WE SUPPORT THE TROOPS
THOSE WHO SUPPORT THE MILITARY
For the past several decades, about thirty-five years worth, I have had the privilege and honor of working with a select group of people who have dedicated their efforts to recognize the efforts of and the sacrifices of our military. It all started for me when I was introduced to a gentleman by the name of Richard Leandri, who was a well known realtor and Community leader in Clearwater, Florida.
The Special Forces of the United States, namely the Army Rangers, the SEALS and other specialized units hadn’t received any recognition for the work, honor and sacrifice required of their organization purposes. Training alone resulted in several deaths but were well kept under wraps. This was and is dangerous work and with the expansion of our military into the covert actions of the battlefield today, even more so.
Richard, changed all that. The Special Operations personnel can’t exactly give away information and the military can’t applaud itself, so Richard found another way of letting the public see what they do with the building of the Military Memorial in LARGO’s main park, Florida dedicated to all branches.
It continued on with Richards Organization called “ The Chairborn Rangers”. Immediately work started on the The Ranger Memorial at Fort Benning and the organization of the Ranger Games, a yearly competition seen on ESPN. It was followed up by the building of the beautiful SOCOM Memorial built on MacDill Air Force Base.
Richard was a mover and shaker, but his strongest suit was his love of the Military, when he passed a Memorial plaque was dedicated and hangs in the entrance of the Special Operations Command Building at MacDill recognizing the man who recognized them. The remaining members of the organization re-formed and in October 2001 The USCENTCOM Memorial Foundation, Inc., was formed.
We are a non-profit, federal and Florida State registered organization, in compliance with code 501 [C]  established in 2001. We were publicly funded, and accepted donations for the Memorial at MacDill Air Force Base, Tampa, Florida. No taxpayer dollars or Federal grants were used other than the land the Memorial is built on, as supplied by the US Air Force.
We, our organization are and were about the “TROOPS”. It is not about specific units, branches of service, rank, our board, or individuals. Our focus was clear and defined, we serve and recognize the “TROOPS” and those who have paid the ultimate price in service to their country under the control and direction of the AOR of the Central Command. They are all heroes…
All of our funds have been raised by donation. With that said, any information about our Corporation, the Memorial, its Membership and Personnel may be obtained by writing to the President, VP-secretary and Treasurer. After fifteen years in existence, the foundation today in 2016 the Centcom Memorial Foundation has completed its task, advancing as far as we could bowing to the priorities and needs of our Armed Forces at the MacDill AFB site.
Extreme changes in policy and numerous delays after delays have taken a simple three year project and dragged it to fifteen years. We have fallen back in our attempts to further expand and upgrade the project due to a lack of cooperation, those changes dictated by the DOD, which affected the basic goals we wished to accomplish. Thus our job is done, and we wish the very best for those who will follow…in supporting the families of the fallen, and hope the Memorial as it stands will serve it’s puepose.
CAUGHT IN THE WAR AND POLITICS
DELAYS AND CONSEQUENCES
Today the longest war in American History has killed (KIA) more than 7000 and the wounded count is at 50,000 plus. When we started the Centcom Memorial the count was 148. And today, we are currently active in many other locations under the AOR. The Arab spring turned into a long hard winter. 911 is and was more than three numbers, it dictated a change in the way we do things and a horrific learning curve.
Our project represented one side of the heavy price the troops have paid. It also means some original plans had to be scrapped midstream twice and the project changed in terms of the finishing to reflect the “ The branding of CENTCOM” and the significant changes to the base. Close to a billion dollars were spent by the Government to upgrade the Central Command, the joint Operations Command, the base Hospital and other ancillary facilities. They simply had no time for us, we were not on the priority list though we asked them for nothing. Being in a war with no name takes priority.
IN THE BEGINNING
In Feb 2001, the United States Central Command was approached by the founders to discuss the possibility of building a Memorial to honor the men and women who served CENTCOM. The Commander at that time was Gen. Tommy R. Franks who felt the idea was both commendable and necessary. And then he retired a couple years later, and with him, his support for the project vanished since he built his own Memorial and institute back home.
We were formerly incorporated the 10th of October 2001. The Foundation immediately had meetings with the base engineers who gave us guidelines for the construction and the approximate location and direction the memorial faced.
We received our Tax Exempt Status 501(c)(3) in June 2002. We started fundraising. At receptions community leaders were then presented with the Memorial Foundation’s Introduction and it was warmly received. And that was the last we heard of them and their support. Talk is big, actions much smaller.
Ceremonial Ground Breaking took place in January 2003. Attended by local dignitaries, past honorary board members and Gen. Tommy Franks. The process to achieve Congressional Approval started and then so did the war. It was a race and the war won.
And as the war escalated the facilities at MacDill to support such a global conflict were inadequate. The base construction, added security all took precedence over our development of the Memorial based on the designs submitted, approved and we had to change them again.
After the plans were approved in 2003, they were reviewed in Washington for approval by the House of Representatives, the Secretary of Defense, the Department of Defense and the United States Senate. This is the procedure that needed to be followed even though we are not using government funding.delayed again. Forget about it we were And the paperwork for some reason went missing.
The unclear and stagnated wars in Iraq and Afghanistan escalated and “ Surges” a new tactical operative word meant more deployment, more intel, more people and more needs which became the long Arab winter after a very short Arab spring. With new characters popping up with scenarios from Libya, Syria, Egypt, Yemen and Iran. The next development ISIS (ISIL) was born out of ex-Taliban and Al-Qaeda operatives. The Arab name for ISIL, SiS, is Daesh.
Adding insult to injury, our paperwork, somehow got lost on at that time during the tenure of the 21st SEC of Defense, the highly regarded stand up comic Donald Rumsfeld. The initial paperwork got lost or it just got ignored in Washington. Resubmitted as rules were changed as to what the funding could, can, or must be. No one could get answers or direction. Our project simply did not fall into anyones “In” basket, thus it never arrived at an “Out” basket.
In 2008, after Congressional approval, came through, again it had to be resubmitted and then resubmitted, changed and altered, redrawn and redesigned, the newly designated site area was approved.
Construction began immediately as we didn’t want to get bumped again. We moved and started building. It was a costly wait while Washington fiddled and concrete and rebar prices burned upward. Our labor costs doubled. The security levels increased, raising the costs and time spent on clearances. Our laborers received base passes easier then members of the foundation. It was starting to get frustrating.
THE BASE WAS OUR BIGGEST ENEMY
I asked if the base could furnish one of the sky lifts for about ten minutes so we could secure some aerial photos of the site for the press and in particular to help us with fundraising. Me bad, I should have just rented one and drove it on base. Big mistake, somehow the base JAG got wind of my simple request and that opened a year and a half investigation to see if our paperwork with all the new rules and regs were applicable.
I will say it right here and now between the Base Commander and the JAG, this wasted another year and a half, with rising costs and more red tape and hurt the project severely. They found nothing wrong.
THE CONTRACT WAS ISSUED
Finally, The Board of Directors of the CENTCOM MEMORIAL FOUNDATION are pleased to announce that on Friday the 18th of January 2008, the contract to build the CENTCOM MEMORIAL was awarded and issued. Finally so we thought.
From 2008 to 2011 the basic construction was completed to the point of the initial phase. It also meant back to fundraising as the delays and money expended expotentionally forced us to raise more income and required changes as the recession hit full force and the housing bubble busted. Money became tight, and we had to look to other sources. Also as the construction began on the two new buildings for the Command headquarters and the Joint Intelligence building, it really hindered things for us.
The billion dollar upgrade, huge state of the art complexes, mirrored in design and prominence, but it brought new issues of security, regulations, access and communication. The Joint Command Headquarters building was completed in 2011 and some of the construction barriers and security options still made it very difficult to get done what we needed to do. We wanted to go further and update our ten year old project but got no where, mired in mud, we didn’t even have a point of contact. Like we were forgotten. The we got the news about security measures after some bad publicity surfaced.
Another meeting with changes to the construction. The architectural design and plans are by the late and renowned Architect C. Randolph Wedding of Wedding and Associates, Architects, Inc were modified to update the new cost limitations imposed by the government and finally approved. Instead of being grandfathered in, they were putting us in diapers.
This was to be a classic error later on/in the construction using the tiles instead of granite since the tiles were on a schedule that no one paid attention to despite conversations to that effect.
The Washington game changers meant we had to redraw basically the entire project since the materials we had originally planned to use [Black Granite and a slab configuration] went over the government gifting budget to a less expensive option of tiles and held in place [temporarily] with removable clips and screws with decorative washers called rosettes.
We had no other option but to meet the cost reduction to comply with Washington. The rosettes had a shelf life [maybe a year or two] and their purpose was to temporarily hold the inscribed tiles in place till they were inscribed and then epoxied permanently into place. We completed what we could do up to that point.
OBSTRUCTIONS, INDISCRETIONS AND LOSSES WERE COSTLY
In the interim, after we lost our architect and friend who gave so much, when he passed away. Our staff became smaller, we (the three of us) are all retirement age now, and sixteen years of red tape is enough, thus we have scrapped plans for any further future upgrades to the Memorial and will turn to other projects. We will not forget the troops. We will also remember who were not there for us to continue.
Money, donations are nonexistent today. The public is tired of war and cooperation from anyone on base became tight, no one came forward to help, in fact one or two hindered us and wasted two years over paperwork.
The DOD has upped the security at the base, understandable in lieu of bad press over various non-professional indiscretions by the senior staff, which made the front page of most newspapers and the TV for months.
None of the current levels of security were on the table when the project started. After several incidents attempted breaches, some very bad rated incidents involving shooting at the gate and gate security in general, homeless excursions onto the base, the real tabloid killer surfaced and it was pretty but not that pretty. That forced the DOD to review the entire civilian base pass privileges.
It involved some really bad press about a few beautiful ladies from the Tampa Bay Area, with base passes, palsy relationships with parties and high ranking officers, and it made the national news ad nauseam. The press was literally camped in front of one of the houses of people involved which was Mrs. Jill Kelly, a “Macdill AFB Civilian Liaison person” . Thats led to investigations and the Petraeus Scandal.
It lasted quite a while, embarrassing the high staff and it forced the security issue on base access for other good support civilians who were not taking advantage of the situation. Dedicated local Tampa Bay fans. Like us. The entire civilians on base issue blew out of proportion and we were suddenly without any help.
Regardless of what it is called, mission names, and protective rhetoric mean nothing, we are at war, people are dying militarily and civilian wise and terrorism, is a state of mind, not a state, has no borders. Which with the increased gate security led Representative David Jolley’s article (Tampa Times) on the dangerous backed up base traffic at the main gate and the morning gridlock every day. A really good security person would refer to it as sitting ducks. We used to call it a "HOT LZ”.
The Central Command Memorial structure is complete at MacDill AFB. It is a far as we can go. We cannot devote any more resources nor time to those not appreciating it or working with us.
It stands proudly in front of two new additions to MacDill, namely the CENTCOM building and the Joint Intelligence Command Headquarters Building, part of the growth and revitalization of MacDill AFB. The base hospital is new, as well as other ancillary facilities on the base. We wish them well, it would make a splendid park, just add tables, umbrellas and can still be utilized for the formal Changes of Command and other events and procedure, rituals the base can utilize. Parking is adjacent and it is in a secure area.
WHAT WE HAVE LEARNED
DEALING ON GOVERNMENT PROPERTY
As the new security measures, imposed by the DOD , the good folks of Tampa Bay would have extreme difficulty or even gaining access to see the Memorial. That was the killer. Suggestions of a bus twice daily (we had a volunteer or two and a bus available) for tours got nowhere. We were literally done at that point.
That was the original basic premise of a Memorial for those who paid the ultimate price of freedom was for and with access for the people of Tampa Bay, the Military and Visitors, plus the obvious additional usage for Military pomp and ceremony. As things developed the access issue became impossible with few or no solutions.
And we did what we could to finish things and could not raise additional funding for a Memorial to serve the Military on a base that did not permit Civilians to visit and pay their respects. It’s a simple as that.
The security, access and red tape to build on federal soil are unbelievable and are beyond reality. And no one even made attempts to help us because we did not fit under anyones job description and we were not part of the service or government.
The DOD stepped in, with new rules and made it impossible for us to continue. We were as “Friends of MacDIll” on the same list as the scandalizers. It basically killed us. Just getting a base pass became a nightmare with personnel restrictions, layer upon layer as the threats increased, whereas access became more difficult.
NOT MY JOB
Obviously it became no ones job. Another headache was turnover. On a war footing continuity is important, the revolving door at CENTCOM vital to the effort was a disaster for us. From the General staff on down, contacting anyone never got you the same phone number twice…to the same voice. Getting to see someone was next to impossible.
There were nine Centcom Commanders, six assigned, three temporary and every staff change literally meant we knew no one and no one’s line was always busy. The change of Command ceremonies were so frequent they could of left the chairs in place….
WE REPRESENTED THE BEST
We were different from the other charities who secured large and free TV budgets. We represent those who have paid the ultimate price. We don’t have the right pictures, Bright house support, or Hollywood and episodes to show who we care for, since our final shot would be a flag draped coffin. The bigger groups with access sucked the oxygen out of the room. People would help the wounded, but talking about the deceased was taboo.
TALKING THE TALK, NOT WALKING THE WALK
Just the small pie wedge of 7000+ killed in action that few speak of. Calls to fellow groups like the YYYY and XXX fell on deaf ears. They are out there having enough problems raising funds. And some groups offering to help did nothing. Lots of talk but little support. That was disappointing.
IMPOSSIBLE RED TAPE
Worse we could not function under the controls set upon us as a vendor. For me to bring a prospective donor to the base or contractor involved too much hassle, a one hour meeting took a day at minimum. Few donators and vendors will give you that or succumb to the background checks and more politics.
No one came forward from the Central Command, the Air Force Base Command, and we got passed off from the Command to the Base Command who moved us to the Engineers. When we were transferred to the base operations the CENTCOM project had to be reviewed by the JAG. This was a complete waste of our time, our money and our efforts. .
Spending over a year, 15 months, with the JAG as to paperwork and Congressional cost controls on a fully civilian funded operation, which was already approved years earlier, no government money needed was another setback. It took fifteen months to make sure the “I’s were dotted and the “T”s crossed. They (JAG) found nothing wrong, except we found we lost fifteen months.
We were a civilian organization, gifting a million dollar Memorial to the soldiers and families of CENTCOM Headquarters, which in turn is basically a tenant on an Air Force base. The chain of legality and ethics dictates that we must gift the memorial to the Air Force. The past fifteen years has been a struggle to find out who is on first, what’s on second and no one knows “Where he hell third is” .
WAR IS NOT OUR FRIEND
The enormity, scope and losses of these two wars changed all that was MacDill. Two wars, a million men and women deployed, and fifteen years in duration radically changes ones thinking a lot. Not to mention the trillions spent on a process of nation building which has failed and which yielded us nothing. Now we have 7000 killed, 50,000 wounded and an unknown number suffering from PTSD, The Arab spring still looks like a long hard winter.
Thomas Edwin Ricks is an American journalist who writes on defense topics. He is a Pulitzer Prize-winning former reporter for the Wall Street Journal and Washington Post. I see many things in his writings about the upper echelon of our military, as his last three books encompass the entire Middle East conflict and a whole lot about the players.
It is excellent reading and an insight into the real stories behind the decisions and mistakes. Shadow Warrior by Felix Rodriguez and Wiser in Battle by LT. Gen Sanchez are also good reads putting you in the reality of what it means to be a decision maker. All are available through Amazon and you may learn a few things you were not privy to.
General David Petraeus and the American Military Adventure in Iraq, 2006-2008 Now updated to fully document the inside story of the Iraq war since late 2005, The Gamble is the definitive account of the insurgency within the U.S. military that led to a radical shift in America's strategy. Based on unprecedented real-time access to the military's entire chain of command, Ricks examines the events that took place as the military was forced to reckon with itself, the surge was launched, and a very different war began. His stunning conclusion, stated in the last line of the book, is that "the events for which the Iraq war will be remembered probably have not yet happened."
The American Military Adventure in Iraq..Fiasco is a more strongly worded title than you might expect a seasoned military reporter such as Thomas E. Ricks to use, accustomed as he is to the even-handed style of daily newspaper journalism. He has written a thorough and devastating history of the war in Iraq from the planning stages through the continued insurgency in early 2006, and he does not shy away from naming those he finds responsible.
MAKING THE CORPS:
The United States Marine Corps, with its proud tradition of excellence in combat, its hallowed rituals, and its unbending code of honor, is part of the fabric of American myth. Making the Corps visits the front lines of boot camp in Parris Island, South Carolina.
Thomas E. Ricks has made a close study of America’s military leaders for three decades, and in TheGenerals, he chronicles the widening gulf between performance and accountability among the top brass of the U.S. military. While history has been kind to the American generals of World War II—Marshall, Eisenhower, Patton, and Bradley—it has been less kind to others, such as Koster, Franks, Sanchez, and Petraeus. Ricks sets out to explain why that is.
A special thank you to our patrons and friends who realized we have had many pressing moments these past few years. You have supported the Memorial foundation with patience, friendship and loyalty. You have been the heroes. You have helped us through this long process. It has taken five times longer than expected, but we were diligent and pressed forth at every opportunity.
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