pitch,” Mr. Soluri said. The talk focused on the show’s security issues.

“I told him I’m the guy who is going to rectify all of that and provide as much security as he wanted free of charge,” he said.

All Mr. Soluri asked for in return, he said, was a donation to the 28th Security Forces Defenders Association, a private nonprofit group based at Ellsworth consisting of Air Force law enforcement personnel. Mr. Soluri is its senior adviser. He proposed members of the Defenders would donate off-duty time to provide security at the bar.

Mr. Ballard agreed to the arrangement and Mr. Soluri provided 30 volunteers from the Defenders in 2011. He expected Mr. Ballard to write a check for around $6,000.

“He wrote us a check for $27,000,” Mr. Soluri said. “I thought that was pretty neat.”

For the show’s current season, there were 100 volunteers from the Defenders. Mr. Ballard donated $61,000 to the group.

“This year, we’ve been able to do some phenomenal things to help out so many different families on base,” Mr. Soluri said. He noted those services include a scholarship program for Air Force spouses and a drug education program for high schoolers.

Last fall, Mr. Soluri’s 17-year-old son, Logan, was diagnosed with cancer and the organization provided assistance for that battle. Mr. Soluri also has a daughter, Kaylee, age 16.

more time on camera

Besides security, the Defenders Association is in charge of other show aspects ranging from setting up and tearing down stages to VIP “meet and greets” and T-shirt sales at Full Throttle Saloon.

During his first season on the show last year, Mr. Soluri was on camera a couple of times. This year, his camera time has increased greatly.

“They miked me up, gave me my own camera crew, which was the oddest thing ever, and said, ‘Go out and do your job and pay no attention to the camera crew following you every second of the day,’” he said.

He said those cameras are noticed only during the slower times.

“All of your focus is on taking care of the crowd, taking care of the patrons and making sure you do a good job,” Mr. Soluri said. “You are focused on making sure everyone is safe and secure and they’re having the time of their life.”

He said the task is “second nature” to his crew, which also works at larger events such as air shows with 200,000 patrons. He said he sets high standards for his crew.

“You have to be able to manage a crowd of 50,000 people plus manage your volunteers to make sure they are hydrated and getting breaks,” he said.

Many of the issues his team deals with at Full Throttle Saloon are alcohol-related. But the focus is always on safety.

“The heat in South Dakota is quite unbearable at times,” Mr. Soluri said. “There are times when it’s 100 degrees, and if you have somebody who is drinking who is not rotating water with alcohol, that will eventually catch up to him.”

At times, Mr. Soluri is called upon to do odd jobs.

“I can’t tell you how many motorcycles I tried to fix in the parking lot,” he said.

He provided personal security for singer Tanya Tucker last year. He joined a motorcycle ride with her through the Black Hills organized by Angie Carlson, lead dancer and marketing director at Full Throttle. Ms. Tucker drove a Harley-Davidson Softail Deluxe. It’s the same model of motorcycle Mr. Soluri drives. His 2012 model was a gift from his wife to replace his 2003 Harley Sportster.

A notable moment on this year’s show came when Mr. Soluri got into a verbal altercation and “almost physical altercation” with Sebastian Bach, the former lead singer of the band Skid Row, who now has a solo career.

“I grew up listening to him,” Mr. Soluri said. “To have him 6 inches from my face yelling at me was quite a shocker. That was quite interesting to deal with.”

managing the fun

The task of the security team is allowing people to have fun while respecting the rights of others.

“It’s much like a large police force trying to corral a mob of people who are just trying to have the best time and have a full Sturgis experience,” Mr. Soluri said. “Sturgis is like Las Vegas for adults. I equate Las Vegas with being in that 21 to 30 age range. Sturgis is that 30 to 60 range. They’ve been coming for 10 to 12 years. And they come to the Full Throttle every time because they know they are going to get treated well, know it’s a high quality place with high quality bands.”

He added that an attraction of the show is that it documents real happenings.

“Getting to watch through the TV is probably the next best thing to actually being here,” he said. “They feel like they’re part of the family even though they are sitting in their living room.”

The 73rd annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally is Aug. 5 through 11. Mr. Soluri said he will continue to run security operations and will be on the show again.

Political plans

Mr. Soluri has been in the Air Force for 21 years. He said he’ll probably put in 30 years.

“Ideally, I’d like to get my Juris Doctorate in law and then come back to Watertown to become mayor,” he said.

Noting that he’s lived at seven Air Forces bases in the U.S. and about five locations overseas, he said, “You get to see how different cities are run, how they have grown throughout the time you’ve been there. So I think I’ve got some great ideas I can bring back to Watertown.”

He still keeps in touch with his former girlfriend in Watertown whom he wanted to impress by joining the Air Force. But he married a Boston native. Elaina is a senior master sergeant in the Air Force, which is one rank below chief master sergeant.

He also keeps in close touch with his boyhood friend Kenneth Shean II. Mr. Shean retired two months ago, Mr. Soluri said, as a master sergeant security forces flight chief, at Offutt Air Force Base, Neb.

“We were never based together in our entire career,” Mr. Soluri said.

The details
WHAT: “Full Throttle Saloon”
WHEN/WHERE: New episodes air at 9 p.m. Wednesdays on truTV.
SHOW DESCRIPTION: “The world’s largest biker bar is open for only 10 days a year in August. This year, owner Mike Ballard has to turn a profit during the 72nd annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.”
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