I've come to despise our IT age. Life and death seem to pass us by without a backward glance... regretably and sadly GEN Downing's passing was not brought to my attention until tonight.
During the President's announcement tonight that Osama bin Laden had been killed by JSOC SOF, NBC's Brian Williams mentioned that GEN Downing "would have been proud to know his JSOC forces wielded the rod of justice." He spoke of the General in past tense, which led me here.
I got to know GEN Downing as a defense contractor working in Colorado Springs in the mid 90's. I'm not prior military and (regretably) cannot relate to the "band of brothers" bond forged in the furnaces of Viet Nam, Panama, Desert Storm, Enduring Freedom, or Iraqi Freedom. What I can share is how this man changed me with his professionalism, humility, steadfast focus and dedication to cause, and love of country. I, unknowingly and uninvited, happened to be in his office one morning editing a concept of operations when this distinguished looking gentlemen entered and took his seat. I immediately apologized for my intrusion, and proceeded to gather up the document and leave when he mentioned "son, what are you doing, don't leave, you're doing real work." Somewhat embarrassed, I continued my work when the phone rang. He motioned for me to remain. Given the proximity, it was hard not to eavesdrop on the conversation. A few phrases caught my attention like: "yes Bill, I believe Khobar Towers was a preventable tragedy"... and "I appreciate your confidence in me Mr. Perry..." Connecting the dots, I quickly realized this unassuming gentlemen was on the phone with Mr. Bill Perry, President Clinton's Secretary of Defense, who was requesting the General lead a blue ribbon investigatory panel on the Khobar Towers bombing. I quickly "made myself small", packed up and left the office. Not knowing who I had intruded upon, when exiting I noticed a business card taped next to the door: GEN (R) Wayne Downing (SOCOM). He caught me in the hallway later that week and inquired way I left. I responded given his urgent business with the SECDEF, "how could I stay?" He advised his office was never too big for the business of national defense, and I was welcomed to it whenever I outgrew mine. He solicited my thoughts on Khobar Towers, requested that I proof his report and, in perhaps the greatest act of kindness extended to me in my 32 years as a DoD contractor, sent me a draft copy of his report "to see if he properly captured my inputs." I had the privilege of "sitting at this man's feet" over the next year to understand the 'Rangers Creed', modern and assymetric warfare, and all things SOF. Imagine, a man of his stature and importance, constantly in demand by network TV for his expert counsel and commentary would extend his hand, time, and genuine concern to one of such lesser station. As I surveyed the 25 pages of condolences within this guest book, I pray that you who served under and fought along side this man would not think it small or inappropriate for one outside your ranks to say with all sincerity... my heart too breaks now knowing the Lord called this soldier, this example of compassion and humility, this great American home. I will never forget him.