Over the past 3 years, it has become a tradition for us to travel as a family to Charlottesville, VA, for the annual SJA conference. Fred has a week of meetings, I have half a week of meetings, and the kids have a week of living in the Residence Inn and pretending they are well-to-do orphans. This year we took 2 Gameboys, 2 DVD players, a Gamecube, a computer, a sack of books, a sack of rodents plus an anteater, a dog, and an electric guitar with us, all to keep the young ones amused. Fred said it feels like we are backsliding to the early years when they were babies and we had to travel with all the required baby paraphernalia.
Ginger proved to be a champion traveler. She made it through the entire week without once having an oops! on the hotel's carpet. Mike and Annabelle took her out every few hours throughout the day, and then Fred and I took over dog-walking duties in the evening. Her favorite thing was to go walk around the UVA track that was just behind the hotel. She always met an admirer or 2 and occasionally another puppy friend. Annabelle taught her how to drink out of the water fountain:
On Tuesday night, we had the traditional formal dinner at Darden Hall. The food was awesome, but my shoes were too tight. You can't tell it from this picture, but my feet were killing me:
On Wednesday afternoon, I took the kids with me for the UVA tour that had been arranged for the spouses. I'm afraid I embarrassed them though by insisting on taking their picture with Mr. Jefferson. I probably should have just stuck a couple rodents in his hand instead:
It might sound nuts that I choose fill up half my week with the voluntary spouses' program, but I always have a great time. It feels like homecoming or a class reunion, as I get the chance to catch up with friends who have come in from--literally--all over the world. Also, they feed us really well--mimosas and brunch on Monday, Panera's shipped in on Tuesday, and on Wednesday an amazing luncheon out at Keswick. What's not to like?
The classes themselves tend to be interesting and useful. In fact, one this year impressed me so much that I plan on dedicating an entire post to it. Remind me if it doesn't appear by the end of the week, OK?
One of the most fascinating things this year was listening to the leadership speak about current events. Our TJAG, MG Scott Black, won a special place in my heart 2 years ago when he kicked some ass and made things happen for Fred to be able to attend the Worldwide from Iraq. This year when he came to welcome the spouses, he spoke quite eloquently about how he finally "gets it." He has been, he said, in the position for years and years of being the military member who drives away from home, leaving his wife and kids on the doorstep. Sure it's sad to leave them behind, but it's exciting to know that you're going off to do what you've trained to do and maybe have a few adventures along the way. A couple months ago, however, their son deployed to Iraq and now, he said, having been in the position of being the loved one left behind to worry and wait, he really, truly "gets it."
On Tuesday, we joined the SJAs to listen to the keynote speaker, General Peter Schoomaker, Chief of Staff of the Army, give his speech. I didn't take notes at the time, because frankly I was expecting an hour of sunshine being pumped up my overalls, and I just wasn't in the mood. I'm kicking myself now though, because it was anything but that, and I wish I could remember it in better detail.
One quote that stands out quite well to me was: "How America fights matters." I remember it because he must have said it 3 or 4 times at least and because it seems so blatantly at odds with the position of our the-ends-justify-the-means Commander in Chief. Soldiers are in a tough position at times, needing to remain politically neutral and yet obligated to respect the chain of command. That balancing act gets even tougher and more important the higher up you go. So it was refreshing to hear Schoomaker speak frankly on the issue.
He also spoke at length against a draft, saying that it takes too long to stand up a conscription force. He and I part ways here; as he said himself, this is a "long war." (If I had a nickel for every time I heard the phrase "long war" last week, I would need to buy a second piggie bank. I don't think it will be long before it's capitalized and officially branded, the Long War replacing the Cold War. Hey, maybe we can even get corporate sponsorship, like the NASCAR races. How does the Pepsi Cola Long War sound to you?) Anyway, if it is indeed such a loooooong war, why not start drafting now to have reinforcements in place 5 years down the road? Might I propose we start with the membership of the College Republicans? But I digress . . .
Another thing that I thought was telling about General Schoomaker's address was when he asked how many in the audience had children serving in the military right now. Quite a few hands went up. Then he asked how many of us had parents who had served, and even more hands went up. He looked around the room and said something like, "Huh. You'd be surprised how different the response is when I address the political and business leadership." Score one for the general!
Long story short, it was an inspirational week and heaven knows I could use a little inspiration right about now. I remain deeply embittered over our political leadership and the Charlie Foxtrot that is the war (oops! I meant "the long war"). But the people I spent last week with are the kinds of people who make me deeply proud to be a part of their team.
2 weeks ago