13 March 2007

Still Leading After All These Years

Here's a new post from Robert Connolly, a regular contributor to the SAG blog.

Helping to organize a care package operation means you get to see some remarkable things.

One of my senior colleagues was an Air Force officer in the late 1950’s. Besides being smart as hell (electrical engineer, Stanford Ph.D.), he is an extraordinary teacher and just a wonderful human being. Every time I send an email out inviting assistance with care packages, he responds with a check. A month ago, I sent around an email about the needs of the 3rd Brigade, 10th MTN DIV. (They had been extended for 120 days on pretty short notice, and they needed a hand with hygiene and other supplies.) He tracked me down via email to say he was going to get me a check, and then followed up with one of the biggest checks I have gotten in the 16 months we have been operating. Later, he found me in the hallway to tell me how important this was, and how much he admired what we were doing.

At church, there is an older gentleman who always prays for servicemen and women, deployed in harm’s way, and for the families from whom they are separated. Maybe 18 months ago, I decided to thank him for doing this (I had one son-in-law in Iraq at the time, and another one who had already been there). It turns out this man had served in WWII, Korea, and Vietnam. He was a West Point graduate (Class of 1950), and served in the Air Force (apparently since there was no separate academy for Air Force officers at the time). Months later, after we got the care package operation running, he always asked whether we were still mailing packages. When I answered yes, he would always catch me before leaving church to shake my hand and tell me how great it was that we were still sending packages. Every time he did this, he passed me a $20 bill in the handshake, and he did it pretty often.

Now, I am a firm believer in recognizing people like these two men who do good things (even after doing their duty). So, I asked a contact in Afghanistan, an Air Force Senior Master Sergeant, if I could send him two flags, have them flown on the base, get them signed by the folks there (on the white edging), and sent back. I wanted to present it to these two veterans as a token of appreciation for all they have done for the current generation of airmen. My Air Force SMSgt said he could do that, but suggested that I present his detachment’s unit coin. He said he would send them the next day.

Well, the coins arrived last week on Tuesday. Last Thursday, I snuck in on the last minute of my colleague’s review session with about 25 students and presented it to him. He got a big round of applause from the students, and he was clearly very touched by the recognition. He explained the difference between zoomies and dogfaces to his students, and talked about how important it was to support the servicemen in the field. Later, he came by my office, and he reiterated how much it meant to have a coin from an Air Force unit in Afghanistan that had been on the receiving end of the care package operation that he helped to fund.

At church on Saturday evening, I caught up with my other retired Air Force officer. When I explained the situation and presented the coin, he was momentarily stunned. He didn’t think he had done anything remarkable (…just his duty, I suspect he thought). He was also very touched by the gesture, and wanted to know everything about the unit in Afghanistan. The wife of this man who normally won’t say very much about his past service, let slip a few details about his past service. With the help of Google, I learned he was at least an Air Force Colonel (a pilot) before retiring. I still don’t have the whole story, but he was ready to hand over another $20. Just coincidentally, this man’s 80th birthday was two days earlier (I know 60 year olds who aren’t as sharp, mobile, and capable as this fellow).

On the days when former military who serve in Congress seem to have forgotten their fellow servicemen (acting like ex-Marines, not former Marines), I think about these two great men. True to the oath that both swore over 50 years ago, these two retired warriors are still leading from the front and by example.

Then, not to be outdone by these guys, I get back to the important business of hustling support for the current generation of warriors that serves the nation with such great distinction.

Bob can be reached via email or you may leave him a comment below.

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