Traveling Soldiers

Yesterday I learned firsthand what it means to be unfashionably early. It wasn’t a good place to be early, either: Joint Base Lewis-McChord. It’s one of the largest military bases in the country, so naturally they work hard to keep it secure. I went there to cover an event celebrating the heritage of the Guns-A-Go-Go unit in the U.S. Army, a group of soldiers that flies attack helicopters, because veterans of the unit were visiting JBLM to meet the soldiers who currently serve in Guns-A-Go-Go. Before I could do that, though, I had to go through the gate to have my ID checked, and because I don’t exactly have a formal media pass, it wasn’t clear to the soldiers manning the gate what I was doing there. One of them had no idea this event was going on. I was supposed to meet the PAO officer at the gate but I got totally confused and drove around for a bit. This wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t been half an hour early. Then a soldier showed me where to wait (this was the one who didn’t know about the event) and I just stood outside my car for awhile. I had to explain everything – normally Brent’s the one who covers news at JBLM so I was completely new to them, and a lot of them aren’t familiar with Patch. (I’m going to change that, of course.) But it all turned out all right – the PAO showed up right on time and brought us where we needed to be. In terms of following rules, I held myself to similar standards that I do in the courtroom. (Which I also went to this week. More later.) I couldn’t go anywhere without an escort. Seeing everyone dressed in Army fatigues is of course a change, although it’s not like I’ve never seen it before, like at airports. It was the first time I’ve ever actually met active duty soldiers. I didn’t spend a whole lot of time speaking to them, since I mostly was taking pictures and posting to the Patch mobile app. But I hope I will get the opportunity before the end of summer.

The event itself was pretty interesting. I had to soak in as much as I could, because I’d never heard of Guns-A-Go-Go before. Back in the Vietnam War, a unit in the Army took cargo helicopters and attached weapons to them, and it became a successful method of pinning enemy targets. Now the 4-160th SOAR(A) company uses helicopters like this, although according to the company commander, the weapons are more for self-defense than attacking. The aircraft carry special forces to their mission sites. I met a couple of the veterans’ wives from Alabama and had a nice conversation (maybe even turned them onto Patch). I enjoyed seeing the soldiers interact with their kids, especially. So it was only a small part of the base that I saw, since it’s huge, a combination Army and Air Force base. Soldiers get deployed from there several times a year. I forgot that most of them aren’t from Washington, but all over the country. So were the Vietnam veterans who were visiting. Their generation is starting to get up in age – the commander told me that they now do honor flights for Vietnam vets to DC to visit the memorial, like they’ve been doing for World War II vets for awhile. (There aren’t many of those left, at all.) I think it’s important to get to know veterans of all kinds – glad Patch is giving me the opportunity to get up close!

I’ve had today off after yesterday’s adventures and used the time to go out to breakfast with my mom, work out at the gym, read, write, and play cello. Overall it’s been quite a busy week. My grandparents were here last weekend, when I went to Rhubarb Days and Summer Celebration (I was very tired of street fairs after that), then saw a Mariners game, which was a lot of fun (they won!). On Tuesday I Skyped with my future roommate, Laura, who is in Scotland studying right now, learned how Styrofoam gets recycled, met an enterprising 22-year-old who is co-running a non-profit for testicular cancer, and went back to the courtroom. This was for the same 14-year-old being held for alleged sexual assault of a young girl. That wasn’t very eventful, actually, as it mostly consisted of the parties signing documents stating they understood the charges. The media frenzy following was intense, though, as they interviewed one of the boy’s friends. I felt sorry for her and didn’t ask her any questions. I did film Lauren’s interview with the deputy prosecuting attorney and took notes. While the incident isn’t as fresh as it was the first time I went to the courtroom, the drama isn’t going anywhere.

What else did I do this week? I met a track and field star from Puyallup, heard the story of five Lakes High School students who saved a man’s life by performing CPR, and learned about a new middle school planned for the Renton School District. And I talked with my regional editor, and he seems to think I’m doing okay. I got a big assignment from him: guest-edit the Enumclaw Patch for a week coming up here. That means I have to run the site, generate as much content for it as possible, program the newsletters, and be really on top of it. Sounds scary, but I have the skills now. It’s time to put it all together. So starting on July 29, I’m your girl, Enumclaw.

I’m also planning a cello recital on August 10, if I can get it nailed down at my church. These next few weeks are going to be crazy, as I also have to start thinking about school again. I’m getting to the point in the summer where I’m attached to being here and don’t want to leave. I love my Patch editors and the people I’ve met in the towns I’ve visited. I want to do this for the rest of my life. It does get time-consuming, and I do feel sometimes like I’m dropping the ball on other people because of it. My brain is going a million miles an hour most of the time. But I figure, those who are most important to me will never fully leave my heart. My friends here on Mercer Island certainly haven’t, and it’s why I will gladly go play games and take “leprosy walks” with them any time. When I head back to Luther on Aug. 28, I’ll hang onto this experience as much as I can, while also finding room for everything going on. EEP!

Cheers,

Brita

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