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0109 PD: The View from Here: Tears for two

Mike Gangwer Published on 23 December 2008

We cry for many reasons. I found two reasons today, November 5, 2008. I write about them in this article.

I am driving in to work this morning. I am listening to the radio. And I am listening to history in the making.



I have a new boss. The Department of Agriculture is part of the executive branch of the Federal Government. President-elect Barack Obama will select a new Secretary of Agriculture, and the Secretary will select a new NRCS Chief and the Chief will select senior executives that will oversee our prime mission: implement the 2009 Farm Bill.

Our country took a huge stride forward on election day. In this complex and messy world of over 200 countries, few could have elected a minority person, a black man, a person out of the privileged few and to be sure, one coming from rather humble means. Indeed, the more extraordinary fact is that in this country that we hold so dear, an election can be the first step of presidential power.

The transfer of one administration to the next is done in a civil and lawful manner. The classical and stoic natural laws are manifest in contemporary jurisprudence; our Constitution provides the orderly and lawful transfer and delineation of power across the entire governmental spectrum.

I echo what others have stated: “we lived long enough to see someone with a name like Obama elected President.”

For those of us coming from ordinary lives and ordinary means, we can aspire to something extraordinary, something almost unimaginable. And today that dream is real, and we shall bring forth whatever emotion we can to claim, “yes we can, yes we can, yes we can.”


I am a public servant. I often tell people that as a federal government employee I work in the public sector for the greater good of everyone. I claim my work to be not a right but a privilege.

Thus, I will have a new boss in a few weeks, and I want to be a part of whatever he has visioned for this great country. My tears this morning are the tears of many decades of history now made fully manifest in a destiny that our country is truly a magnificent place. It is here, at last, that this manifest is made not as a dream, but made real.

As those tears of a manifest destiny made real are barely dry, others take their place. I introduce to you Paula Loyd. I met Paula in Kabul, Afghanistan. We happened to be at the U.S. Embassy together for two days. As a U.S. Agency for International Development FSO (foreign service officer), and me as a USDA scientist with two provincial reconstruction teams, we visited about several agricultural projects.

She had provided funding for several projects that my fellow colleagues had proposed. We said goodbye and went back to our duty stations later that next morning.

About one year later (February 2008), I would once again work with Paula. This time at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina. Here, we were tasked with helping the 189th Combat Brigade (82nd Airborne Division) teach civil affairs officers (U.S. Army) and government civilians the concepts of integrated command.

I wrote about this assignment nearly a year ago in this column. We spent nearly three weeks working at Bragg, long hours, lousy food and a consistently challenging mock battlefield. Paula was the lead in our task group, and at the end of the training, the exhaustion in her face was telling.


Yet she pushed on during the after- action review (some may know the term “hotwash”). Paula had flown back to Afghanistan, resuming her USAID duties at the Qalat PRT site (Zabul province).

During a visit with a group of local village elders, one of the Afghans doused her with gasoline or kerosene and lit a match. Paula suffered burns over 60 percent of her body. She was immediately taken to the British base hospital in Kandahar, then flown to Bagram Air Field (my residence for ten months), then airlifted to Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany.

There, doctors stabilized her (24-hour sedation) and just yesterday, she was flown to Dover Air Force Base, then on to Texas where at Fort Sam Houston – Brooke Army Medical Center, all burn victims receive the best care our military doctors can provide. She is 30 years old.

And as a FSO she does this because like me and my colleagues who have the stomach for it, she makes history in the most wretched places in far- away lands many time zones away from her home in Washington DC.

And so I write: public service is made in both examples. A black man makes history with his election as the 44th President of the United States. A FSO, a young woman with the yearning to serve her country in lands far away, endeavors that the bar of humanity is made just a bit higher. Both are ordinary people serving their country.

My tears today are tears of joy for what our country has become, and my tears today are for what our country can do.

Two individuals on two different paths are more similar when one understands the core of what it means to be an American……we shall answer the call to service….we shall rise to the challenge….and we shall accomplish something extraordinary. PD

Mike Gangwer
USDA Adviser