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Students found out about Caldwells media requirement when the general welcomed the student body of 1,251 last summer.
One of the instructors who took Caldwells mandate seriously was Lt. Col. Brian Allen. But though he appreciated Caldwells goals of transparency and communication, he figured that few in the media would care what his students had to say. (The original bulletin outlining the new media-openness requirements, however, remains classified.)
Thats why I tested it, thinking, Is this just another venue for chamber-of-commerce happy talk? Allen says. He e-mailed The Pitch, inviting any reporter to come along with his 16-member class on an August 2008 trip to visit the National World War I Museum at Liberty Memorial in downtown Kansas City.
Allen describes the national-security curriculum he teaches as a bit of civics, constitutional government, a bit about strategic planning. Most of it should be review for his students.
This class is made up mostly of Army officers, but there are two Air Force officers, a Marine and one Special Forces officer in the group. The college engineers its classrooms to be racially diverse and to mix genders and services. The Navy, the Air Force and the Marines send top officers here, in part to promote understanding among the services. Allens class also includes one African-American officer, a female officer and a foreign officer from Turkey. Classes follow a kind of one-room-schoolhouse model: Sixty-four groups of 16 students spend four to six hours a day in the same classroom while their instructors move from room to room.
During the field trip to Liberty Memorial, Allens class takes over a conference room at the museum for a lesson on the global chain of command how the military slices the Earths continents into segments, with a U.S. communications headquarters stationed in each.
Allen draws a map of the world on a dry-erase board, and officers call out the names of each communications headquarters until the map is completed. At one point, Simonds, who is one of the more outspoken members of the class, expresses his gratitude that his group isnt full of dead fish lively conversation keeps things interesting.
After class, officers walk around the halls of the museum, like just another group of students on a field trip, milling among glass cases filled with period weaponry and uniforms. Some sit through a black-and-white film in a small auditorium, which includes a life-sized diorama of battle action that lights up in sync with explosions on the screen. The officers, most of whom are in their 30s, stand out among the mostly gray-haired museum patrons. They wear civilian clothes.
Just before lunch, groups of three and four officers dutifully take turns sliding into a booth in the museums cafeteria to answer a reporters questions. Subjects arise that are familiar, if not downright stale to these officers by now: post-traumatic stress syndrome, the presidential election, their multiple tours in Afghanistan and Iraq. Complaints about the medias coverage of the wars surface quickly.
Maj. Jennifer Gruber completed two tours of Afghanistan, the first from 2003 to 2004, the second from 2006 to 2007. On the latter, as the company commander of a Blackhawk helicopter company, she was in charge of 10 aircraft and 20 pilots and crew chiefs as they flew missions.
For the longest time, even when I was in Afghanistan, you see [in news reports] Iraq, Iraq, Iraq. And Im, like, hey, are we just the forgotten folks, or what? Now, Gruber says, networks report little news from either front anymore.
Maj. Ron Garst, a Special Forces officer, remembers a 2003 encounter in Africas Ivory Coast when BBC World and CNN reporters got in his way. His team was trying to evacuate a bus and a truck filled with civilians, and the news crews were blocking the road. It wasnt the most friendly encounter, he says.