We get settled in the nicest Holiday Inn most of us have experienced in Stuttgart.
We ended going out trying to find a place to dance last night. We started at an Irish Pub. We took about four taxis there so there were so many of us the bar regulars were crammed together standing almost out the door. Tonight the pilots are with us again but they are not drinking because in 24 hours they will be flying us home. I respect how conscientious they are about following the rules. One buys me a Sprite to drink.
When the rain eases up we migrate a few blocks to another bar and then migrate to yet another bar to find some dancing music. Our group shrinks and just the diehard dancers (mostly the younger staff and me) are left. We get in a little dancing and then taxi back to the hotel.
This time it is 6:30 AM when Ryan calls me. I’m already awake. We head to a special conference room where we have vast breakfast choices. I try not to eat too much. Then we depart on busses to SOCEUR (Special Operations Command Europe) on a military base in Germany that once was the vast operations center for Hitler. Blue Team is hustled off to another firing range. This time we are standing or sitting behind more big guns and a pistol but not wearing all the body armor and helmets. I feel more in control because I can at least sight on the targets without a helmet falling over my eyes. I am again surprised by the kick that I feel even from shooting a pistol!
After we shoot we are taken to a high platform overlooking an urban setting used by the Green Berets to practice Military Operations on Urbanized Terrain. We watch from above as military masquerading as repairmen drive their van to a particular spot and lift a manhole cover as if they are working on a utility under the road. A sign is given and they “kill” the guard across from the van. Another small team of soldiers comes over a wall and breaks into a home quietly and goes inside searching for their target. We hear shots inside and the team emerges, apparently accomplishing their mission.
Afterwards the Army Green Berets participating in the exercise introduce themselves to us and we are offered the opportunity to individually talk with them and ask questions. I choose a handsome young man who is from Pensacola, FL who says he is 27, slightly older than most of the other enlisted men we have met other days because he has had more special training to become a Green Beret and has made a longer commitment. He is married to a German woman and they live in military accommodations. He has been deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan and other dangerous places during his tour of duty. He tells me his father and grandfather was each in the military before him. When he graduated from high school he felt like he didn’t have much direction so he joined the Army and became a Green Beret! I asked him why he chose such dangerous work and he says, “Somebody has to do this and everyone is going to die some time.” Then he turns his back on the rest of the group so they cannot see his face and says, “I’m going to tell you a secret. My mother has cancer. She and I are just closer to knowing about death than most people.” I am startled by this statement and immediately tears come to my eyes and start to fall down my cheeks. He turns around abruptly and walks away from me a few steps, I imagine so I cannot see his own emotions, then he turns around again and shakes my hand and says, “Thanks for coming. I’m pleased to meet you,” and he walks away again. This was one of my most poignant memories of the trip.
We have a German lunch catered for us at a place on the base called Garden of Eden and then depart for an operations brief at EUCOM, the headquarters for the European Command. As you have noticed, everything has an abbreviated name. Our hosts do their best to remember to translate the abbreviations so we civilians will understand what they are talking about. They take us to a large, windowless building and we are instructed to leave all electronic devices, cameras and cell phones on the bus. We are ushered into a room with tiered seating and surrounded by electronic bill boards and computer screens that we have been told have been “sanitized” for our visit. We are in a real command center where decisions about the world are made by the top military leadership in Germany and we are briefed by General Brilakis.
We return to the Holiday Inn with some promised time to shop but by the time we arrive, there is no time to shop and we go up to our rooms and I rested for a few minutes before it is time to meet downstairs to go to Schoss Weitenburg, a beautiful German castle where we are to have our last dinner. We are introduced to the proud Baron who is our host and the castle resident. We have a beautiful view of the countryside from the huge windows of the room where we are to dine. I am honored to be chosen to sit at the table of the most important General. Protocol dictates that he is served first and takes the first bite before the rest of us.
Each team chooses someone to speak for their group. We all laugh when Jon from the white team introduces himself as the “commie pinko liberal” of the group. I guess I am the other one. Each speaker thanks our hosts, team leaders and staff and we each agree that the week has been enlightening, fascinating and educational. We are each leaving with a new appreciation and respect for the US military.
On the last day they let us sleep in until 7:30 and we have brunch in the hotel and have a panel discussion with military who have recently returned from Afghanistan and Iraq. This was a fascinating discussion and we asked many questions until it was time to load us on another bus and board the C-17 for the trip home. We were issued one more pair of earplugs as we boarded. Eight hours later we arrived back at Andrews AFB.
Sometime enroute, I discover that I have lost my little fanny pack that I have been using as a purse and I think I have left it in the hotel bathroom. I have no money, camera, Treo (cell phone), driver’s license or credit cards. Fortunately, Commander Perry has my passport so at least I have ID. I spend time up with the pilots watching them fly and we are able to call the hotel to see if they have found my little red pack. They have difficulty understanding our English on the phone and tell us to call back in an hour. When we call back they still have no information.
I had planned to spend the night in a hotel since my flight out was not until the next day but since I have no credit card or money, Commander Ryan Perry offers to take me home and let me spend the night with his family and he will bring me to the airport in the morning. This was way above the call of duty but I agree and I am privileged to meet the entire Perry family. Ryan’s wife, MJ, is also in the Navy and a higher rank than Ryan. She works in Human Resources at the Pentagon. I meet their two sons Blake (15) and Raden (7) and daughter Malia (2) as well as Mother, Janet and Ryan’s sister, Alison. It takes quite a team to keep a military family going when both parents are officers who might be deployed. I had a wonderful evening with the family. We went out to dinner and watched one of the debates together and Raden gave up his bed for me. Ryan made repeated calls to Germany to check on my purse. At one point they said it was found but when we called again, it was a red jacket and not a purse. In the morning, Ryan loaned me $200 and sent me on my way to Asheville to begin my bike ride. The happy post script to my story is that the pack was eventually found on the C-17 after it ended up in S. Carolina. They made contact with my assistant and when I arrived back at my office a week later it was in a box sitting on my desk with everything in it. Yes, there are honest people in the world, especially in the US military!
What an amazing experience. I am still digesting it all and will be for a long time.
In the last week I met hundreds of the very smart, capable, positive and mission-driven people who make up our military. They are men and women, racially d...