Sunday, December 09, 2007

Celebration, but not your typical holiday fare

I rushed out of work early Friday afternoon - a story in and of itself of why I was rushing - to make the trip up I-395 to a place I'd never been but a place all of us know.

The Pentagon.

My cousin, currently based there, was having a promotion ceremony. He sent me instructions on where to park and where to find my escort. Great. I was ready to roll.

I've been to MCB Quantico several times. The process is always the same: you drive through the entry road off of Rt. 1, explain to the MP why you're visiting and go about your way. And don't lie to the MP, as he's got an M-16.

I figured the process would certainly be the same at the Pentagon; then I could get clear directions on where to find the row I needed to park in.

Except, in the area I parked, there were no guards or MPs or even Pentagon Police. So I was on my own - and had to get it right the first time. I circled around the parking area three times to figure out where I should be; during one of those trips, it did cross my mind that if I botched this, I could turn on a TV and see "Breaking News" on Channel 7: Suspicious Vehicle At Pentagon.

I finally figured out that the rows are numbered on the pavement; no signs, which I had been looking for. I was looking for Row 47 and somehow found myself on Row 57. Sweet, just a few more rows down.

I drive further down and get to Row 49, after which the numbers are covered over. There are two more rows left before a vehicle bridge (which runs to an inner, more secure lot) separates the lot. I figure, well, this is 47, right?

I parked at an inconspicous spot, got out and started hoofing to the Pentagon Conference Center - not within the main building but well within security, so as far as I'm concerned, I was in the Pentagon. As I'm walking, I look at the lot just past the vehicle bridge and what do I see? An officially marked Row 47. Balls.

But I'm already out of the car on walking, so I keep going, through the main security building, explaining why I'm there, going through a metal detector. I go into a second building nearby and meet up with my escort.

After quick introductions - the program is about to begin - I explained the situation. He seemed to think it was 50-50 that anyone would care. Well, I'd prefer my Explorer not be on the evening news so I hoof back out, move the car, hoof back in.

The ceremony has started, I'm told, and they've reserved a spot for me in the front right.

I really have no idea what I'm walking into. I knew my cousins, Scott and Tom Boushell, had gone off to the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs after high school. And I knew they'd moved around quite a bit since then, and I had a pretty good idea they were successful. Tom was teaching, and Scott had put in time inside the mountain in Cheyenne, Wyo. And I knew that today, Scott was getting promoted.

I walked in during a speech by someone, who was explaining the Airman's Creed and how it related to my cousin. As I listened, I noticed that his uniform was richly decorated with six rows of those multi-colored pins. He must be somebody, I thought. Then I noticed his shoulder. One star was pinned there.

Good gravy, the guy's a general!

He gave a very moving speech that was pretty easy to understand. Occasionally there were some terms I didn't understand as he recounted Scott's career. He did it without notes, though he'd ask for assurances from Scott that he was right on some details - like Scott's time with the 400th Missile Squadron. The 400th, right?

He ended it by saying that he was aware the only barrier between Scott and his new rank was his flapping gums, so he wrapped up. Scott took the floor and I was one of the first people he thanked - he recounted how crazy the past few weeks had been, with Sean Taylor's death, two Redskins games in five days, high school football playoffs and getting ready for the winter season - and said he really appreciated that I shortened my day to be there.

I was honored that he did, but thanks weren't necessary. I wouldn't miss it!

He talked for a little while longer, then received his new pins (put on his uniform by his wife, Ellen, and my aunt and uncle) and his shoulder insignias, put on by Ellen's two sons, Armand and Rosario. Then he went into a longer thank-you speech, punctuated by many happy tears.

By then, he was officially a lieutenant colonel.

After the ceremony, we hung around and chatted with some of Scott's close friends and had a nice conversation with the man who gave the speech, Brigadier General Fadok. Apparently he was told of my parking problems!

When I left, I was still confused about the wider context of the promotion. Obviously, it's special to me and my family. But I really wasn't sure what it all meant.

I tracked down a frequent poster on SJ.com who is also in the military (Army, as it turns out) and sent him a quick note. So while he wasn't totally sure, the Army does have lieutenant colonels; he said among their top jobs is running a battalion (around 500 soldiers) or being the No. 2 person in a brigade (five-six battalions, 3,500-4,000 soldiers).

He left me with this line: "If your cousin's a lieutenant colonel at the Pentagon, yeah, he's made it."

So Scott's made it. We couldn't be more proud of him.

1 comment:

Mark said...

Great read! Thanks for sharing!