Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, August 20, 2013

War College

An air show pilot’s experience at the National Security Seminar

There I was, not flying upside down, but getting a personal briefing from former head of the CIA, Gen. Michael Hayden. "Mike," my new BFF, who has had the ear of several Presidents, talked about Syria, North Korea, cyber warfare, the NSA and other important issues, and wanted my opinion. But, to be truthful, we weren't the only two people in the room. I was with several hundred students, faculty and guests at the Army War College's 59th National Security Seminar (NSS) in June of this year.

When friend and air show pilot USAF Col. Jill Long nominated me to take part in the NSS, she said it was very selective and not to be disappointed if I wasn't chosen. Only 150 people are invited to participate each year based on the diversity of their backgrounds. Who knew that this year an air show pilot would be one of group?

For 59 years, the Army War College in Camp Hill, Pa., has held the NSS with the purpose of reaching out to civilian leaders to better acquaint them with the future leaders of the Armed Forces. I was thrilled when my letter of invitation arrived. I had no idea what to expect, but knew I'd be intellectually challenged. I called a friend who was also invited and asked him, "How much propaganda do you think they can throw at us in one week?"

I've known military pilots who have gone off to War College after a flying tour and had visions of studious officers hunched over board games like Axis & Allies and Tide of Iron, playing out dramatic battles with toy soldiers. The National, Army, USAF and Marine War Colleges are the nation's top finishing schools for military officers in leadership positions and offer graduate programs in strategic studies. To give you an idea of just how elite this institution is, graduates of the Army War College include Pres. Dwight D. Eisenhower, Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, Jr., and Gen. George Patton. It's a kind of "think tank" combined with networking opportunities.

I arrived in Harrisburg in my V-tail Bonanza direct from Norfolk (ORF), after performing low-level aerobatics over the water in front of 100,00 of my closest friends at the Virginia Beach Patriotic Festival. I flew north and a little east to give wide berth to the Washington, D.C. ADIZ, deciding it would be poor form to show up at Capital City Airport (CXY), with an armed military escort (or maybe not?). I was about to trade my flight suit for "business" wear and had an extra suitcase packed in the back of the airplane.

I was met by USAF Col. Stephanie Williams, a C-130 pilot who was just finishing her year at War College. On the way to my hotel, Stephanie told me a little about what to expect and gave me a packet of information describing the week of talks, seminars and tours.

Just as you might expect, in the U.S. Army everything runs like clockwork, and we had a full schedule starting with our 0715 morning departure to the evening events. I'm obsessively über-punctual and wondered if that's a result of my own family history with a father in the Army Air Corps, three uncles at West Point and a grandfather who was killed in action in World War II when he was with Merrill's Marauders in Burma.


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