Saturday, May 12, 2012

It Was Just a (Pretty Amazing) Job

Almost 25 years ago I made a hard decision. I was a college student with a single college loan. I was looking at my future. I have always despised being in debt and having just one loan over my head at such a young age bothered me. I knew I could not afford to continue my education on my meager part-time job and student loans. So, I went to a National Guard recruiter.

I was a rebel back then. I embodied punk rock and gothic rock. I was among the earliest people I knew to embrace the "industrial rock" movement, listening to Skinny Puppy, Throbbing Gristle, and early Ministry. I strove to make my non-conformity even non-conformist. I have stated before that, looking back, I was more of a conformist to the sub-cultures of my youth than I would have ever admitted at the time. Joining a structured organization was very much counter to my ideology. Then again, I had also joined a fraternity, how cliche?

During my earlier college years, I had worked for the college radio station. That put me in a position to meet a few interesting personalities to include the then relatively unknown local musicians such as The Lemonheads, among others. I  thought it was cool to score the occasional backstage pass or release party invite.

But then I joined the National Guard. I cut my hair. I became a soldier. One may think that led to losing the ability to meet all sorts of "cool" people. One would think that, 4 years later, joining the active duty Army would have driven that Nine Inch Nail further into that coffin.

I have met and socialized with some amazing people during that career. No, donning the uniform did not halt my momentary brushes with celebrity.

While stationed in Berlin, I met several "rock stars". I will tell you that the ones I met were just as enamored with Soldiers as we were of them. I drank a few glasses of Guinness at a 23-hour Irish pub with Danny Loehner. Danny has been with the bands Skrew, NIN, and A Perfect Circle. He's done some solo work that is pretty amazing (original music for the first Underworld movie). I chugged a hurricane at the Berlin Hard Rock Cafe that was bought by Layne Staley of Alice in Chains. Those are but a couple of examples.

While stationed at Fort Lewis, I was heavy in the goth-industrial scene around Seattle. I could name-drop several acts I hung out with in private after-hours goth clubs. Most are people my readers wouldn't recognize unless they were heavy into the Goth scene. Later, when stationed in Kansas, I connected with the scene through various alt.goth newsgroups that led to an invitation and all-access pass at a Projekt-Darkwave convention in Chicago. It didn't hurt that I was one of 3 goth DJs in the greater Manhattan Kansas area. 

Name-dropping aside, the people I met I am most amazed by include some other people. These are people famous in military circles, political circles, and the like. Some are not famous at all, but should be. Some are infamous, such as Bradley Manning. (No, I am NOT a fan of his. I am among those who hopes he rots in a cell for eternity.) Others are heroes such as Christopher Seifert, Yari Mokri, Schuyler Hanes, and Derek Dobogai. I will probably expound more upon those individuals (and others) for my annual Memorial Day article.

Among those I met was a short Texan. His name is George W. Bush. My earliest introduction to the then Texas Governor was when I was stationed in Bauholder, Germany. Our unit wanted to have our own collection of state flags for ceremonies. On my commander's behalf, I wrote to state officials requesting state flags. We were attempting to garner as many as donations as possible before buying any with unit funds. I contacted the Texas Secretary of State, whose name I do not recall. However, the responses I received all came directly from Governor Bush. Included in these letters was one thanking the Soldiers of my unit for all their hard work, particularly in Macedonia and Albania the year prior. He also sent two autographed pictures, one for my shop, and the other for our Battalion. Seconds after his inauguration as President, we were the first unit in our Brigade (possibly in our Division) to change out the CinC photo on our Chain-of-Command wall.

It came as a surprise that, in July 2001, I would be sent on an augmentation mission to Kosovo. The augmentation mission itself was not a surprise. I tended to be "lent out" quite often. During my 40+ month tour in Germany, I spent a total of 93 days in my own bed. I had requested a 30-day TDY to Kosovo to help with tracking down a few not-so-nice people. The response was a 60-day extendable TDY with mission details not included in my orders. I had received orders as such before and expected long hours in a windowless building or to be stuck in the middle of nowhere. I did have a number of days in that role during that deployment. However, I was actually given a different mission, one I had not anticipated.

The details are not important. In summary, my first few weeks were spent assisting in threat analysis and security advising for an "important visitor". I helped to organize additional security details, inspections, and the like as well as writing assessments and analysis. That visitor was none other than President Bush.

Remember when I stated I met some interesting people while stationed in Berlin? Among those people were Hilary and President Clinton. I state this for a matter of comparison.

President Clinton gave a speech in Berlin that received little fanfare from the Soldiers and the audience. We followed protocol, regulations, customs and courtesies. However, among the fellow Soldiers with whom I discussed the visit, there was little admiration of the man.  Hilary made matters worse by remarking "You don't deserve to look at me" during the reception line. I will say that Bubba is charismatic and likeable. But he didn't command that innate respect.

In contrast, President Bush was adored. Though security protocols did screen and limit contact and proximity to the POTUS, he was met with cheers and applause every stop he made during that trip. Every Soldier he met, he thanked for the service they were doing "for our Nation". He never said "on my behalf".

In Iraq, every briefing I had to attend (usually through secure teleconference) that included President Bush, he generated respect. He did not demand it. He didn't have to. Even today, President Bush goes out and attends events for wounded warriors and veterans. He still meets that respect. Why? He treats us as equals. He had his tough job to do, making decisions. We had ours. Neither could have been successful without the other. To this day, there are some decisions he made I am not in agreement with. However, they were his decisions to make. They were his responsibility. He accepted that and never deflected that responsibility. As far as credit, I have yet to hear him take credit for any of the successes. He credited the Military Service Members with each one. Of all the things about his Administration, that is the one thing I will remember most fondly.