WASHINGTON (NNS) -- Three USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) Leadership Award winners visited the nation's capital Feb. 24-25 for an up-close look at how their government works.
The Stennis Center for Public Service hosted Liberty Award winner Hull Technician 1st Class (SW/AW) Dwaine Bryan, Union Award winner Senior Chief Yeoman (SW) Kevin Martin, Statesman Award Winner Chief Warrant Officer Michael Hill and Lincoln's Commanding Officer, Capt. Patrick Hall, for two full days in Washington. The Sailors and their families spent their time seeing the sights and interacting with key decision-makers.
The visit included a stay at the Hotel George, personal tours of the Pentagon and the Capitol building, and meetings with the Director of Navy Staff, a senator, and a congressman.
Rex Buffington, executive director of the Stennis Center for Public Service, said the trip served to recognize and honor the Sailors for their outstanding service and to increase dialogue between leaders in Washington and deckplate leaders in the fleet.
"We started the leadership awards program on the Stennis and we've been expanding it to other carriers," Buffington said. "It's been very successful and meaningful both for the winners and for the people that they meet in Washington. It's an opportunity for them to get a glimpse into the quality and character of the men and women who are serving."
During their first day in Washington, the group caught the Metro subway to the Pentagon to meet with Director, Navy Staff, Vice Adm. John Stufflebeem. Stufflebeem invited the awardees and their families into his office to talk about key issues facing Sailors in today's Navy. Following the discussion the group was given a tour of the Pentagon, including a visit to the Sept. 11 Memorial, where terrorists flew a hijacked airliner into the building in 2001.
After a gourmet lunch at the Ritz Carlton Hotel and a few hours of free time, the Sailors regrouped for an evening trolley tour of the city and its monuments, bathed in light under the clear night skies. The tour included stops at the Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt memorials. For the awardees, the words and history etched into the stone facades served as reminders of just how important strong leadership is in times of great adversity.
"Looking back at all the great leaders our country has had, Lincoln and Franklin really stood out," said Bryan, who was in Washington for the first time. "When they were president, the country was in a bad way and they had to turn it around. Lincoln had the hardest job ever because he had to stay neutral. With all the hate and bloodshed between the two sides, he still worked to keep them together."
The next morning the awardees and their families headed for the Capitol building to meet with civilian leaders on "The Hill" whose decisions have a direct effect on their careers.
At the Longworth House Office Building they met with U.S. Rep. Ray Lahood. Lahood represents the 18th district of Illinois, which contains the birthplace of Abraham Lincoln, and he serves on the House Appropriations Committee.
During their meeting, Lahood thanked each Sailor for their service and expressed his interest in USS Abraham Lincoln's participation in the upcoming bicentennial celebration of Lincoln's birth.
The group then made their way through the underground trolley system that links the house and senate office buildings to the Capitol to attend a luncheon with a number of congressional delegates and committee members.
"My favorite part of the trip was sitting down to lunch with the people from Congress and hearing their concerns and the jobs that they do," Bryan said. "It was really eye-opening to find out how the chain works and how votes get through."
Following the meal and conversations, Hall formally introduced each of the winners and spoke of their accomplishments to those attending. Civilian guests then introduced themselves and spoke about the need for such exchanges.
"It is as important for military people to understand what's going on in Congress as it is for Congress to understand the military, so I hope you all have learned something," said Frank Sullivan, a retired member of, and current advisor to, the House Armed Services Committee.
"In today's government there's the idea that there's a gulf between civilians and the military that didn't exist in the past when nearly everyone in office had some sort of military experience," said Eileen Mackevich, executive director of the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Celebration Commission. "We know to be proud, but there's no connection. Abraham Lincoln was among the military all the time and I think we can all take an example from him and work to increase the dialogue between the services and the commissioners."
When the luncheon concluded, the awardees embarked on a guided tour of the Capitol, stopping at every major sculpture, painting, and historical point of interest in the colossal structure to learn the history and meaning behind it. Those who followed politics couldn't help but notice that everywhere the group went in the Capitol, they crossed paths with high-profile political figures.
"I was just in awe -- it's amazing that anyone can walk around in the Capitol of the United States and see these really powerful people going about their day," said Martin. "It's cool to live in a country where you can just walk right in. In any other country you can't even get near the process. During the tour we saw the Head of the Armed Services Committee in the hallway and then that night in the hotel I watched him testify before Congress on C-SPAN."
Before leaving the Capitol, the group took the underground trolley once again, this time to the Dirksen Senate Office Building for a meeting with U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell from Washington State. Cantwell shook hands and posed for photos with each Sailor and their families and thanked them for their service.
As the visit drew to a close, each of the awardees was left with a better appreciation for the way government works and its impact on their lives and careers as Sailors.
"Visiting D.C. was an incredible experience that I believe all military personnel should have a chance to do," Bryan said. "Every young Sailor should come here and see why their job is so important. All the history that's here is a reflection of what people have done to secure our freedom."
The Abraham Lincoln Leadership Awards were established last year by the Stennis Center for Public Service and Lincoln's chain of command based on programs that had been established aboard USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74), USS Enterprise (CVN 65), USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) and USS Nimitz (68). The awards recognize officers and senior enlisted personnel who demonstrate exceptional leadership, and awardees are chosen based on feedback from their subordinates.
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