‘Behind the Fence’

Brace yourself, this post has nothing to do with death.

Still with me then? Good. I’m glad.

So I had a pretty awesome experience last week. If we are connected on Facebook, then, well, you’re sick of hearing this again — I flew in a Blackhawk helicopter!

Well what does that have to do with my job in healthcare? Nothing. Or, maybe it does. Let me explain.

Each year, the local chamber of commerce offers a program designed to expose new leaders (that’s apparently me) with the opportunity to learn more about specific things happening in our area, in a variety of topic areas. The group (there are 22 of us) consists of people from healthcare, education, defense, finance, healthcare and a few other industries. We meet once a month to learn more about a particular topic.

We’ve done healthcare. We’ve done education. We’ve done judicial. We’ve done economic development. Along the way, this program has given me the opportunity to tour behind the scenes of an area casino, spend time with a judge and tour a prison, take part in an amazing program that aims to prevent teens from being distracted drivers and more — including the opportunity to listen and talk to industry leaders in this area.

While the program is teaching us new skills and techniques of leadership,  it’s also showing us just how much is ‘in our backyard’ and how the area in which we live are so dependent on all of the industries we are observing.

That was never more prevalent than last week.

Our focus? The military.

Now, this part of the world is heavily connected in the military community. We are, among other things, ‘the submarine capital of the world’ — since the world’s best submarines are, in fact, built here. We have a naval base that employs more than 10,000. We have a major service academy in our area, too.

We are military focused — yet for some reason, the leadership class hadn’t taken on the topic of the military.

Until this year.

Because this was the first time, the military partners involved in the tour rolled out the red carpet. And, well, that’s where the Blackhawks come in.

I, along with a few others, was completely stoked for this experience. Here I am a week later and I’m still in awe of what we did, where we went and how we got there.

The morning started on the base. On the way to the Blackhawks, our national anthem was played over the speakers for morning colors. Everyone stopped and it was hard to not feel different hearing it where we were — and with what we were about to do.

The Blackhawk was incredibly smooth — that’s what shocked me the most. It was such an easy, effortless ride. We touched down at the local National Guard camp and got a tour there, as well as multiple speakers explaining the Guard’s role and much more.

Back in the chopper for a 30 minute tour of our region — just an incredible experience to fly over places I see everyday and get a completely different perspective on the area I call home and all that’s around it.

We landed at another local facility where Blackhawks are maintained and refurbished. I had no idea this was going on in my community.

After that tour, one more short ride where we landed on the front lawn of the Coast Guard Academy. An absolute special experience to do that and then be toured around the Academy by a cadet, before joining up with senior administrators for lunch in the officer’s club. You couldn’t leave the  Academy without being impressed.

When we did leave, it was in a van this time (so depressing!) for a ride back to the base where the tour continued with a trip inside a submarine simulator used for training, followed by a look at how submariners train for deep water rescues and then finally aboard an actual US submarine in port for minor repairs and preparations to be made before its next significant voyage — which, according to the commander, could be as long as six months. Where to? He, of course, wouldn’t say. But, with all the continued drama in the Mid East, I couldn’t help but think this sub would soon be Syria bound.

So, Mike, you’re probably asking…here you are, more than 700 words in and you really haven’t explained the point of this.

Well, I say, it starts with the title of this post — ‘Behind the Fence.’

When the morning started, one the military types told the group that our access that day would take us ‘behind the fence.’ That we’d get to see things (the sub simulator) and do things (um, fly in a Blackhawk!) that others just don’t get to do. All of this, he said, was to show us ‘the other 1 percent.’ He wasn’t referring to the uber rich and talking taxes. No, he was talking about the 1 percent that protects the freedom we enjoy every day — without ever really thinking about it.

In exchange for this access, for this unique experience, he asked for something very simple in return. He asked for us to take what we saw back to our world and share it with people we know. To tell them not just what we saw, but who we saw doing it. And to see how much pride was involved.

So, here I am. Letting you know what a day this was.

Now, I’ve basically lived in this area my entire life, save a few years here and there. Obviously I know the importance of the military in this area. But, well, maybe I underestimated that a bit. I had no idea there’s a training ground not far from here where soldiers train in mock villages to simulate what they might discover in the Middle East. I had no idea that helicopters from 13 states along the east coast are brought here to be repaired/refurbished. I had no idea of the size and scope of the National Guard. I had no idea how impressive the Coast Guard Academy would be. I’d been there before, sure, but for a football game. I had never set foot in an Academy building until last week. I was thoroughly impressed.

The base. I had no idea how big it was. I had no idea how many sailors go through submariner school. I had no idea what life was like on a submarine. I had no idea how much work goes on when a sub is in port preparing for its next destination. I had no idea of the true economic impact the military has on, not just this area, but the state as a whole.

Flying in a Blackhawk. That was fun for me and the others in the group. But for the team flying us, it’s more than fun. It’s there job. For everyone we met that day, it’s more than just a submarine or a helicopter. It’s a job. But it’s really more than that. It’s about freedom. Their freedom. Our freedom. My freedom.

My nephew served and did multiple tours in Iraq. I’m proud of him. Or at least I thought I was. But now I’m even more proud of him — and the many others. Now that I got a better glimpse into the life, the work and so much more, I can start to appreciate the sacrifice even more. The sacrifice they make for me. And for you.

The point is, I understand it more. And I wish you all could experience what I was so beyond fortunate to experience. Who knows. I may never fly in a helicopter again — let alone a Blackhawk. I was given an extraordinary opportunity. One for which I’m thankful. And one which I wanted to share with you. Not just because I was asked to do it. But, well, because you should know. Particularly if you live in this area, you should know the incredible work that’s going on right in our backyard. It’s more than the obvious. It’s the stuff you’d never think about. Right here. This close.

And for that, those of us that live here should be filled with immense quantities of both thanks and pride.

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One Comment on “‘Behind the Fence’”

  1. 53322 says:

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