One Year Ago

Almost exactly at this time last year, I was giving a tour at Arlington Cemetery. From the Tomb of the Unknowns, I happened to glance up at the stunning vista of Washington, DC, and saw what looked like a dozen helicopters descend on my neighborhood of Capitol Hill like a swarm of flies. A slew of worried texts, tweets, and phone calls followed. Details, almost all of them false, leaked in, but gradually a picture formed: the Navy Yard, where many of my friends and neighbors worked, was in the midst of a horrific attack; a few blocks away my children's school was locked down; and I still had a group of kids whose parents back in Michigan would naturally have concerns. I spent the day in a bit of a fog, showing blissfully unaware eighth graders about town, and somewhat selfishly hoping that no one I knew was hurt.

I was fortunate. 12 other families in our region were not.

It's entirely appropriate, and necessary, that we pause today and mourn our neighbors. If you're available, I'd encourage you to join me in attending a Remembrance Ceremony tonight at 6pm at Canal Park. The Navy has been part of our city and my neighborhood for over two hundred years, and I'm glad the neighbors, led by the Near Southeast Community Partners, remembered this long standing relationship in choosing to remember the workers that died.

As a former Naval officer myself, I instinctively look for "lessons learned", ways we can build on the examples of what worked and what didn't that day. Personally, I'm appalled that a solid decade after 9/11 and literally billions of dollars spent, we're still battling coordination and communication problems amongst our first responders here in the District of Columbia, a likely first choice for terrorists. And I'd like to balance that real need for security with a greater openness, to allow the Navy's cultural heritage to be proudly displayed to the country for whom it's done great deeds. But those are conversations for tomorrow. Today, we need to honor the many public servants who lives intersected last year.

There's an unfortunate tendency in some circles to lambast government workers these days, and I think that's just sad and even a little dangerous. Most of the people killed were not heroic in any particularly flashy way. They were just the same people we see in the Metro or stuck in traffic every morning, the very model of "faceless bureaucrats" some like to disparage. Yet their loss ripples through the Navy today, years of collective wisdom and expertise not easily replaced. It's not just shipbuilding, there are countless other nodes of knowledgable civil servants about the government that we wouldn't notice until they're gone.

We're extraordinarily fortunate that it wasn't worse. For all the myriad of issues that day, the shooter was stopped by individual police officers responding quickly and decisively. The situation moved faster than formal lines of command could cope with, so over one hundred officers from eight different agencies responded, formed impromptu teams, and entered the building. In the end, it was an ad hoc team of DC and Park Police officers that ended the situation, with two officers being wounded in the process. We're extraordinarily fortunate such bravery was commonplace that day.

Finally, one year ago today my heart started to unclench a bit when I was finally able to pick my children up from school. It had been a terrifying day for me, and I wondered what had gone through their minds, locked down and unable to play outside. The answer was nothing. Their teachers, one of whose husband worked at the Navy Yard, had put aside their own fear and done what they do every day: educate my children and keep them happy and engaged. I was, and am, personally grateful and moved by their professionalism and warmth in the midst of horror and terror.

These are the people we attack when we disparage "the government". Yes, we can and should demand it functions efficiently and effectively. Yes, there is a role for a discussion on the proper role of what should be public and what should be private. Yes, not all government workers embody the standards these analysts, police officers, and teachers achieve. But if we give in to the cheap and flashy cynicism that says government can't function, we end up with exactly that. A government that can't function.

So I'll be at Canal Park tonight to remember those that died and honor those that didn't. I hope you can join me.

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