Sunday, July 24, 2005

People in High Places:

I recently took a relatively exciting business trip, but that's not important now. The most memorable part of my trip was a story my limo driver told me. He explained that he's a methodical person. Coming out of school he decided that the way to make a life for himself was to spend twenty years in the military. He enlisted in the army. After seven years when he tried to re-enlist, they told him he was a trouble-maker and prevented him. So he “went across the street” to enlist in the navy. They gave him his seniority and the same rank, and he stayed in until the Gulf war began in 1991, leaving the military after 22 years. I think things worked out pretty well for him; he and his wife own their house and have five grown children. He's been a limousine driver since 1991, he loves to drive, and occasionally he gets enormous tips.

But why did the army decide he was a trouble-maker? Here's the story:

Early during his army stint, he spent time in Germany and really liked it. About the time he married, he filled out a form in which he was asked to specify the three places he would really like the army to send him to. He listed three cities in Germany. Instead he was transferred to Kansas. When his wife was eight and a half months pregnant, his transfer to Germany came through. She would not be allowed to fly, and he would not leave her alone with hardly any friends in Kansas. So he applied for a delay of transfer.

His application was passed up to his base commander, who called him to his office. “You're in the army, Sergeant; you do what the army tells you to do. You're going to Germany now.” My driver tried to plead his case, but the commander said, “Leave my office.” He turned to leave. When he reached the door, he said, a light went on in his mind. He turned and said, “I know people in high places.” “Leave my office!” the commander repeated.

He told me that when he got back to his place, he called President Nixon. “I voted for him,” he said, “and my wife voted for him.” I figured it was time to ask him for help.” He reached the White House switchboard, where an operator convinced him to talk to one of General Westmoreland's assistants. The assistant told him he should just refuse to go. “I told him, I have a military mind. I know how the army works. Without something in writing, I could not just refuse.” The upshot of their conversation was that he hand-wrote a six page letter to the general. The assistant brought it to the general's attention. Later our hero called the assistant, who told him the general had read the entire letter and signed it. “And only one person can countermand his signature,” the assistant said.

A week later he was called back to his commander's office. “Who do you know in Washington?” the commander asked. He got his delay, and his family flew to Germany when his first son was six weeks old.

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