Saturday, April 26, 2008

Guest Blog Post - Karen Johnson

This has been an amazing trip. As a resident of Northern Virginia, I am aware of the military, but not fully familiar with its intricacies -- as a matter of fact, I had not toured the Pentagon until this trip, although I live near it, have run through its parking lot during several Marine Corps marathons and have had several friends who have worked there!

In short, I am stunned by the diverse role our military plays in the southern hemisphere. I am also extremely proud of the stability and support we are bringing to the countries we work with.

For instance, in Colombia we learned that a U.S. Army Ranger working with our Embassy raises money and collects clothes for an orphanage in a town several hours outside of Bogota -- this is in addition to the organized efforts of the military to assist those in need in-country.

We saw that unique American spirit at every stop -- men and women proud to be representing our nation thousands of miles away from their family and friends.

Nowhere was the American justice and humanity more evident than at GTMO. Isolated from the U.S. and prohibited from going into Cuba, at GTMO we met a dedicated and close knit group of soliders who are resposible for the care and detainment of suspected terrorists. At GTMO we were able to see the detainees and tour both the minimum and maximum security facilities where they are kept. Having personally viewed these facilities and met the people who guard and care for these detainees, I can say that they are extremely well cared for and that their living conditions are clean and comfortable. The men and women who guard these detainees have extremely stressful and high risk jobs. For instance, the maximum security facility is constantly being modified to protect guards from feces and other substances that the detainees "collect" and either throw on the guards or drop from one level of the facility to another. Guards names are not on their uniforms for fear that detainees will utilize their sources and do harm to the guards and/or their families.

There are so many aspects of this trip that I could highlight, as each stop was a fascinating experience.

I was one of the lucky few who was allowed to spend the night on the USS George Washington. After an exciting and exhausting day of touring the ship and watching a series on night takeoffs and landings, we finally made it to our berthing. I took the top bunk, and the gentle rock of the ship along with the soothing hum of the engines put me right to sleep! The men who traveled with us weren't so lucky. Their accomodations were a little more "luxurious" but they were beneath the flight deck. So while the women had purring engines, the men had a night full of chains being dropped and equipment moving overhead!

As I told my father in an e-mail the next day -- it was perhaps the best sleep I had had in a long time.

During our trip we flew on a C17 and a C130. I had always heard horror stories about military aircraft. Not true!!! I much prefer flying with the U.S. military over commercial any day! The crew was oustanding. Their dedication to safety beyond compare! Plus, on a military aircraft, you get to wander around and chat with friends, sleep on a cot, or even the floor! One of my seatmates would depart shortly after takeoff and find his bed -- which he created on the floor of the loading area!

I am especially pleased that we were able to visit SOUTHCOM -- the area of Central and South America so vital to the U.S. politically, economically and militarily. It was great to see America's leadership and partnerships at work.

General VanSickle and his staff are to be commended for their outstanding work on behalf of our nation. I am indeed lucky to have had these experiences and make new friendships.

Karen Johnson, JCOC 75
Senior Vice President, Valente & Associates
Alexandria, Virginia

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