A Better Place to Be

Rich Galen

3/17/2010 11:00:30 AM - Rich Galen

I know you are expecting a screed about the Democrats' decision to use the "deemed passed" parliamentary trick to pass the healthcare legislation without a direct vote, but that will have to wait until Friday.

Today, I want to share a few minutes with you of how I spent my day yesterday in Bossier City, Louisiana which, along with being the location of a bunch of casinos, is also the home of the U.S. Air Force Global Strike Command Headquarters at Barksdale Air Force Base.

I was invited to speak to a conference of public affairs personnel - enlisted and officers - about why what they do is really, really important.

I was invited by the head of the public affairs shop, Lt. Col. John Thomas with whom I served in Iraq, and then again in Baton Rouge after Hurricane Katrina.

Sean Hannity FREE

Most of these service members were in their late twenties or early thirties. I told them about my Army National Guard career - a six year ordeal for both me and the military during which I rose to the rank of sergeant for about 90 minutes before being busted back to E-4.

I told them that I was in the Guard when mules were the principal form of propulsion. Hyperbole, but not by much. I suspect of the roomful of airmen not more than a handful were even born when the Vietnam war was being fought.

I told them that back in the day it was suggested we go to our National Guard drills in civilian clothes, and change in the armory. I pointed out the difference between those days and these when, very often, someone in line at Starbucks will order their Grande Mocha and then, pointing to the man or woman in uniform behind them, will say "and whatever he/she is having."

For those who may have come in late, I spent about six months in Iraq back in 2003 and 2004. Hard to believe it was that long ago. I was a civilian employee of the Department of Defense, but I formed a strong bond with the men and women who have chosen to make the military a career.

The public affairs activity in the military is a far, far different animal than the press or communications function in politics or government. For one thing, if we shade the truth to a reporter it is often put down as "good spin." In the military lying to the press (and, by extension the American people) is actionable by court martial.

Yikes!

The folks I spoke to on Tuesday are all assigned to bases in the United States. But, judging from the head nods when I recounted stories of derring-do in Iraq (some parts of some of the stories were actually true).

What most of us know about the military is either in heated action (now in southern Afghanistan) or when something goes horribly wrong (like the terrorist who opened fire at Ft. Hood).

What these folks have to do, I suggested, was to look for ways to promote the value of the military to work-a-day folks outside the boundaries of the base.

In the war-zone days if Iraq my job was to help bring non-combat news back to local U.S. markets. With the help of excellent deputies like Tom Basile (now the executive director of the New York GOP) we got footage of American service members and USAID employees rebuilding schools, fixing water plants, helping stand up the various ministries, and generally helping the Iraqi people get back on their feet.

It was easy interviewing a soldier in Mosul helping city officials restart services to their constituents and sending the tape to her hometown TV stations in Schenectady, or where ever. It is tougher to ferret out good stories of military personnel stationed in Louisiana, or North Dakota.

But, I suggested, it is no less important because what the uniformed service members do every day - Marines at Camp Pendleton, California; soldiers at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina; Navy personnel at Norfolk, Virginia; Airmen at Barksdale; or Coast Guardians just about everywhere - is completely devoted to allowing their fellow citizens to go about their daily routine safe from foreign attack.

I could have been in Washington on Tuesday in a projectile sweat about the Democrats' plot to pass healthcare without an up-or-down vote; but I was in a much better place.

With some really good people.