21 December, 2005

Travelogue: The Fun Part

Written while on the train to Philadelphia...

I’ve struggled with how to write about this trip. I guess I’ll just start at the beginning, after a short bit of context.

I had been a little uncomfortable about this trip because I’d been told we would be meeting the Secretary of Veterans Affairs and that national media would be involved. I had visions of people wanting to thank and laud me for Valour-IT, and that made me very uncomfortable because I didn’t come up with this project by myself and I certainly didn’t single-handedly make it happen. Fortunately, plans shifted down to the Under Secretary for Health, and the media involvement will come later when the PR guy from the Military Order of the Purple Heart shops the photos and story to his media contacts. Furthermore, they weren’t even expecting me, and one of the Soldiers’ Angels there didn’t even know about the project or my involvement in it. So, there were no embarrassing compliments, which was a relief to me!

The day didn’t start out too well, though! I arrived at the VA on Monday just a couple minutes before the designated time. I went through security and gave them the name of the person I was told to say I had an appointment with. They couldn’t find her name on the computer, and I didn’t know her actual title. Oops! I called the phone numbers I had for MOPH, but got no answer. I didn’t have a cell phone number for any of the Soldiers’ Angels people who would be there, and neither did Patti.

I was developing a horrible sinking feeling, standing at the desk and waiting for Patti to call me back with more contact names/numbers she had, when I saw a gentleman walk up to the desk next to me. I vaguely heard him say something about Purple Hearts, and I noticed a Purple Heart lapel pin on his jacket. I leaned around him in order to see the left side of his suit jacket, while he looked at me questioningly. Sure enough, he had a tag that said MOPH and a name I recognized. It was the PR guy from MOPH, whom I’d been in contact with! I said, “Yes!!”

The man looked at me wonderingly, and the security guard asked, “Do you know this man?”

“No, but he knows me and he’s my ticket inside!” That cracked them both up, and after I introduced myself we got everything sorted out (it turns out I had a totally wrong spelling for the contact’s name). And in a typical FbL maneuver, I went running off to where Mr. PR directed me, leaving my ID at the security desk. He was rather amused when he brought it to me later.

I soon met the other two gentlemen from MOPH (though in retrospect, calling them gentlemen may be somewhat inaccurate, haha!). One was the National Commander for MOPH (army), the other was the Director of Volunteer Services (Marines). It soon became obvious that the two of them formed a comedy duo. They constantly dogged on each other and their respective service branches, and when they weren’t doing that they were flirting shamelessly with me and the other two women from Soldiers’ Angels.

Being a Marine, the PR guy couldn’t behave himself, either. ;) On the way upstairs, we ladies were gallantly escorted into the elevator. As the elevator doors closed, I found myself standing next to Mr. PR Marine with his arm around me and his hand firmly on my lower ribcage as we talked. It was in that moment that I knew I’d met the man Sgt. B was going to be in 20 years. I honestly just about laughed aloud at the realization!

[In an aside to the fashion-conscious, I must brag that little ol’ tomboy me hit the fashion jackpot. I wore a rich purple pantsuit that the men commented favorably on. They particular liked the color, saying (without levity) that it was very appropriate for our work that day. A man noticing FbL’s attire? Commenting favorably? More than one man? And the world didn’t stop spinning on its axis??! I know, I can’t believe it either, LOL!]

The laughter rarely stopped that day. The men insisted we ladies lead the way off the elevator. There were comments from Mr. PR and the rest about “we’ve got your back/six,” etc. I sarcastically replied, “Oh yeah, I know all about that… I’ve got a friend who always says, ‘I’ve got your six... besides, I like the view.’” It cracked everybody up, and they decided I was acceptable, though I know I looked so young with a new haircut that I’m sure everyone thought I was half the age of second youngest person there.

All in all, the time spent with the guys from MOPH was a ton of fun. The time spent at the VA hospital was largely not in the category “fun.” But I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I just can’t seem to put it into the right words yet, but I will soon. Promise. :)

[Yeah, this is a real lightweight post. I’m sorry, I just can’t seem get the serious stuff into words yet.]