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COMMENTARY: Where Does Time Go?

  • Published
  • By Forrest Olson
  • 492d Special Operations Wing

The news of Gen. Colin Powell (ret.) passing recently brought a memory to mind that I would love to share in the spirit of how precious time is.

In 2002, I was stationed at Elmendorf AFB, Anchorage, AK, assigned to the 517th Airlift Squadron. As a Firebird, I flew C-130H’s to the remote, long-range radar sites situated along the extreme edges of the state.  It was one of the most challenging and rewarding missions I’ve ever performed.

The 9/11 terrorist attacks had happened a few months prior, and I recently had just become a new dad the following month in October of 2001.  On February 16, 2002, after nearly 4 months without sleep due to a newborn, I learned that President George ‘W’ Bush was on a trip to South Korea and Air Force One would be stopping at Elmendorf for fuel. 

Many times, when distinguished visitors show up on base, it means searching for personnel to fill your unit’s quota of unit participation, whether to attend a breakfast, lunch, or a speech.  But ‘W’ coming to Elmendorf was different.  Emotions over 9/11 were still very raw, and I would venture to say that most personnel and their families wanted to see him. 

I was fortunate enough to secure an invitation to hear the President speak and I brought along my wife and daughter.  We arrived early to the large aircraft hangar, as we wanted to ensure we had a place for all the ‘baby stuff.’  The best location ended up being right where all the President’s entourage would be making their entrance and walk to the stage.  The hangar ended up being packed to the rafters with more than 4,000 people.  Politicians started passing by… first locals, then the Governor of Alaska, Tony Knowles, then Secret Service agents, then Secretary of State, Colin Powell, and finally First Lady Laura Bush entered with ‘W’ Bush, “43”.     

I should have realized that babies to a politician are like honey to a bear.  One after the other, as they passed by they all seemed to pause to notice my daughter Jessica, a new 4-month-old.  Governor Knowles patted her on the back, and the First Lady, Laura Bush did the same as she passed and commented, “What a sweet little girl.”  ‘W’ even kissed my daughter’s forehead -- it was classic.  But Secretary Colin Powell’s engagement was pure gold.  He stopped, picked up Jessica and held her for a quite a bit of time – enough time to get pictures of him holding her as she played with his lapel flag pin, and for the entire 4,000 member audience to become fixated on this scene of Secretary Powell holding a little baby.   

At the close of the event on his way out of the hangar, I caught W’s eye as he walked by, and I said, “God Bless you, Sir.”  He looked at me and without missing a beat, he said, “He already has.” 

I haven’t met many famous people in my life.  I did get to shake George ‘HW’ Bush’s hand in 1988, and I even met one of the greatest baseball players in history, Hank Aaron in 1975.  But this electric event, the President’s speech, and seeing Secretary Powell with my daughter are moments in time I’ll never forget.  Now my daughter is 20.  Where does time go?