Sunday, September 21, 2008

Guest Blog Post - Bill Leighty

Day 1

As many of you know, at the invitation of the Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, I am attending the Joint Civilian Orientation Conference (JCOC 76) this week. This program is a week long immersion into military operations. The program takes between 40 and 50 civilian leaders from across the country and uses this time to help the civilian world better understand the military world. On this trip there are mayors, judges, corporate CEOs, senior VPs and non profit leaders from all over country. And then there is me.

We are traveling to the European Command, EUCOM, and will be seeing firsthand how the military operates around the world. I will be sending out daily "travelogs" at the end of each day. Our future schedule is confidential for security reasons.

Day 1 began at the Ritz Carlton Pentagon City where we "inprocessed" our paperwork, received a briefing and learned about protocol and our itinerary.

We then went to the Pentagon as "special guests" at a parade on the Ceremonial Lawn of the Pentagon. This multi service (Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine units marched) parade was commemorating our POWs/MIAs. It was a moving ceremony, punctuated with a flyover by both helicopter and fighter formations in a "missing man" formation; appropriate for this occasion. For those of you who don't know, the "missing man" formation leaves one aircraft out of the traditional four aircraft "wing" formation (between the second and fourth aircraft) to honor those who have died, been held prisoner or are still missing in action. This formation is not flown by the military lightly, it is a solemn event.

We were then personally greeted by Deputy Secretary of Defense, Gordon England. At 71 he made me a tad bit embarrassed to have retired at 55. His words, delivered with enthusiasm, energy and passion made me feel very good about the current leadership at the Department of Defense (DoD). 

We then had a tour of the Pentagon which included an excellent lunch. The building houses 24,000 employees and has 17.5 miles of corridors. As magnificent as the building is, the 911 Pentagon Memorial can't really be described in words; it needs to be experienced.

The design and construction of the Memorial reflects a level of thoughtfulness and consideration that is extraordinary. There is a bench for each of the 184 victims from the Pentagon and from Flight 77. The first bench is for the youngest victim, a three year old baby on Flight 77. From there the benches, each with the name of a victim, array outward to the north, spaced according to the victims age. The benches commemorating victims from flight 77 point toward the Pentagon at the exact angle of incidence of the plane's impact. The Pentagon victim benches point away from the building. Each of us chose our own way of marking the visit to the memorial; the commonality among us was the silence.

We then boarded buses for Andrews Air Force Base. We have now learned to "count off" to speed up assessment of who is on board the bus before moving out. I never dreamed I would be doing that again!

We had dinner at the Andrews Air Force Base Country Club. Nice. But nicer still was the chance to sit with general officers of our country's military leadership and just chat.

At dinner. I found myself seated next to an Admiral in the Coast Guard. This old staff sargeant (me) was so stunned by the thought of sitting next to so much brass that I failed to get her name, but she spoke to an oil company executive at our table about petroluem production and distribution in a level of detail that displayed quite an expertise. Then she switched to talking to a judge about the differences in judicial and administrative systems in Florida and Texas. Next she conversed with a county commissioner from one of the fastest growing counties in the US about pandemic flu preparations for citizens and how to handle local responses. I was impressed.

At the time I am writing this I am 33,000 feet above the Atlantic Ocean. We are moving at 620 miles per hour with a 105 MPH tail wind (yes that is a hurricane force wind) and it is minus 56 degrees outside. I know these numbers because I just spent the last half hour with the pilot and co pilot on the flight deck.  

They have told us where we will be are landing after our 11 hour and 40 minute flight. But I can't tell you until tomorrow. 

Cheers, Bill

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