Driving Miss Daisy, Iraq-style
The DV is a strange and precarious creature. Like a cheetah in the wild, everyone wants to glimpse one, get next to one, and walk away with a story they'll embellish repeatedly. I got to be a part of the festivities yesterday and witness three live DVs being moved and handled.
For those not familiar, a DV is a "Distinguished Visitor" in Air Force parlance. DVs are given their own priority order, with the lowest going to colonels and 1-star generals, and the highest going to the President, then his cabinet, and state governors. On my last rotation, I carried Undersecretary of State Robert Joseph from Amman, Jordan, to Ashakbat, Turkmenistan.
This time around, I got to hang with the 3-M governors (Massachusetts, Missouri, and Montana). Mitt Romney, the governor of Massachusetts, Matt Blunt, the governor of Missouri, and Brian Schweitzer, the governor of Montana, rode shotgun with us on a day trip to Baghdad. Our mission was to get them on target, on time, and in relative comfort (although When your 10-year old Jeep Wrangler has a better air conditioner than the 43-year-old airplane you fly, comfort is definitely a relative term).
We were originally slated to carry South Carolina's governor, too, but due to his state's impasse on a budget bill, he got to stick around and enjoy the Palmetto state a little longer. Romney was on the flight deck with us for the takeoff, and not knowing Mitt Romney from Knute Rockne I asked him who he was. When he told me he was Massachusett's governor, I politely asked him to leave the flight deck, declaring the cockpit off limits to all Red Sox fans. He laughed and made a few cracks my way, regarding the Yanks, and we hit it off pretty well. I asked him if he was at Fenway when the Sox finally won the World Series, and with a huge boyish grin he replied, "Yes I was."
I was a little thrown off with the lack of media coverage surrounding the three governors. There were only a few close aides forming the entourage, so I asked Governor Romney where all his local press was. He informed me that the press was told he was at the beach and for security reasons, he could only tell them where he really was when he returned. I asked him about his itinerary to see what a day in the life of a DV consists of.
When we flew Undersecretary of State Joseph to Ashkabat, he told me that the previous night he had had dinner with the Israeli Prime Minister, and that he would be dining with the President of Turkmenistan after landing, and if we wanted to spend the night, he'd ask the President if we could stay. Unfortunately, we had to fly to Kyrgzstan after dropping him off, but I still wish the plane would have broken there (it eventually did break as we arrived over Kyrgzstan, but I digress).
Romney didn't know what his itinerary consisted of. He was only going to spend one day in Iraq before flying off to Afghanistan for two days. I asked him what could he possibly do in just one day, and even he admitted it was too short a stay. I told him to look for Tarnak Farms flying into Kandahar, Afghanistan. It sits southwest of the airport, and used to be Bin Laden's personal compound. It's now an Army artillery range, but a piece of history, nonetheless.
The next governor to come on deck was Matt Blunt of Missouri. If I were a bartender and he walked in, I would ask him for not one, but three pieces of ID, and a note from his mom. The guy's only 35, but looks 16. Our pilot Matt's parents are from Missouri and he and Blunt started discussing the Cardinals, and the governor told him they had a great team, a great new ballpark, and Matt should catch a game when he comes home. Blunt is either extremely busy or extremely acrophobic (fear of heights) because he spent only about five minutes on the flight deck with us, and then went back downstairs.
The third governor we put on headset was Montana's Brian Schweitzer. I asked him what his cover story was, and he told me the press thought he was away on a fishing trip. He was fascinated by the canals and waterways he saw over southern Iraq. He told us that he studied farming for eight years in Saudi Arabia. Peering out into the Iraqi desert, he said his biggest goal was to develop Montana's coal industry so the U.S. could wean itself off foreign oil. When he mentioned that he'd like to process coal to be converted to jet fuel, and let the Iraqis keep their oil, he proceeded to win six future presidential votes, should he decide to run. He graciously declined, telling us Romney would be running in '08 instead.
As we approached Baghdad, we explained to the governors how we would conduct the approach, and that they were welcome to sit on the flight deck and watch it themselves. We discussed missiles, RPGs, and the occasional blue-on-blue (friendly) threat. With that we descended, and made for the capital. Descent and approach were normal, with the highlight being Matt setting the aircraft down as gently as laying a baby in its cradle. We taxied off, pulled into parking, and unloaded the governors. Two helicopters waited fifty feet from our plane for them, but before anyone could whisk them away, the governors promised us a few photos, and were gracious enough to oblige. Romney even handed me his personal coin, and told me "You're not a bad guy... for a Yankees fan." I wished him "Good Luck in '08," and we went our separate ways.
The truth is that besides having three governors on board, the flight was relaxed, laid back, even a little boring. But that's the way you want it. In the DV world, no news is good news.
Keep on rockin' in the free world.