On Saturday, 71 PASS students and a handful of staff set off from Munich International Airport for Washington D.C. for a week or learning about the U.S. government and speaking to officials of various levels.
As with any trip to a new place, our informal first day – Sunday – began with a tour of the city. We visited the war memorials and notable sights in the city – Ford’s Theater where President Lincoln was shot, and the boarding house across the street where he died; the Chinese Friendship arch, and past the Smithsonian museums. Our tour guide, Noelle, was fantastic. She was well-spoken and knew a tidbit about everything. She gave us a great tour of the city.
Our first stop Monday was the Pentagon Conference Center. We heard first from Jennifer Walsh, Principal Director for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia in the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy. She was a young-looking woman, who spoke intelligently and confidently about her realm of work; before joining the Department of Defense she was a Fulbright Scholar to Sweden and earned her Master’s in Public Affairs from the LBJ School of Public Affairs at UT, Austin. She was very impressive both in background and presentation.
Our second speaker was Paul Hulley, principal director for the office of partnership strategy and stability operations in the office of the secretary of defense. He spoke a little about what he and his office is responsible for and then turned the floor over to David Cate, who works for him as director of coalition affairs.
Mr. Cate was confident and well-spoken. He addressed institution-building and leadership-building in-country with coalition partners, and stressed how much his office appreciated the work the Marshall Center did to help further their goals.
He talked specifically about some of the programs that help our efforts in building partner capacity such as the Warsaw Initiative Fund which supports defense reform and interoperability in conjunction with Partnership for Peace. In answering questions from the participants, he was very open, answering honestly and completely as possible.
The morning closed with Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, speaking to participants briefly about leadership and responsibility, and the importance of the PASS in helping forge relationships. If you have the opportunity, listen to the admiral speak. This was the second time I’d heard him in person. He has a deep voice, and when speaking does not fidget. He stood among the participants, and gave those with questions his undivided attention. You were assured of his honesty and sincerity when he answered.
One question was, what was the admiral’s secret to success? The admiral said his advice for success would be to not burn bridges, to keep options open, and to give themselves multiple strengths and skills.
He was asked about Afghanistan, Pakistan and India in particular, and stressed that it is important for us to engage in that area and region, to help develop the relationships among leadership of those countries; that the relationships were key to forging a lasting stability in the region.
All of the speakers addressed questions about Afghanistan, India and Pakistan, the START treaty and our commitments in Eastern Europe, and U.S. views and possible actions in Georgia and Russia. All were firmly able to say that te U.S. is committed to its goals of peace and stability in those regions.
Some of the questions were more leading than others, and I could tell the topics were very close and personal – especially to participants living in regions that see or had recently seen conflict – but everyone was respectful of others, and the speakers were candid and honest in their answers.
After lunch, the group went to Arlington National Cemetery for a walking tour. We visited the Kennedy memorial, and saw the changing of the guard at the tomb of the unknowns. Army Lt. Col. Eric Metzger narrated the tour, saying that currently the cemetery is holding about five funerals a week for service-members who have died in Iraq or Afghanistan.
On our way back to the buses, two soldiers driving a team of four dappled-grey horses pulling a cart with a draped coffin passed us, going up the long road of the cemetery entrance.
– Yvonne Levardi, GCMC PAO