Capitol Hill visit enlightening experience

  • Published
  • By Capt. Kathleen Fitzpatrick
  • 52nd Component Maintenance Squadron
As part of the Wing Commander Capitol Hill Visit Program, wing commanders Air Force-wide periodically visit Capitol Hill to speak with members of Congress to discuss base concerns as well as issues in the Air Force.

Col. Tip Wight, 52nd Fighter Wing commander, recently had that opportunity, and brought a few base representatives with him. Chief Master Sgt. Bill Brown, 52nd Component Maintenance Squadron; Staff Sgt. Maria Herrera, 52nd Force Support Squadron, and I were honored to experience this rare opportunity and to share our concerns and experiences with our country's legislators.

Our visit started at the Pentagon with a briefing by the Air Force Legislative Liaison Office about larger Air Force issues in work, followed by a quick departure for Capitol Hill. During our meetings, Colonel Wight opened with our mission brief, and discussed the importance of closing Bitburg Annex and consolidating the remaining functions onto Spangdahlem Air Base. We also discussed broader Air Force concerns, such as the high cost of childcare and meeting the challenges our maintainers endure while working on legacy aircraft.

Our meetings were scheduled back to back, and we were practically sprinting through the labyrinth of hallways beneath the U.S. Capitol building to meet various members of the House of Representatives and their staffs. Meeting with Congressman Joe Wilson, Republican from South Carolina, was particularly memorable because he insisted on taking the time to meet us despite still being in a voting session.

He would speak with us in the side room until his chief congressional aide would tap him on the shoulder and tell him, "It's your turn to vote," and told him the topic. After a brief disappearance, he would rejoin us exactly where he left off in the conversation.

Another somewhat surreal experience was watching Congressman Rob Bishop, Republican from Utah, receive testimony on live television and excuse himself for an important meeting he had to attend. Moments later he was speaking with us.

During a break between meetings, we had the opportunity to receive a behind-the-scenes tour of the Capitol Building. Maj. J.D. Bowman, USAF Legislative Liaison Office, walked us through the various rooms and explained their history, occasionally passing Congressmen and Senators. We also went to the office of the Senate Chaplain as he is the former Chief of Navy Chaplains and insists that military members be brought there to see the view. It was incredible!

The trip was a huge success in many ways. Colonel Wight addressed a myriad of important issues within minutes of each session. This paved the way for constructive discussions and allowed us to emphasize key issues from our perspective.

The benefit we, as Air Force professionals, garnered was immeasurable. The opportunity to see where and how major policies that define and shape our Air Force was truly an enlightening and privileged experience. It certainly increased our understanding of how both broad Air Force programs and local wing challenges are addressed and remedied at the national level.