A National Strategic Narrative Goes to the United States Senate
And a Veteran Goes on a Long Walk
The Beginning Stages
About a year back I was studying International Relations in college. As part of the course we would identify choice points in history like the Bay of Pigs, Gulf of Tonkin, and the beginning stages of Operation Iraqi Freedom and asses different policy options for addressing these potential conflicts. Ultra aggressive, middle of the road bumble along until forced into something, or detente were the frequent choices which we would apply to the United States strategy of Containment.
A bit into the course we were then exposed to a concept for a different National Strategy, one that didn’t focus on attempting to contain a threat but rather saw opportunities in threats, argued for wielding credible influence through example of our national behavior, and wanted to use our national treasure to invest in a sustainable infrastructure so creativity in problem solving could again flourish on American soil for long into the future.
We would then assess the same situations mentioned above not with orders of Containment but rather Sustainment or sustainability in general. As a former Marine Corps Sergeant, Iraq Veteran, and commercial fisherman concerned with giving back to the Earth and society more than I have taken, sustainability was constantly on my mind. I was hooked. I had to know more about this document: A National Strategic Narrative.
I suppose my interest in A National Strategic Narrative was built on many factors, namely the concepts and ideas embodied in the document but also the authors fascinated me. They were two military men, CAPT Wayne Porter, USN, and Col. Mark “Puck” Mykleby, USMC, and were Special Assistants to then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff ADM Mike Mullen when they wrote the document.
Thinking myself a strong critical thinker I researched their work more and tried to poke holes in the Narrative. I didn’t want to agree with this document just because we had all been in the military and it was nice to hear a Marine and Sailor talk about renewable energy, innovation, and education of our youth. The truth however was that the more I researched, read, and reflected the more their concepts fit with my values, ideals, and the direction I would like to see our country move.
I reached out to the authors to show some support and ask some questions, not thinking that much would come of it. I mean really, when you were Assistants to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs with a full schedule who has time to chat with some college kid in Nowhere, Maine.
Then I got a call.
“Hey Owen, this is Capt Porter. I just sent you an email that I really put some thought into and it bounced back to me. Help me figure this out. I put some time into this email and I want it to get to you.” Good thing it was a phone conversation and he couldn’t see the sweat beading on my forehead and fist pumping in the air.
The phone conversation turned into email exchanges, which turned into me driving to Boston twice to see and meet both Wayne and Puck at different events they spoke at. They even took some time to connect me with people that might want to help with one of my technology projects, another response that I never expected.
Now it was my turn to give back to the National Strategic Narrative cause. How could I help affect change? As a day dreamer (with purpose mind you) I came up with an idea. The Narrative could only be found online, so to get people of importance to look at the document required them to search, download, and then read on their computer. So I decided to get the OK from Wayne, Puck, and the WoodrowWilsonInternationalCenter for Scholars (the WilsonCenter originally published the document) and have the document printed up into book form.
My plan was this: Travel to Washington DC and hand deliver book copies of the Narrative to every United States Senator or at least to their office.
I did the design and layout of the book and funded having it printed up at a local shop (full disclosure, I did receive donations from individuals that supported the Narrative concept, which helped recoup some of my costs). I set the date for the trip as March 13-16th, with the 14-15th being Senate delivery days.
Sometimes following through on a project like this is tough, and tougher still if the only people that would know if you failed to follow through is your wife and young children. Lucky for me I had people in the Narrative community that knew and supported my initiative, which spurred on their own initiatives; specifically emailing all 100 US Senators to let them know I was coming. Two ladies in California did just that, split the Senate alphabetically so each had 50, but after completing their respective 50 both carried on and each emailed all 100 Senators.
They completed their mission, now it was time to complete mine.
Thursday March 14th, 2013
Thursday started by arriving at Senator Collins of Maine’s office on the 4th floor of the Dirksen Senate building. I was early so I walked the floor and handed out a few copies to Senators offices on that level. While passing by Sen Collins office, a young suit with a fresh haircut looked me over and asked “Owen?” He was her military liaison, so we stepped into the office for a chat before meeting with the Senator.
He was from Maine, a former Marine Corps Infantryman, and had actually read the Narrative and some of my work, specifically “Running With No Legs: The Costs of War” a piece about my buddy Ralph, an amazingly inspirational US Marine who had lost both of his legs in Afghanistan. Having experienced the war we both agreed on a fundamental fact: War is a last resort and before going to war, those giving the order should damn well know the costs monetarily, physically, and emotionally.
Senator Collins than swept in for a brief chat, picture, smile and out the door she went. These are very busy people so their time is in short supply but at least she found the time to do a meet and greet. With that under my belt I trotted off to deliver more books in route to Senator King of Maine’s office, where my next meeting was.
Good thing I watch CSpan constantly or I wouldn’t have recognized Senator Lamar Alexander waiting for the elevator. Not one to pass up the opportunity I approached him and bumbled out some words about being a Veteran down here to deliver some books. Being the statesman that he is, he respected my feeble attempt at changing the world and invited me to ride the elevator. Honestly I can’t remember what I said but he smiled, nodded, and said “Great, that’s great” a few times and left with the book and letter I had written up explaining who I was and what I was doing.
I hit up some more offices in the basement that connects all of the Senate buildings, carefully noting on my “Senators by Building” sheets, what offices I had dropped off the books at. I didn’t have many extra books in reserve, so insuring I was going about this in some sort of order was important.
Senator King, as a freshman Senator, was given an office in the basement as his new office was being prepped. Crowded doesn’t really capture the feel of the Senator King’s staff room, muzzled full is a better description. Again I was early, so I took the opportunity to shed off my 30 lb pack that was as muzzled full of books as Kings office was of people.
I entered into a conversation with Sen King’s military liaison while we waited. Recognizing our phenomenal corps of very capable young Veterans and educating said Veterans was the focus of my thought process. It goes like this: Veterans, in my view, already have a step up from other comparable groups of young people. Not often does the average 20 something year old have the responsibilities of calling in close air support for a patrol taking contact, then account for all munitions needed for company operations, than prep for and execute a six hour patrol. I did and many others like me did as well. Take that caliber of young person and put a college education into their heads. Now there is a workforce worth talking about.
Senator King came in, smiled and nodded during my spiel than stated “Good thing you know someone on the Armed Services Committee.” “Ahh, yes sir, that’s you and Select Intelligence” I replied, leaving out the Rules and Budget Committees, which I’m sure he is aware of. Off he went with his one book and away I went with my 90 or so, I still had much to do.
So I walked and talked, pinning down my 30 second sound bite I would tell the office staff before handing them the book and letter. I had two more meetings with Legislative assistance so I would canvas the floor of the person I was meeting with before the meeting, slowly watching the number of scribbled X’s next to a given Senators name on my sheet grow with every office.
Riding the elevator after a brief bite of food (and a pang of home sickness after watching a young boy the same age as my daughter play with his stuffed dog) I happened upon Senator Ron Wyden. He had his arms full of papers, an apple clutched in his teeth, and not a legislative assistant to be seen. He removed the apple after punching his floor number so I bumbled and stumbled out something about Veterans, sustainability, and books (I was getting a little better at this point) but to my surprise he seemed truly intrigued. “Nice looking book. Are you Mr. Y?” he asked. “No sir that would be CAPT Wayne Porter and Col. Mark Mykleby.” I replied, happy that I had chosen a beautiful image of Lady Liberty for the cover to catch the eye and had cited the WoodrowWilsonCenter on the cover as well.
At the end of the first day, Thursday, I was relieved that not many Senators had replied to my emails requesting meetings and that I had no meetings scheduled for Friday. This was because for the amount of walking I did, back slick with sweat from my heavy pack, I had only delivered slightly above 20 books.
Friday March 15th, 2013
Friday started the same as Thursday, a ride on the Metro from Vienna to Capital South and a couple block walk past the Capital to the Senate buildings. Today I decided to start at the Hart building, first floor, and work my way up until every name on my Hart sheet had an X next to it. Not much to note here other than the floors that the Senators have their offices on alternate, so my systematic approach was confused that no one was on the second floor, but I caught on quickly. Also the Hawaiians, boy didn’t that nice Hawaiian lady’s huge smile make me forget about the hotspot I had developed on the ball of my left foot. Thank you Hawaii.
I took lunch between completing Hart and finishing off Russell and Dirksen, both of which I had started the day before. This proved to be good timing because I overheard a speech writer discussing his work with Sheldon. Sheldon’s environmental speech on this and energy speech on that, Sheldon is a great guy, etc. My trusty 2+2 method helped me put together that he was talking about Sheldon Whitehouse, the Senator from Rhode Island. Not wanting to miss the opportunity to get the Narrative into the hands of a speech writer for an environmental junkie I calmly got up, politely interrupted, and briefly explained that he was the only non-Senator to get this book, so please look it over. Who knows, maybe it will make it into a speech!
After lunch (a Senate burger with the works because, I mean really do I need to explain) I finished making my way from the space age designed Hart Senate building to the oldest and more historical Russell Senate building. The marble staircases, ornamental fireplaces, and beautiful corner Rotunda were a bit more calming than the iron clouds floating over iron mountains in the heart of Hart. The echoes of my footsteps through the hallways brought about thoughts of the old days, where maybe you could just knock on the Senators office door to have a brief chat about something you thought was important for the future of our Nation. Sadly those days are over and I lack the time and money needed to have more than a one minute meet and greet.
My melancholy thoughts of days past were quickly replaced by chuckles after I realized that at the end of many hallways were old school showers that the Senators must have used. The laughter was mostly brought on by the fact that the showers had only a ¾ door where, if someone was showering, you could see their legs from the knees down and head from the shoulders up. What a convenient thing for that hard working and multitasking Senator that wanted to dictate notes while showering.
Russell fully completed and Rotunda carefully inspected (I’m a stone worker, so fine masonry is always a reason to pause and take note) I again made my way to the basement and through the brick passages underground to the final Senate building, Dirksen.
Dirksen is a blur. My 30 second sound bite was committed to memory at this point and my pack much lighter, so I carelessly moved from office to office and floor to floor.
Certain things though, if you are paying attention, can perk your interest after you start to get a feel for the environment you are operating in. Like the broad shouldered, baby faced young man, clean cut with a fresh haircut on the phone that is eyeballing you during your sound bite. So you pause, and slowly turn around for the door. Then baby face, finished with the phone, gets up to reveal his full over six foot stature and brightly exclaims, “Hey, you’re a Marine. Me too! Who were you with?” “Lots of units, base, infantry, amtracks, and (I could almost smell it on him) Recon for a bit before I busted my hip. I was an Ammo Tech” I replied. “Cool, I was 2nd Recon, just got out two weeks ago. What do you need?” he asked. “Check this over and get it to your Senator.” I said as he relieved the other aid of the Narrative book. There isn’t a doubt in my mind that he got it to his Senator. Semper Fi baby face.
Upon completing Dirksen I reviewed my check sheet and found that there were two last offices that I had put off because they were located in Russell Courtyard, which had somewhat confused me. I asked a group of ladies where I might be able to find it and they gave me spot on directions. Being on the top floor and having walked many miles at this point, I located the arrow pointing down and allowed myself to take a ride on the elevator.
I made my way up the red carpet to the Russell Courtyard and delivered my last two books. It was done, I had finished. I was relieved but somewhat let down. There was no sound of trumpets, there was no fan fare, or bottles of champagne. There was only my sore feet and an empty backpack.
That lasted for about half a second.
I realized I could hear the trumpets from the Narrative supporters in our Nation’s south lands. I could feel the supporters confetti from the Midwest and the fan fare from us supporters in the Northeast. Champaign bottles were spewing forth happy thoughts of progress from the supporters in the West. Someone in Hawaii must be a supporter because I felt the lays being placed over my head and someone in the tiki light said “Good job, go get a beer.”
So I did just that, took the Metro back to Vienna and got a beer.
What was it all for?
What did I wish to accomplish with this venture into the heart of our Democracy? Before the trip I was thinking that if any Senator at least cracked open the front cover of the Narrative book they would become as hooked as I am. They would rush down to the floor of the Senate and bellow so loud in support of the text that the President would hear it in the White House and come rushing down the street. There would be a rush of Senators that found the text so compelling that they would jockey for position to see who the biggest supporter was.
This result, however, exists only in my ever optimistic, day dreaming fantasy world. In my fantasy world everyone is kind and fair, utilizes logic and critical thinking to analyses problems, and makes a decision based on merit and long term evaluation of the common good. My world is similar to the Big Rock Candy Mountains world, where there is a lake of stew and of whiskey too and we paddle all around them in a big canoe.
The real world is much different and is more in line with the legislative assistant that told me, in no uncertain terms, that there was “No way that my Senator will read this book.” “Ah, that’s ok, that is why I wrote the letter. Hopefully it will incentivize him to look into the book.” I replied, thinking that was a reasonable response. “There is no way he will read your letter.” Was the counter. Somewhat stunned by the brutal honesty, I thanked her and decided my time was better spent someplace else.
With this new information bouncing around in my head I wondered what is the happy medium between the Candy Mountain world and the No Way world.
Near the end of A National Strategic Narrative the authors call for a National Prosperity and Security Act. This new Act would essentially replace the framework of the National Security Act of 1947 and National Security Council finding 68, which together became the “blueprint” of our Cold War policy of Containment. This National Prosperity and Security Act would restructure our governmental policies to fit our ever changing and interconnected world, where prosperity and security are bound together by our shared values, and executed in a sustainable fashion. Knowing I was dealing with Legislators, I referenced the National Prosperity and Security Act, in the letter that accompanied the Narrative book, as the one thing I wished the Senators to conceptually entertain.
So what is the happy medium that I now envision? I wish that one, just one, United States Senator will find the concept worth evaluating and possibly bring it up at a Committee meeting.
I hear many Senators on television talk about renewable energy, reforming the way we educate our youth, economic development in the private sector, reining in our debt, and security of our nation’s borders. Sometimes I even hear about long term investment in stuff. The stuff is less important to me than the fact that some of our elected officials are thinking past the next election cycle and more about the future. Some of them must have read the Preamble to our Constitution, specifically the line “secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity”.
In my opinion, the best way to secure the amazing blessings of physical and cognitive liberty, to ourselves here and now, and the posterity that we can only dream about, is by establishing guidelines for our government and Her people to operate and function in a sustainable fashion. With population ever increasing and our resources ever dwindling, something must be done to reset the way we grow our food, use our water, generate and store power, educate our posterity, and interact with other nations. We can all, the entire global community, come out on top here. This can be a win win situation for the future, but it takes a new way of thinking and how we conduct our lives.
I, for what it is worth, support the American citizens in raising their voices for a sustainable change. This also requires our elected officials and leaders to act now. So please, if you feel the same as I do, petition your Representative or Senator to evaluate and discuss a National Prosperity and Security Act, based on sustainability.
This essay started by discussing choice points in history. Points that redirected the path we walked as a human population, domestically and internationally. Now is a choice point. Now is the time to act. Now is for the future.