Ostensibly, the journey is designed as part of the U.S. Army and Defense Secretary William S. Cohen's effort to "reconnect America with the Army," according to Fort Carson Public Information Officer Maj. Shelly Stellwagen.
But if efforts to obtain information about the voyage are any indication, the Army still has a ways to go in the reconnection department. On Monday, the Army installation was treating the upcoming tax-paid tour as if it were a closely guarded state secret.
The mayor's office referred all calls to Fort Carson Lt. Col. Steve Perez, who is the action officer for the trip. When contacted by a reporter Perez said, "[Its] purpose is to take selected leadership to the country to meet and observe our soldiers and impress them to bring back their perceptions of what we're doing over there."
Perez then decided he didn't want to be quoted directly, and referred all additional questions -- including the accurate spelling of his name -- to Capt. Sherry Reed, who works in the installation's public information office. Perez said that Reed's job is to vet reporters' questions, get the pertinent information from them and then "put the answers in words that she thinks are good."
"They're smarter than I am on the newspaper side," he explained.
When reached, Reed said she had never heard of the Independent and transferred the call to Fort Carson Public Information Officer Maj. Shelly Stellwagen.
Explaining that she is new to the community, Stellwagon initially said she was unsure of the details of the trip, including who else would be traveling with Mayor Makepeace and Gen. Soriano, why those specific civic leaders were selected to go and how much the trip is budgeted to cost. Several days later, she reported that 12 leaders were scheduled to travel, at $900 each, but that it is doubtful the VIP's travel itinerary would be released, citing security reasons.
In addition, she asked whether the intended story would have a positive spin.
"It's important for the civic leaders to see what soldiers are doing for America," she said of the trip.
Stellwagen cited Defense Secretary Cohen's recent personal campaign to "reconnect" America to the military as the driving force behind such tours. In a March interview with the American Forces Press Service, Cohen noted, "We have to constantly make sure that the American people are mindful of the role that the military is playing in our lives. I can't tell you how important it is to remind them how grateful we are."
For the past five years, American soldiers have been engaged in an ongoing peacekeeping mission in Bosnia, and currently more than 3,000 from Fort Carson are deployed there.
"We are a publicly held corporation in the stricter sense of the word," Stellwagen said of the military. "There are fewer and fewer people who have direct connections with the Army with firsthand knowledge of what soldiers do, and this is a chance to show our shareholders (taxpayers) what the soldiers are doing."
Stellwagen said she would do her best to find out who else would be traveling to Bosnia with the mayor and the Fort Carson general next week, as well as other basic information about the trip.
At press time this week, those details were not forthcoming.
Speaking of the military, we are proud to reprint Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush's train of thought while recently chugging through a dissertation about soldiering and leadership and related other items like nukes, certainty, evil and morale.
This week's featured Bushism was reported by theWashington Post on May 31, 2000, taken from a campaign stop in Albuquerque, N.M. In the candidate's words:
"This is a world that is much more uncertain than the past. In the past we were certain, we were certain it was us versus the Russians in the past. We were certain, and therefore we had huge nuclear arsenals aimed at each other to keep the peace. That's what we were certain of. ... You see, even though it's an uncertain world, we're certain of some things. We're certain that even though the 'evil empire' may have passed, evil still remains. We're certain there are people that can't stand what America stands for. ... We're certain there are madmen in this world, and there's terror, and there's missiles and I'm certain of this, too: I'm certain to maintain the peace, we better have a military of high morale, and I'm certain that under this administration, morale in the military is dangerously low."