Marching from Capitol Hill to Fort Leavenworth

Marching from Capitol Hill to Fort Leavenworth

Leonard chose to leave Washington for Fort Leavenworth, the 182-year-old Army base that sits above the muddy banks of the Missouri River, to enroll in a 10-month Army leadership program.

Though she’s excited about training that will advance her rank, there’s a piece of her that still longs for Capitol Hill.

Leonard at this time last year was working in the trenches of the Russell Senate Office Building as an intern for the Army’s Office of the Chief Legislative Liaison.

Leonard’s job was to help senators and their staff stay apprised of the Army’s needs, something that required long hours and brought her into contact with Washington’s powerful. She clipped daily news articles at 4:30 a.m. every day at the Pentagon and then rushed them across the Potomac River to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen.

Life has taken on a slower pace in the rolling hills of Kansas.

She’s sleeping in and going for morning runs before her 9 a.m. class. And instead of practicing with her local softball league every week on a D.C. diamond, she’s taking sewing classes.

“I’m a 35-year-old woman and I don’t know how to sew on a sewing machine,” Leonard said with a smile. She was in the basement of Fort Leavenworth’s new $150 million brick Lewis and Clark Center, where most of her military training classes are held. “I figured it’s about time.”

Leonard brings a political savvy to her Fort Leavenworth classes that most of her colleagues don’t have. The majority of her classmates are fellow majors, but unlike her, they’ve spent most of their time in the field and are likely to know more about how a Humvee works than the nuances of a legislative machine like Congress.

Last week, for example, Leonard said her class discussed a Congressional Budget Office study that examined different courses of action for future military combat. Leonard and her 14 colleagues explored which system would better suit the Army and which would provide the greatest bang for its buck. But it was Leonard, with her experience in Congress, who brought an essential piece to the exercise.

“We were very much focused on which one is better and more optimal,” Leonard said. “But then the question came up of which one would actually get paid for and why.

“So I proposed putting in an overlay to see where all of the facilities and factories are that are going to be building all of this stuff and from which states [they] might be selected,” she said. “I mean, that’s the pragmatic thing.”

Col. Wayne A. Green also knows exactly how experience on Capitol Hill can influence military life at Fort Leavenworth.

A former military fellow in Rep. Jack Kingston’s (R-Ga.) office, the garrison commander is responsible for more than 3,500 members of the military and nearly as many family members who live at the Leavenworth post.

Green was offered the position by his superiors and said he would “never pass up an opportunity to command.” Though garrison commander is not an elected position, he likened his relationship with the men and women of Fort Leavenworth to how constituents hold members of Congress accountable.

“I’m not some bureaucratic entity that has this pot of money that runs programs the way that I want,” said Green, dressed in his traditional Army fatigues. “I need to listen to the customer every single day and if they ask me to do something and I don’t do it, I’ve lost their trust and confidence.”

It’s Green’s job to assess and meet the needs of the soldiers on post and their families as much as he can. To do that, he has area representatives spread throughout the community who report back to him with the latest concerns.

During the last meeting, parents pointed to crosswalk safety as a major concern. So Green within two weeks put together a team that analyzed and ranked each of the 138 crosswalks according to the risk they posed for kids. He is also in the process of repainting them all.

Green said he has “the best job in the world,” but he has also developed a newfound appreciation for his time in Washington.

“When you’re walking the halls of the Rayburn or the Russell, you can feel the early centuries of history and that there is a greater purpose in being there,” he said.

“Even though most bills don’t ever make it, you’re still talking with constituents, and constituents rule,” he said. “I caught the bug because I really felt like members are looking after their constituents’ interest, and I was excited by it. I enjoyed coming to work every day.”

Fort Leavenworth is a subdued setting compared to Capitol Hill. It has a tree-lined feel, similar to a college campus. The site includes a statue of the Buffalo Soldiers, the first black Army regiment established by Congress.

Green manages everything from garbage pickup to construction costs. He also used the money to fund class-instructor salaries for the more than 10 academic programs, which have earned the base a reputation as the intellectual center of the Army.

The base has all of the comforts of a small town as well: a bowling alley, golf course, fishing pond, grocery stores, gas stations and an Army-run hotel.

And if the soldiers get bored with the on-site venues, five billiard tables lie in wait at the High Noon Saloon & Brewery three miles away in downtown Leavenworth, where every Thursday night a rowdy crowd gathers to try their hands at karaoke superstardom.

But the social scene is not the same as it was in D.C., Leonard said. Sure, she would meet staffers and military personnel when she was working on Capitol Hill, but she would also get the chance to meet people from other walks of life when she played sports or went out after work. And as a single woman, a social network isn’t something that’s to be taken lightly, she said.

 “There’re not as many single people out here,” Leonard said. “And so it’s a little lonelier of a social circle here. In D.C. I would meet other people outside of the military, and here in Kansas at Fort Leavenworth, the military community is so big and focused in this area, there’s really only one social group.”

And what about the High Noon Saloon & Brewery?

“Even then, who am I going to meet, a corrections officer?” she joked.