Trip to Washington DC
This will be a full recap about the trip to Washington DC that Harmonie and I just got home from. Here we go…
Wednesday January 18, 2012
Just before noon, my cell phone rings. It’s a number I don’t know, but since it’s from Las Vegas I figure I may as well answer it. The person on the other line was Jessi from Congresswoman Shelley Berkley’s office. I had talked to her many months before when I was having some problems with the Air Force not treating me very well when it came to my illness. To say the least I was confused about what she was calling about.
After a few minutes of chit-chat, she got to the point. Rep. Berkley was interested in bringing an Iraq war veteran to Washington DC to accompany her to the Presidential State of the Union Address. Jessi had remembered my story from talking to her before and suggested to the Congresswoman that I would be a good choice.
I was stunned.
This was a huge honor, but I was unsure that we would be able to go. We had yet to travel by plane anywhere since I got sick and I wanted to talk it over with Harmonie first. We discussed every detail that would need to be addressed and decided we would go as long as it was not overly stressful on us. I gave Jessi a call back and she was ecstatic that we would be willing to attend. I let her know our concerns and she agreed to resolve everything possible to get us out there.
Thursday-Saturday January 19–21, 2012
These three days were complete pandemonium. Constant phone calls between Jessi and I collaborating the trip details. At times it seemed that everything would fall apart and then a few hours later it would all come back together. Southern Nevada Oxygen (who has been incredibly generous to us for a very long time) was kind enough to allow us to borrow some extra batteries for my portable oxygen concentrator so we would be able to have sufficient oxygen for the flight and trip.
By midday Saturday, all the plans were in place and we spent the evening packing.
Sunday January 22, 2012 — The Day of Problems
We woke up at 3:00am in order to make it to the airport for a 7:45am flight. Our brother-in-law Sean, who works at McCarran, escorted us through the employee security and we were very grateful for the gesture. A few hours later we ran into our first problem. Getting on the plane requires the airline to put me in an aisle wheelchair in order to get me seated. United Airlines sent two employees down to help me. The flight was delayed by a few minutes and they kept complaining they didn’t have enough help to get me and a few other elderly passengers on the plane. When it was finally time to board they were nowhere to be found. Harmonie took our stuff to the seats as I sat stranded on the jetway. I was suppose to be seated first and other help didn’t come until the plane was almost completely full. Poor customer service by United Airlines if you ask me.
The flight went smoothly and then when we landed the second issue arose. I asked the stewardess to find out if someone could help us to baggage claim because we had to carry a lot of medical supplies. They had the employee who helped us off the plane assist us. He pushed me about 50 feet, then pointed down the hallway and said “go that way” and bailed on us. Anyone who has been through Dulles airport knows that getting to baggage claim is no short trip. Not only were we seriously upset about this, but the whole way we struggled to baggage claim the driver who was picking us up kept calling my phone. I couldn’t get much reception, but I heard him ask “Where are you all at?” That really didn’t help our situation. Until we finally got into the car, our arrival in Washington DC was abysmal at best.
The third issue was when we made it up to our room at the hotel. We opened the door and realized something was wrong. The room was so small I couldn’t get the wheelchair in about three feet. “These people just checked us in, obviously seeing me in a wheelchair, and they gave us this” I said to Harmonie. We called down to the front desk and asked them to move us into a new room which they did without hesitation.
We spent the rest of the evening resting in our room and enjoying some good room service for dinner. Hopefully the next day would go smoother!
Monday January 23, 2012
We had a rough night of sleep due to napping the previous evening, but we woke up and ordered some breakfast. Our only planned event for the day was a tour of the Capitol by a staff member from Rep. Berkley’s office.
After a very slow cab ride to the Capitol (there was a Pro-Life march going on), we were greeted by Dara, the aforementioned staff member. She helped us up to the Congresswoman’s office and although she wasn’t there yet, her office was pretty awesome.
As soon as our tour got underway, we were like kids on a field tour. It was such a great experience to see our nations Capitol up close and in person. We also received passes to go in and check out the Congress and Senate chambers where all the voting takes place. We had goosebumps just sitting in the gallery. Plus, I got a chance to see where I’d be sitting for the State of the Union the next night.
We went back to the Congresswoman’s office and had a nice talk with all the staff members. We discussed the following night and made sure we knew what time to be back the following day. Harmonie and I also decided to go out for a nice dinner that night, so we returned to the hotel for a few minutes and chose a restaurant.
Our choice was Ruth’s Chris, an incredibly good steak house with locations all over the U.S. It was great to get out and have a nice dinner with my wife. By the time our meal was done we were worn out. We returned to the hotel and I started watching YouTube videos to figure out how to tie a tie. To say the least, it didn’t work!
Tuesday January 23, 2012 - State of the Union Day
We woke up and decided we would spend the day in the room and just relax. This would give us a chance to take our time getting ready. Harmonie worked on prepping our clothes while I called the Congresswoman’s office and asked if someone could tie my tie for me. They said someone could and we all had a good laugh at my expense.
We finished getting ready and went down to grab a bite to eat. To our surprise, our previously ordered handicap-cab was 45 minutes early arriving around 4:45pm. We expected more delays getting over to the Capitol, but the drive went very smoothly and we ended up at the Congresswoman’s office about an hour early. In addition, we thought we were running late so we didn’t get a chance to eat. We asked the staff if there was anything we could order and everyone agreed on a pizza. Just when the pizza got there, Rep. Berkley arrived. Unfortunately, she had been held up in Las Vegas.
After talking with most of her staff and even talking on the phone with her before we came, it was great to finally meet her in person. We enjoyed some pizza and had a great conversation. We got a picture taken with her and the staff even printed it out and she was kind enough to sign it for us. She let me know the plan was to meet her at a pre-State of the Union reception in Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s office. We parted ways and someone from the special needs department in the Capitol met me in her office to escort me throughout the Capitol for the night.
Let me tell you, it’s a good thing he was with me all night. The security was out in masses for the event. Secret service was around every corner.
We arrived in Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s office and she very nicely greeted us and thanked us for attending her reception. I did not see Rep. Berkley yet, so we parked next to a wall and tried to keep a low profile. We were visited by many in attendance and then I got to meet Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur. Rep. Kaptur has been the standing Congresswoman in my hometown of Toledo since 1983 (a year before I was born). I have seen her name for the entirety of my life and to finally meet her was such an honor. We talked for a little while and then she presented me with some Congressional cufflinks. I want to thank Rep. Kaptur for her kind gesture and I plan to keep in touch with her through her office.
Rep. Berkley arrived and introduced me to some very nice Congressmen and many others. It was kind of intimidating being in a room with so many of our nations leaders. I just stuck to being courteous and shook everyones hand.
It was finally time to head up to the gallery in the House of Representatives Chamber where the address is given. When we got to our spot, I was joined by a couple of other disabled veterans. I had the privilege of meeting Brian Kolfage Jr., a wounded Air Force veteran who is a triple amputee. Talking to him was so encouraging because I got to see first hand someone who has gone through tremendous adversity and has not only overcome it, he has thrived. I greatly enjoyed speaking with him and I wish him, his wife, and his family all the best. Hopefully I have the chance to speak with him again.
The event began and President Obama came in to a loud ovation, which only increased when he hugged Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. His speech was a little longer than I expected and I started getting concerned that I would run out of oxygen before I made it back to Rep. Berkley’s office. I had to lower the setting and I started having issues with tunnel vision. I decided it best to turn it back up and make sure we left very quickly afterwards. It was great to be there, but I’ll always remember the amazing view of all three branches of government being represented in the same room. I am proud to be an American and this was a culmination of what our nation stands for: Democracy.
After the speech we rushed back to where Harmonie was in Rep. Berkley’s office and started charging my batteries back up. We hung out for an hour or two until the streets opened back up so the cab we called could get to us. We started realizing that our cab had bailed on us, so two of the Congresswoman’s staff members went outside with us in the freezing cold to hail us a cab. They were such a tremendous help and we probably would have had serious issues out in the cold without them. Thank you so much guys!
We got back to the room around 12:30am which greatly affected our next day. Regardless, I’ll always cherish the opportunity that was given to me to attend this once-in-a-lifetime event.
Wednesday January 24, 2012
Waking up the next morning, I got an email from Jessi that she had coordinated for the USO and TSA to help us later that day departing Dulles and arriving back at McCarran. This would make our travel much easier.
It was now time for us to go on our tour of the White House, but we had an issue. Harmonie was not feeling well and I don’t have enough energy to do late night/early morning turnarounds anymore. We tried to go, but it was an ill-fated attempted and we went back to our room. We just didn’t have it in us and we needed the rest for our flight home.
Taking this break also made packing much easier because we wouldn’t have to rush. We lounged around and had everything packed early. The hotel granted us a late check out so that we could continue to charge my oxygen machine batteries.
When it was time to leave we checked out and went to the lounge to get some lunch before heading to the airport. The driver arrived, packed up our stuff, and we were off to Dulles. Along the way, the USO called and let us know where they would meet us. When we got to the airport a TSA agent was there as well. I guess there is a program that if you call ahead of time as a severely disabled veteran they will escort you through the employee security checkpoint. This limits the complications we might have due to all of the medical equipment we have to travel with.
We made it home and had help to baggage claim. We got our stuff with the assistance of Charm and Sean and were on our way home.
The next few days were spent resting from the pure exhaustion we felt from the trip.
Thank you for reading this very long post about our trip to Washington DC. If you would like to see more pictures from the trip, please join the Facebook page today. I look forward to reading your comments about this awesome trip.