Editor’s note: Minus the pix.
Now that I’ve been back a while and I’m caught up on my mail and email, I can take time to explain where I’ve been. I’ve been to Washington with Vets For Freedom, coinciding with Michelle Bachman’s Housecall.
Fir me, it all started with virtually no notice at the end of October, when I got an email urging me to attend a spur of the moment lobbying push by VFF to urge Congress to give General McChrystal the additional troops he needs. Since VFF is primarily young vets from the current Iraq and Afghan campaigns, I had some initial reluctance, about going as an old fart. But then I remembered my second oath “Never again will one generation of vets turn its back on another”, and logged it with Map Quest. VFF would take care of hotel arrangements. It would be an almost three day drive, so I hit the road Monday morning to get there Wednesday afternoon. An easy, a scenic, and uneventful drive made more pleasant by talk radio. On the way I learned that Michelle Bachman’s legions were answering her call to march against the so-called healthcare bill, trying to assemble convoys and chartered busses. So VFF would have allies in town. And I would really like to meet her and share greetings from a mutual friend. But I had my mission.
My first big mistake was dawdling along the route; heck, I’d have lots of time since I didn’t have to be there till Wednesday evening for the welcoming reception hosted by Senator Imhofe and Military Families United. Wrong, never let up until you arrive. Everything went to hell from the city limits of Hell. Moving down I-495, a sign warned that the road was closed because of an accident, and I diverted off onto one of the alternative approaches. Somehow, I got disoriented and in parts of the outskirts where I did not want to be. Roads suddenly ended or transformed into one-ways going the other way. One path took me to a wired enclosure where men in black uniforms with black rifles graciously shooed me away instead of shooting on sight; I think it was CIA. No, they didn’t waterboard me either. Eventually I blundered my way to Georgetown and Wisconsin Ave. I was looking for Connecticut Ave, somewhat to the east, but getting there was no easier. Streets began to be closed off, and obstructed. Traffic signals seemed to work against me. As the frustration mounted, I began to wonder if there was another Royal Date Night in progress. Later I learned from the locals that it was Nancy, who had ordered the Metro police to inflict extra disorder on the traffic to hinder the expected Bachmanites. My curses be upon Nancy! For so much already, and this in addition. Finally I found my way to the Washington Hilton, and got checked in. something had worked as promised. But I was several hours later than planned. I wanted to get to our reception, which was being held at the Hart Senate Building. A quick dash upstairs to change, and down to the lobby to seek a cab. At the front desk I met my first significant person of the trip. I guessed that Bill Russell might be one of us by the ranger and airborne pins on his lapel. We decided to take the metro over together, since you do not travel alone in our nation’s capitol after dark. Very quickly I took a liking to the fellow, who seemed to have lots of experience, stories, and awareness, even thought he might some day be a great congressman. During the evening, I discovered I was not the first with that idea. Lt. Col. Russell is going to be the GOP candidate next year in Pennsylvania against Jack Murtha. (www.russellbrigade.com)
Arriving at the reception, on the private ninth floor, we found an open bar and liveried servers circulating with finger snacks. And many of our people. No legislators, but several of their legislative staffers, and numerous young vets and also attractive young ladies from MFU. I was pleased by the number of people from Minnesota. There were three of us from Sioux Falls. Acquaintances were made, toasts were made and dinks were drank. After the reception ended, about 8-9 of us went off to a near-by Irish bar, including Pete Hegseth, the leader of VFF, and Bill Russell. And here is where it got really interesting. Another young fellow with us is going to be challenging Murtha in the Democratic primary. And he and Bill Russell were getting on very cordially discussing who knows what. Murtha, you’re in bi-i-i-ig trouble challenged from both sides – stick a fork in Murcha, he’s done! Now in my opinion, this young, metrosexual Democrat challenger isn’t half the man that Bill Russell is, but he’s still more than twice the man that is Jack Murtha. Pennsylvania 12 will be an interesting district next year. Another gentleman I met was Scott Taylor, an inactive SEAL who is planning a run for a congressional seat in Virginia next year. Finally, back to the hotel and get some rest so we could get up at 0-dark-thirty the next morning.
We had to get over to the American Legion where we would have donuts and a briefing before going over to Capitol Hill to start our work on Congress. At the evening reception, I had mentioned to Pete Hegseth that the big event was going to be taking place on my birthday, November 5. Now Pete remembered, and called special attention to the detail that I would be participating on my birthday. Well, if he thinks that’s a big deal that’s okay. But I think he’s crazy. I am far more impressed by the thought that I would be confronting Congress on Guy Fawkes Day. But then Janet Napolitano may have some thoughts about me and craziness! That’s okay too.
Our briefing featured Congressmen Duncan Hunter and Tom Rooney, and some leaders from VFF. Both Hunter and Rooney have recently been to Afghanistan. And mentioned a recent tour by 3 Republican and 3 Democrat legislators, who came back convinced we are making progress and can win with continued troop support. While the VFF leadership shared their perspective with us, they made it clear that there were no “talking points”, and we were to speak for ourselves. The only solid guidance was to stay on topic and not be drawn off into other issues which might be or more interest to our targets.
A most important fact is that General McChrystal may have requested 40,000 troops, but only as his rock-bottom minimum. He really wants 80,000 troops and says that 60,000 troops would be adequate. He needs these troops in order to clear the enemy from villages and then to maintain a presence and keep the guerrillas from returning after American troops move along to the next village. We need to be able to interdict rotes of entry and to keep the pressure on the enemy. It is also important that these troops should be provided quickly, and nearly all at once to maximize the shock effect on the enemy and deny him time to adjust to the new situation. Incremental gradualism proved itself a recipe for failure in Viet Nam, and in every other conflict it has been tried. We were reminded that in all previous fighting, both at our side and against us, the Pushtuns have proven themselves better fighter than the Iraqis. Many of the Pushtuns find their tribal customs in conflict with the Taleban interpretation of Islam. But The tribes and clans have a keen sense of reality, and will accommodate to the side which they think is most likely to remain and become a winner. A vigorous and massive implementation of the build-up would influence them in our direction. We were told that part of the trouble is lack of clear leadership from the White House; that even administration staffers state, off the record, that Obama does not share his decisions or tell them what he intends to do. He may be keeping his own counsel, or he may be indecisive, or playing both sides of the street. I seem to have made a useful contribution when I drew attention to the inherent contradictions of his remarks. On one had he says that he has little use for the very concept of victory, invoking images of Hirohito being humbled. But then he also dismissed another question about listening to Republicans with “We won”, which seems to be the very epitome of the victory he supposedly does not value. I guess that’s what Lenin would call “the dialectic”, also know as talking out both sides of your mouth and out your arse, at the same time. Unofficially, many individual members of VFF opined that if the administration was not willing to commit the necessary forces to win in Afghanistan, they should just withdraw quickly instead of trying for a protracted stalemate at the cost of additional lives and treasure while still failing to achieve our interests. Important as the position is, it were better to lose it at lesser than greater cost.
With this grim situation, we prepared to press vigorously for McChrystal’s build-up.
First stop for all of us was a general meeting at Rep. Marsha Blackburn’s office for all VFFs and a gaggle of Congressmen, in the form of an open press conference with news cameras a-runnin’. Rep. Blackburn is personable and far cuter that any Congressman has a right. Pelosi must HATE her! Some generalized comments were made and film was taken. As it ended and disbanded, I managed to meet Rep John Kline (MN-2) and give him best wishes from our mutual friend, Fergie. I expressed the thought that I knew we both had busy schedules and I knew he was on our side. Then we went on to meet our assigned congressional targets.
Thirty-seven Congressmen and Senators had appointments to meet with our delegates, most often in groups of six or seven VFFs. Some of the solons did not meet with us personally, but sent a designated staffer to meet with us. In some instances the member may have had legitimate prior commitments, but in other cases it was a transparent attempt to avoid or minimize what the member viewed as a politically awkward issue. Each meeting was officially for fifteen minutes, but some individual congressmen chose to give us more time.
My first stop was with a group going to the office of Stephanie Herseth-Sandlin (D-SD). She did not meet with us and sent a legislative assistant who introduced himself as her specialist on military and veteran affairs. In his introduction he said nothing about any military background, and in context, I took that to mean all his understanding was gained from reading secondary sources, and MSM. In our discussions we were allowed to state our views, but we received a fairly non-committal response. As a Democrat in a predominantly Republican state, military issues are not a priority for Herseth-Sandlin, and it appears that she was trying to keep as low a profile as possible.
Crossing from the Cannon House Building to the Russell Senate Building meant a walk across the mall. And then I met the Bachman “Housecall Rally” in full swell. Since my friend said he knew her, I wanted
to meet her and pay my respects. But it was obvious ‘twasn’t gonna happen. There were masses of people everywhere. I still have not heard any serious estimate of their numbers, but the range between 30,000-40,000 sounds credible to me. Most impressive is how this was assembled on the spur of the moment, all by public announcement. No, not as large as the national Tea Party, but just as spirited, and with nary an organizer, except for Michelle herself. And sure enough, off to the side on the fringes were the fringe people. What’s that? Do I see a scrawny scag, dressed in pink and her trademark leotards? Yes! Its Medea Benjamin, the Wicked Witch of the East-Wannabe, there with a couple of her cronies. But nobody was paying them any attention. I thought about going over and talking to her, or maybe ragging on her. But I decided she looked so forlorn, and so unhappy at being ignored, I did not want to disturb the moment. Best to just let the critter feel out of place and totally irrelevant. Everybody else was happy and activized, and Medea was down. And that’s the way it should be.
The reception at my next stop was quite different. Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) is an inactive Marine and was quite sympathetic. Not only did he attend personally, he brought along a staffer as well. A couple members of our delegation tried to redirect the meeting to a discussion of a personal pet project. They wanted Sen. Burr’s backing in organizing a private corporation which would find and bring in homeless vets in need of DVA mental care. To me it sounds like a racket, but that can be countered elsewhere. We were able to redirect the discussion back to our primary purpose of supporting the troops in the field. Since Burr is already committed to our side of the deployment issue, this distraction din no real harm. After our meeting, I stayed behind to talk with the staffer, since she is a veterans affairs specialist. I made it clear that I was willing to share my perspective about the DVA as someone who had been both a supervisor within the VA and most recently a patient within the system, but I wanted to make it clear that what I said was not as a VFF representative.
Third stop was Senator Tim Johnson (D-SD). Here I received a big surprise. He suffered a brain hemorrhage a couple years ago which proved seriously incapacitating, and almost fatal. During the last few years I have seen him at a number of SoDak Veteran events, where he appeared to be more or less reduced in function to a sock puppet. Now it is obvious that Johnson has shown considerable recovery, but while he is still semi-paralyzed and speaks slowly, he is again obviously aware and able to comprehend and think for himself.
The Senator opened our discussion by telling us that his son had served with the Army in Afghanistan. I seized the initiative pointing out that we knew he served with the 101st, a proud unit, and that this meant “you also have some personal skin in this game.” In various ways I returned to this theme, that we had to preserve the efforts and accomplishments of his son and his comrades. Supporting the troops in the theater was anterior to questions of veterans benefits later. Our group also made strong points about the detailed arguments for sending troops. We made another effective point arguing that since Obama had personally selected Gen. McChrystal, it was politically necessary to give him the troops he said he required. Only then could he be held responsible for the results of the operation. Senator Johnson was noncommittal but polite and receptive. It appeared that some of our arguments made an impression. As we departed, I took a moment to tell the Senator how much improvement I had observed since I last saw him, and confided that I, too, had had a stroke about three months previously. He gave my hand a firm squeeze with his good left hand. Though I disagree with the Senator on just about every issue, I cannot help but like the man.
During some open time, I tried dropping in on Senator David Vitter (R-LA), and Cong. Charles Boustany (R-LA) because of my old Louisiana ties, but neither gentleman was available, so I paid my respects, left literature and scooted. Both are known already to be on our side.
Next, I got hooked up with a group going to see Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA). I did not recall that much about his policies, but he is known as pro-military, and we got a warm reception at his office. I found him an unusually relaxed and comfortable man, secure in his own skin. Since some others of our team were articulate and willing, I left them to take the lead here. Discussion went well and lasted beyond the scheduled time.
As a result, I arrived late for the next scheduled meeting, with Senator Mark Pryor (D-AR). It turned out that many of our other scheduled people did not arrive at all and only one other showed up. But then, the Senator did not attend either and only sent a staffer.
Finally, about 4:30 came the appointment I has looked forward to, and a group of us met with Senator John Thune (R-SD). I like and respect John Thune. He is known as a Conservative Republican. Not A Rino. For the three years I’ve been with Patriot Guard, I’ve seen him at all significant veteran and military events – unit activations and deployments, welcome-homes, funerals for KIA. He’s there. And at the end of events he always walks the flag line, thanking and shaking hands with the PGRs present. On military issues, including the surge and reinforcement, he is clearly and publicly on our side, In our discussions we support and encourage each other. Recently I have heard him mentioned as a dark horse for the Republican nomination in 2012. Yes, dark horse in 2012, but growing in stature if we continue to survive. He seems to deserve his reputation for honesty and solid judgment. He is natural, relaxed and able to meet with constituents informally.
After an encouraging meeting with John Thune, the day was over. One of the local VFFs gave me a lift back to my hotel where I was able to redeem my car and hit the road. On the way back we discussed politics and the Oathkeepers. As we parted we exchanged reassurances about Our Oath, I gave the pledge that when events happened I would be there.
Getting out of DC on a Thursday night was a major pain in the butt.
The traffic (and the city) seemed to go on and on. About 9:00 I stopped for the night at a Sleep Inn somewhere in Maryland. It could only have been better if the desk clerk had asked if I needed any visitors. She did not. But the shower was warm and the bed soft. The end to an almost perfect day.
Two day later I was home. Passing through West Virginia I saw they had had snow since I had bee through there only a couple days before. That night I stopped for dinner in Indiana. While eating I saw a young fellow wearing a Navy Reserve tee shirt. I was wearing veteran garb and on the way out, I swung by his table and greeted him with the salutation, “All enemies foreign and domestic”. He responded positively and we chatted briefly before I continued on. We never exchanged names. Active, Reserve, Veteran, stranger, we now seem to be on an acknowledged “same team”. Hooah!