I do a lot of public speaking. I like to think I do it fairly well, or at least I can be mildly entertaining and I hope a bit informative as well. Normally I speak about cyber security (that is my job right now), or broader homeland security issues (that had been my job when I was the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense). Most of my speaking gigs are in the DC area, or perhaps other military or government connected locations. Every once in a while, however, I get invited to do something that is both exciting and frankly humbling. I get to speak to the real American Public.
Next week, I will travel to Emporia, Kansas, way out in the Heartland of America. The occasion is Veterans’ Day. While there, in three days, I will speak seven times. The audiences will include a couple of High School Civics classes, two different groups of college students, a Salute to Veterans Lunch, a civic association evening convocation, a USO program in honor of Vets, and most importantly, a memorial service at a Veterans’ Cemetery. How all this came about is not important, but I must tell you, I am pumped.
I have gone to other locations in the Heartland to speak before, and it is always refreshing and completely heartening. Here inside the Beltway, we tend to get jaded, and frankly, more than a little arrogant. We think we have the answers, and everyone “out there” is really out of touch with all the “important work” we do here for their benefit.
Well, that is nonsense. The American people in the main have a great sense of right and wrong, correct and incorrect. My old Boss, SecDef Donald H. Rumsfeld used to accurately say, “the American people have a great inner gyroscope that leads them to the right thing.”
The people out there know there are critical issues at stake today, be they the War on Terror, cybersecurity, or America’s potentially tenuous place in the world today. They want to learn the issues; they want to hear the facts and the opinions (as long as you identify which is which); and they want have their intellect and “gut” respected. If you ever want to be challenged by great, insightful, non-politically motivated, relevant questions, head outside the Beltway. Meet with groups of a reasonable size, share some “food for thought” and then get ready to have to think on your feet. There is no “gotcha” but the questions will challenge you and cause you to articulate why you think certain things are right and others are wrong. It is a strong tonic to “Beltway Hubris.”
I really wish more folks from DC would get the opportunity to do what I will be doing. It is invigorating and rejuvenating. I will talk some history, some policy and even some politics. I will challenge young people and remind older ones of their responsibilities as citizens. I will report on the present crop of young men and women serving our Nation to members of the Greatest Generation (WW II), the Forgotten Generation (Korean War), and the Abandoned Generation (Viet Nam War). Lastly, I will call for our citizens to honor ALL those who have served, who have answered the call of their nation and assist them in being a part of the solution to our national challenges.
I don’t know if anyone will get anything of merit from my words in and around Emporia, but I know I will have my faith in our country renewed and will return here ready to continue my own service.