Why Going To Washington DC In Support Of Fort Stewart Matters
Washington DC is an exciting city, always awake and always moving, there’s an energy that infuses everything in the district that you catch as soon as you step outside of the airport. You immediately want to be a part of the history you know is being made while you walk at a fast clip down busy sidewalks, navigate the buildings and gaze at the monuments out of a taxi window that you’ve been taught your whole life symbolize life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Why would a group of Liberty, Bryan and Chatham county folks make the trek to our nation’s capital, which is precisely what we did last week? The answer is simple and sounds silly to those who cannot think beyond that there has, “always been a Fort Stewart, will always be a Fort Stewart.” I am sure once news hits that this group made the trip that the typical accusations of wasting tax dollars will start.
This is definitely one instance that I can attest there is no waste of dollars, our less than direct flight can attest to that. I have been on several of these DC excursions, all of them in celebration of Fort Stewart winning the Army Community of Excellence Award. Those were nice events, a great way to celebrate the success of our fort, but also a great way for them to recognize community partners, like the Chamber, for what we do in support of our Army.
This was a different kind of trip. Most of us were up at 4am on Tuesday morning, packing, dressing for a day full of business meetings and scurrying to the Savannah airport for a 7:30am flight. We boarded the plane already excited about the prospect of spreading our message of how great our Army is, what we want to do to help them continue to be great and communicate our pride in Fort Stewart to folks, who is some instances, had never even visited the largest Army installation East of the Mississippi River.
Then a light fell on my head. No, not a lightbulb brilliant idea moment, a literal light fixture came off the plane and landed on my head. A definite way for American Airlines to inspire confidence in it’s passengers. I also happened to be wearing a white pencil skirt. This light contained condensation from the a/c and upon departing it’s precarious positioning over the light it left a residue of likely years of dust and water on my skirt. This was definitely not part of the plan that had been so carefully thought out by Christy Deloach (City of Hinesville Executive Assistant) or Chris Payne (Hurt/Norton out of DC).
So after an hour-delay in which we as passengers tried to “fix” this light and the helpful stewardess got a large baggage sticker to band-aid it back up on the wall, we had to wait for maintenance to join us, move seats, have repairs made, move back to our seats and then finally take off!
Landing in DC we’re all crowded around the plane windows trying to catch a glimpse of anything familiar. During the flight I’ve read all the bios for those we are to meet with, scanned the notes from various pre-meetings, scoured the bulleted list of the high points we want to make sure we hit during this visit and almost finished “The Energy Bus” gearing up for being a better leader, all while maintaining a conversation with the Mayor of Hinesville about what we have to look forward to on this two day whirlwind. We deboard, and we’re off to the races. Or at least that’s what it felt like. I’m the only person who didn’t check a bag (an innate distrust of airport personnel to actually put my bag on board after 3 days spent in NYC several years ago with no luggage), so down to baggage claim we go.
Then it’s eight men trying to figure out should we Uber or taxi to the hotel first or to the lobby firm? So taxi it is to the hotel, where four of us have early check-in (again thanks to the fabulous Christy Deloach) but the rest have to wait. Oh by the way, it’s only like 11am at this point. Quick skirt cleaning, powder the nose, use the restroom, and we’re off again! This time via Uber.
We’re greeted at Hurt/Norton by Bob Hurt, ushered to their conference room, fed (finally) and then have an hour long brief on what we should say, what we shouldn’t say, who we’re meeting with, schedule changes, oh yeah we’re adding a social event tonight at the Google HQ in DC with Georgia Southern because they are in town, then back to Uber and headed to the Capitol.
I’ve yet to mention I have purchased a pair of mustard velvet flat shoes for this trip (one of the only pairs of flat shoes I own other than flip flops). They are stowed in my purse alongside a Shop Small reusable shopping bag should I need to change shoes. And I’m wearing 5-inch black patent leather heels. I’m still in the heels at this point, we’ve run across a busy DC street because the Uber driver let us out on the wrong side of the road and there was no crosswalk anywhere, and I’m fine, keeping up.
Then we trek up the “hill” for our first meeting. In a pencil skirt and 5-inch heels. The heels again are fine, it’s the skirt. It won’t let me take big enough steps to keep up with my male counterparts who I feel are scaling this mini mountain rather briskly, again that DC energy. So first stop in Congressman Austin Scott’s office the heels come off and the flats go on because I refuse to be the delay even if I am now the shortest.
I’m excited to meet the Congressman, I’ve never met him and I’ve never been inside the Capitol, I’ve only been outside taking pics when visiting. We finally get thru security, get to his office, greet all the people inside the cramped space, and we’re told our meeting is tomorrow at 2pm. Seriously. The Congressman is on the floor, he cannot come off the floor just to meet with us, which is why our meeting is tomorrow. When over half of us will be on the way back to Georgia.
Clerical error, scheduling error, folks are upset, it’s hot, there is no room to move and it’s finally decided that we will take the scenic route to get to our next stop with Senator David Purdue. This scenic route included a tour of the basement of the Capitol which I would swear has no a/c whatsoever and is where the trash goes before disposal. Imagine that smell. Capitol staff (those that are making things like toilet cleaning happen) are scurrying everywhere, we are obviously out of place and in the way.
We have to go from one part of the building to another which requires more security, badges and a mini-train ride which may have saved us 1000 steps. Up crowded elevators, down crowded elevators, down hallways that all look the same and finally we’re at Purdue’s office and given a place to sit and cold beverages (which BTW I have a Coke Zero and I’m on 4 for the day already, I have taken advantage of every soda machine we have passed for one and stuffed water in my purse too). I’m also the source for ibuprofen, a cell battery back-up and change for soda machines.
We’re shown to a conference room and strategically sat by Chris Payne based on where Purdue will sit. I’m at the foot of the table, facing him, elected officials are at his elbows. First question, “How did you get trapped with all of these guys?” at which point most of us notice for the first time I’m the only female on this trip, frankly the only in the room as even the assistant has left us to our chat.
Then on to the serious business, it was decided that Pete Hoffman, VP of Savannah Tech will be our lead spokesperson with the rest chiming in as needed. We thank the Senator for his support of $60 million for a new hanger at Hunter Army AIrfield. We tell him about our meetings for tomorrow at the Pentagon, which he helped us obtain, and we tell him why we are here.
We want to make sure folks know and realize how important our Army is to us. Not just the fact that Fort Stewart is 4.3 billion dollar industry for our region, but that we value what our soldiers and families do, what they sacrifice and that we want to continue to support them as best we can by making sure those in positions of power realize that we have barracks built in 1970 still housing soldiers, we have more hangers that need to be replaced, we have serious issues with children/teens developing mental health problems and a lack of providers.
Purdue is mesmerizing, it’s easy to see why people like him and listen to him. He doesn’t hesitate to call out one of our group on a piece of what he feels is inaccurate information. He is informed, he guides the conversation easily, with very little downtime, maximizing why we have come to give us the information we need to make sure our region succeeds. He also applauds us for taking the time to do a trip like this and for all of the communities being able to come together.
Then we’re off to Senator Isackson’s office. Another brisk trot up and down hallways, elevators and stairs. Isackson joins us with his chief aide for military affairs. We run through the same basic briefing as before, listening intently to the wisdom this senior Capitol Hill veteran has to impart.
Then blessedly we get to meet with Representative Buddy Carter in Isackson’s conference room, after a brief break we used to charge phones, grab a cold drink and plot the next steps. Carter has his own type of charisma, even though he is relatively new to DC, he is obviously very invested in coastal Georgia and about what is going on and ready to help in any capacity possible.
Then there are media from WTOC on hand for interviews. It’s important to us and our elected officials, local and national, that we tell the story of why we have made this trip.
Then we host a reception at the Capitol for staffers and others to come visit. Attendance is lower than expected because the President has decided to hold a Medal of Honor Ceremony at the same time unexpectedly. Purdue stops by again and shows us how well he can take a selfie, using my phone to snap a pic.
Then off to Google HQ, via Uber. One of the first people we encounter is former Governor Nathan Deal. Having met the Governor before it’s still a fan-girl moment as under his leadership great strides have been made in our state. He also awarded me the 2016 Larry Allen Tourism Leadership Award which I wasn’t there to receive so I wanted my photo taken (one of the first times ever I assure you!).
We mix and mingle with GSU alums, staff, the new President and football coach and that’s about the time when we all realize we’re done, and we’re still supposed to go to dinner. Executive decision is made to nix dinner and return to the hotel and eat in that restaurant. We’re hot, sweaty, likely smelly, and we’ve walked right at 10,000 steps (per my health app on my phone).
And it’s after 8pm at this point. Most of us have been awake and moving for 16 hours. We all gather around the dinner table, break bread, debrief the day and talk about tomorrow.
Wednesday started with being work ready and downstairs with all of our luggage by 7:15am raring to go. I intelligently wore pants today, allows for those longer strides and climbing in and out of minivans much easier.
We get a parking lot brief on what to expect, what has changed in the last several hours since we’ve been together and then we’re loaded and on the way to the Pentagon. Loads more security, badges and then waiting for our escort.
If you’ve never been inside the Pentagon, it was definitely built with security in mind. Even our escort gets lost, and we have to backtrack the length of a football field to find the correct corridor. We are delivered to a secure conference room where no cell phones are allowed.
Our first meeting is with General James McConville who has just been confirmed by the Senate to be the 40th Chief of Staff of the Army. He carries the 4 stars on his shoulders gracefully and without a doubt knows what he is talking about. We get to hear about the tremendous investment the Army and our country is making to modernize our Army, potential threats to national security and the very real concerns the General has about #1 quality of life for soldiers/families, #2 quality medical care, #3 childcare/spousal hiring around installations and #4 moving business people. Seriously this is a concern for a four star General, how his soldiers and families are going to be moved from one part of the country and/or world to another and the lack of quality moving firms. Oh and by the way General McConville has a son, daughter and son-in-law all stationed at Fort Stewart/HAAF.
Then we meet with Major General Charles Flynn, Acting Army Assistant Chief of Staff, who has been stationed at Fort Stewart during his career. He talks about cyber security and what we, as a community, can do to help support this new terrain for the Army. We talk about building readiness, modernization and why airfields, ports and railheads are essential to Fort Stewart remaining a Power Projection Platform.
LTG James Pasquarette, Assistant Chief of Staff G-8 is next in our series of meetings. He also has a son and daughter-in-law stationed at Fort Stewart and has served himself on Fort Stewart. We spend a lot of time talking about what he does specifically, which is the money side and programming/budgeting for the future. He tells us about the lethality that the Army is training for, along with the programs that it is eliminating to prepare for modernization. We spend quite a bit of time talking about the new equipment coming and how our soldiers will train.
Our last two meetings are back to back with Andy Napoly, the Assistant for Base Realignment and Closure and Ivan Bolden, Chief of Privatization & Partnerships. A retired colonel, Bolden has also been stationed at Fort Stewart during his career. We work hard to educate these two men on the space that Fort Stewart still has to accept soldiers and equipment.
After this whirlwind of a morning the four of us returning to Liberty County beat feet to leave the Pentagon and head for our ride to the airport. From there it’s getting tickets, trying to grab food since it was 6 hours ago that we ate and rushing to the gate to find our flight was delayed and we are likely to miss our connecting flight in Charlotte. We board in DC with the determination that we will make it from concourse C to E, even with a last minute gate change in Charlotte and that we will not miss our flight. Once we land in Charlotte I can honestly say I have never seen Mayor Brown move as fast. He beat me to the next gate, and I felt like I was running. We have to board on the tarmac and do so with minutes to spare.
Then home sweet home, we arrive back in Savannah close to 5:15pm. Mission accomplished, over 17,000 steps (8.1 miles) walked in two days.
And why did we do this? Because Fort Stewart is our #1 economic engine in coastal Georgia and #2 because our Army is valuable to use in more ways than one. Soldiers and families add a great deal of value to our community, as someone who likely would not be alive if my grandpa had not been stationed at Fort Stewart as a Command Sergeant Major because my parents would never have met, I can honestly say HOOAH and #ROTM.
Leah Poole, CEO for the Liberty County Chamber/CVB