A View From The Pentagon

Spread the love

My Meeting With Department of Defense Officials

About The Author

Brian Santhumayor of Nanthoor, Mangalore, has a Bachelors Degree in Engineering and MBA in Marketing and works as an Account Manager for an enterprise software company.  He volunteers by fundraising for numerous non-profit associations in the US and has won numerous awards and commendation for his charitable efforts.

I just returned from a visit to the Pentagon in Washington D.C. after attending a series of private briefings on Afghanistan, Iraq, and Detainee Affairs presented by senior Department of Defense officials. I was joined by a group of about 40 people that included Chief Executive Officers, the Press and other senior executives from World-Boston on this trip to the Pentagon. The WAC is the largest International Affairs Non-Profit in the United States and has 484,000 participants and 28 affiliated organizations. It reaches over 20 million people each year through its 2,500 events, radio, TV, and school programs.
The Pentagon is an awesome structure. It is the headquarters of the US Department of Defense. It is one of the world’s largest office buildings. It is twice the size of the Merchandise Mart in Chicago, and has three times the floor space of the Empire State Building in New York. We had to go through extensive security clearance and background checks prior to our visit to the Pentagon. The Pentagon was one of the buildings hit by planes piloted by terrorists on September 11. Over 184 people lost their lives in this tragedy.

What piqued my interest to visit the Pentagon was that with the exception of perhaps the Department of Homeland Security, no executive department in recent years has been in the spotlight as much as the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD).  With the president juggling various political hot potatoes in Afghanistan and Iraq, I was interested in getting a first hand insight from senior Pentagon officials on these issues. President George W. Bush’s job approval has fallen to the lowest level of his presidency amid worries over the Iraq war, a fumbled Supreme Court nomination, the indictment of one White House aide and uncertainty about another. A new AP-Ipsos poll found Mr. Bush’s approval rating was at 37 per cent, compared with 39 per cent a month ago. About 59 per cent of those surveyed said they disapproved.
Laura Cooper, a DOD official briefed us on the current situation in Afghanistan. She said that a lot of progress has been made in Afghanistan since 2001. Afghanistan currently has 20% literacy rate and 80% illiteracy rate. So the gap is enormous. Responding to a question from a World Boston member as to the current status of education in Afghanistan, Laura said “because institutionalized education is virtually nonexistent during the rule of the Taliban, there still is a lot of work to be done.  Afghanis are dealing with an 80 percent illiteracy rate that severely limits their human capital potential. There is still a lack of teachers, but teacher training has begun in Kabul and will continue to improve education conditions.”

Sean Stein, a pentagon official talked in length about the role of US in Iraq. He said that US has a simple strategy in Iraq i.e. to build a free prosperous democratic country.  In Iraq, the US continues to make substantial progress in organizing, training and equipping the Iraqi security forces.  There are more than 210,000 members in the Iraqi security forces that have been trained and equipped now.  That represents over 90 Iraqi police and army battalions in the fight.   To a pressing question of what the exit strategy for Iraq was? Sean responded, ” Our exit strategy is a victory strategy.  We cannot leave Iraq until we have prevailed; otherwise, the enemies of democracy etc., will be empowered.” He also said  “looking at the recent vote on the referendum, a major milestone was reached, 78.59% voted yes to approve Iraq’s constitution.”

The young officers

Alan Liotta who is the Deputy Director, DASD-DA briefed us on the very sensitive issue of detainees in the war on terror that is being debated in the media, public and the congress. The US Government has recently been thrown on the defensive by abuse of prisoners in Iraq and Guantanamo Bay.

The highlight of the trip was our tour of the Pentagon. As we walked the corridors of the powerful Pentagon, the seat of US military power, I was enamored by its very sheer size, as it is virtually a city in itself.  We visited the memorial that commemorates 184 victims of the terrorist attacks at the Pentagon on September 11, 2001. As I signed the book at the memorial, I remembered the day of September 11 in 2005, a day that was incomprehensible. It jolted all of us into a different world, a tragic reality that just did not seem real.

The briefing was concluded by Major Johnson who is veteran of the Korean War, Afghanistan and Iraq. He gave us a chilling insight of a marine?s life on the battlefield. To my question about the opposition to the war in Iraq and recent anti war demonstrations led by Cindy Sheehan, whose son Casey was killed last year in Iraq, he said “the duty of each Marine is to fight for his country when sent into combat by his Commander in Chief.”

Outside the Pentagon

Recently, India and USA entered into an agreement that ?charts a course for the US-Indo defense relationship for the next 10 years?. This landmark agreement will facilitate joint weapons production, co-operation on missile defense and the transfer of technology. I was hoping that the defense officials would touch upon this subject.  However, it turned out that this was a separate discussion by itself possibly for my next trip to the Pentagon!

As I left the Pentagon driving back to the airport, I looked at the Pentagon as it faded in the horizon and marvelled at the approximately 23, 000 men and women who work there both military and civilian who contribute to the planning and execution of the defense of our country.  

Author: Brian Santhumayor- USA

Spread the love