Bob Brewin reflects on 15 years of writing this column

A privilege
This year marks the 20th anniversary of Federal Computer Week. I have been at the magazine for most of that time. For roughly 15 years, I have been privileged to write this column, designed to offer a bit of breezy gossip and humor — and believe me, there is a lot of humor in the world of Defense Department widgetry — with a spin not found in our news pages.

This column — a true bully pulpit — also provides me with the space to pause, reflect and honor those people and organizations I have had the privilege to encounter in my coverage of DOD. That’s what I intend to do with most of this one, although I probably will not be able to resist a Defense Information Systems Agency zing later on.

Real heroes

We live in a world that manufactures heroes at a rate seemingly faster than Toyota can turn out cars.Manufactured heroism has reached such a stage of absurdity, I imagine that in an Olympics not too far in the future, we’ll be honoring bowlers. If curling — an activity based on stones, ice and brooms is an Olympic sport — why not bowling?

I encountered some real heroes last year on the medevac from Iraq, and it’s time to pay homage to them with a well-deserved salute.

A year after that encounter, I still stand in awe at the dedication and service of the men and women of the 791st Expeditionary Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron who treat the combat wounded from Afghanistan and Iraq with a combination of high-tech gear and a caring touch.

For some of these men and women, such as Air Force Col. Sharyn Roettger who commanded the squadron last year, the medevac mission is not even their day job. They’re reservists or members of the National Guard who volunteer for the tour, something to remember when my biggest problem of the day is shoveling two feet of snow.

Kudos also go to doctors, medics, nurses and others at the Landstuhl Army Regional Medical Center in Germany,Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., and National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., who care for these wounded warriors once they come home.

It’s also time to once again honor Ed Meagher, former chief technology
officer at the Department of Veterans Affairs and now deputy chief information officer at the Interior Department, who helped organize the long-running Dinner at Fran’s event, which ensured that the combat wounded at the Walter Reed facility had a heartfelt welcome home and a good meal. In addition, thanks to members of the federal IT community, who contributed cash for those dinners and showed up in person to say thank you.

Extend your hand
How do we personally honor the men and women we send into combat? If you travel a lot, like I do, it’s simple. Sooner rather than later in any domestic airport, you’ll run into men or women in their desert fatigues. Don’t dash to the security line — stop, extend your hand and say, “Thank you for your service.”

Believe me, as someone who came home from Vietnam to an indifferent welcome, that makes a difference. Then — and here’s the real challenge — if you have an upgrade, give it up when you get on the plane to someone wearing desert fatigues. Yeah, riding in the back is hell, but I’ve discovered if you give up the seat in front, the flight attendants will find you a nice aisle seat in the back.

Characters, yes, we have characters
The Interceptor’s work gets easier when he has great characters to cover — and none fits that bill better than Emmett Paige, who served as the assistant secretary of Defense for command, control, communications and intelligence from 1993 to 1997. Paige was dedicated, passionate and opinionated — and I never had to wonder what he was thinking because he was not shy about sending ALL CAPS E-MAILS saying “I’M GOING TO KNOCK YOUR BLOCK OFF” when I wrote something he disliked.

And anyone who wanted to could easily communicate with Paige because, in my first interview with him as assistant secretary of Defense, he readily furnished his e-mail address for publication.

Vice Adm. Art Cebrowski was a totally different kind of character. He was cerebral beyond belief and a man who could not help tutoring anyone who worked in his office. During his tenure as chief of the Office of Force Transformation, he never hesitated to point out the many elephants in the room. Not to overuse the word, but it was a privilege to be in his presence.

Thank you
I’m in the gimme business and could not do this job without a lot of people giving me their ears and time unstintingly, none more than public affairs officers throughout DOD, who, for the most part, could teach the rest of the federal government how to communicate with the press.

Special mention goes to my pal Bill Triplett, a longtime 5th Signal Command public affairs officer who accompanied me on a trip to Bosnia, Dean Sprague at the Army’s Program Executive Office for Enterprise Information Systems, and Mike Thiem at DISA. All these gentlemen are a credit to their profession and commands.

And Mike, I view DISA as my guarantee of employment. As long as your agency exists, I have a job — and a lot of fodder for this column.

Intercept something? Send it to [email protected].


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