Senior Airman meets with key leadership in DC

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Andrew Harpole
  • 96th Communications Group
Only two months ago, I sat at Joint Base Balad, Iraq, waiting on a flight home.

While I was there, my duty title was Force Protection. This ranged from escorting Iraqis and Third Country Nationals (workers from countries other than the U.S. and Iraq) to guarding restricted area entry control points. We conducted random searches of living quarters and vehicles used by contractors. I performed those duties as well as volunteering at the hospital carrying litters off of helicopters.

Upon arrival back home, I spent my rest, relaxation and leave visiting family and friends back home in Tennessee. When I returned, I was notified I'd be visiting Capitol Hill (Washington) to discuss Air Force and Eglin issues with local and state representatives accompanied by my wing commander and command chief.

I realized this would be an opportunity of a lifetime and was eager to go. I was chosen out of the four groups from the wing to go. I, honestly, don't know exactly why I was chosen. My leadership is very good about giving credit where it is warranted. I was also there to represent Eglin's Junior Enlisted Force.

I flew up alone, to meet with the wing leaders.

The first night in Washington, I met up with Col. (Bruce) McClintock and Chief Master Sgt. Thomas Westermeyer for dinner. We discussed the reason for the visit and shared some background about one another. The visit was part of the Wing Commander Visit Program. After dinner, I felt confident in our visit.

The next day, we met up with Col. Michael Brewer, 46 Test Wing commander. We took the subway up to the Pentagon. This was my first visit.

It really was a city within itself. From there, we headed to the Capitol.

As we waited at the Pentagon, Gen. Robert Kehler, Air Force Space Command commander, suddenly appeared. Before long, I found myself having a conversation with the general about the recent Communications and Cyberspace transformation - something that will directly affect my career.

He gave me some insight regarding new career fields I'll be eligible for and spoke of retainability issues in the communications career field. With the rise of communications requirements throughout the world, the civilian job market has impacted the Air Force's communications manpower.

After about 15 minutes of career broadening with the general, we met with staff members of George LeMieux, U.S. Senator for Fla., and then with Congressman Gus Bilirakis, 9th Congressional District, Fla. He represents the district of Chief Westermeyer's home of record.

After lunch, we went to the Air Force liaison office. There was a meeting taking place there that included Gen. Norton Schwartz, 19th and current Chief of Staff of the Air Force, and Secretary of the Air Force, Honorable Michael Donley.

As the Chief of Staff and Secretary departed the meeting, they both stopped, introduced themselves (as if I didn't know who they were), taking time out of their day to greet a fellow Airman.

They both were very cordial and provided words of encouragement - "make us proud."
I was star struck and completely in awe. I had just met the two most senior individuals in the Air Force.

As if this weren't enough, there was more to come.

We only had a few minutes to speak with Congressman Jeff Miller, 1st District, Florida, before he had to depart for a voting session. I quickly noticed there was an existing relationship between the Congressman, his staff, and Eglin Air Force Base. I also realized some of the unseen work our leadership goes through to better our Air Force, installation, and their Airmen.

I knew I was merely "shadowing" the commander and chief, but I did bring up base issues that would impact me on a personal level (future infrastructure budgeting).

After meeting Congressman Miller, Maj. Samantha Weeks, Air Force Legislative Liaison, produced tickets for us to visit the House Gallery for the 111th Congress.

This was quite the memorable event, with Representative Patrick Kennedy, U.S. House of Representatives 1st Congressional District, R.I., making a statement against the national media's coverage of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan and the proposal to pull troops out of this area by the end of the fiscal year.

With a little over two years in service, this has proven to be the most eventful and rewarding day of my career. I'd like to thank my leadership for giving an Airman the opportunity to accompany them in the Wing Commander Visit Program to Washington and I'll be forever grateful.