By: Rich Galen
Let’s take a day off from political growling and snarling for a day and consider something very positive, very uplifting, and very inspiring.
If there was anything good about having spent six months in Iraq in 2003-2004 it was being allowed to hang around with uniformed military men and women.
There is a great deal of truth in the old saw about being “foxhole buddies.” Watching people operate under pressure – life and death pressure – tells you everything you ever need to know.
Just as firefighters run toward a burning building, and police run toward a disturbance, military ground troops run toward the firefight.
Over the years since that activity ended for me, I have had the honor of having been invited a all manner of military ceremonies: A Bronze Star presentation, retirements, promotions and Changes of Command.
My rule has been: If I’m in the country, I’ll clear my schedule and be there. If someone thinks enough of me to invite me, then I will bend every effort to go.
Change of Command ceremonies are a big deal in the military. In the civilian world it’s like going to bed one night working for Amalgamated Computing, Inc. and waking up the next morning only to find out you have your same job, but you are now getting your paycheck from Fusion Internet Services, LLC.
It’s not quite the same, because in the Military (and in many other Federal agencies) assignments are of a known length and the people who do these jobs on our behalf know not to pack too much, lest they don’t finish unpacking before they have to pack yet. again.
This past weekend I was invited to attend the Change of Command ceremony of the 321st Expeditionary Military Intelligence Battalion, currently based in Orlando, Florida.
The 321st traces its lineage to World War II Germany in the immediate post-war period as part of the reconstruction efforts. In the manner of the military the unit was deactivated and reactivated as necessary finally being brought back on-line to be deployed to Afghanistan in 2009 and again in 2013.
The reason I was there was because a friend of my, Lt. Col. Bill Putnam was taking over the battalion from its former commander, Lt. Col. Curtis Lindesay.
Change of Command ceremonies are highly stylized events. A great amount of Captains ordering their companies to present arms, and then order arms. The actual unit flag being passed from the outgoing to the incoming commander. Speeches, applause and not a few tears.
The largest, and most complex, Change of Command Ceremony will be repeated next January 20 when a new Commander-in-Chief is sworn in on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol Building.
This, although it was a battalion level ceremony, was no less important to the officers involved. Lt. Col. Putnam’s dad was there. He is retired Command Sergeant Major Roger Putnam who, during his military career was one of the most senior enlisted men in the entire United States Army.
Bill and I met in Iraq. He was an Army Reservist on a civilian contract. He ran an outfit called the “Baghdad Mosquito” which was a group of newspaper columnists and academics who scoured the indigenous media, translated it, and told those of us who were trying to make sense of what was going on what the locals were saying. He did a couple of turns around the track in Iraq as a civilian contractor, then decided to go full-time military.
Among the other things, Bill wrote a book about his experiences, “Tales from the Tigris.” I wrote the forward. He wrote the book. You can buy it from Amazon. You should.
Bill is as good as an example of the modern American soldier as there is. He graduated from Tulane University with a bachelor’s in political science, and then went on to get a master’s degree in international relations from the London School of Economics.
The military and other forward-facing U.S. Agencies is chock full of Bill Putnams. I am honored to have gotten to know a few of them.
Our nation is safer, and the world is better, for their having chosen to serve our country.