27 March, 2007

Of Forgotten Firearms

The recent brouhaha over a senatorial aide who appeared with a firearm he shouldn't have had on Capitol Hill stirred a memory for me. I'm not sure what it says about airport security, but it was certainly amusing...

Last year at the USO I picked up the phone to the voice of someone from airport security on the other end. She said, "We have an Army Lieutenant Colonel here who needs something to secure his weapon. Can you help?" I couldn't imagine what she was talking about, but I said to send him down and we'd see if we could help. I was envisioning someone who had arrived for an outbound flight and forgotten to pack his weapon properly.

About five minutes later a forty-year old man in camouflage opened the door, scanned the room from corner to corner and stepped in with attempted savoir-faire, teenage boy in tow. He had that hard and lean, happy andrelieved-but-jumpy look common to those newly-arrived from combat in Iraq. As I walked up to him and saw his insignia, I welcomed him and asked, "You're the LTC they just called about?"

His facade cracked for a moment as he dipped his head and laughed in embarrassment, then quickly looked at me directly again as he tried to regain the upper hand. He explained he was just hours back from Iraq and was meeting his son who would accompany him on the last leg of his flight. I swear he blushed as he said that he hadn't realized he'd had the weapon until he'd tried to get back on the plane after meeting his son.

Apparently he had been no Fobbit and was very comfortable with that loaded pistol tucked under his arm. In Iraq, with visions of home dancing in his head, he'd stepped on the plane with nary a thought to what he was carrying. He hadn't left the terminal in either overseas or continental US stops on the way home... until he got to us. Now they wouldn't let him back on with his sidearm.

I took him to the Director, who dug up a metal box he had, poured the contents on his desk, wrapped the pistol in a towel, and locked it in with a padlock. The LTC was sent on his way after coffee and conversation.

Talk about discomfort, though! I honestly never thought I'd live to see a combat-hardened LTC like that nearly scuff his shoe in embarrassment and chagrin. I have since told the story when visitors ask things like, "So what kinds of things do you do to help people here?" The enlisted personnel in particular enjoy this one...