The front page of today's Burlington Free Press asked gubernatorial candidates Peter Shumlin and Brian Dubie to describe, in their own words, the "hardest decision you've ever had to make."
Shumlin, the Democratic state Senate leader, says it was the choice over whether to get into politics or remain a private businessman.
Dubie writes that his toughest choice came on September 11, 2001, while serving double duty as a commercial pilot for American Airlines and as a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force Reserves.
Dubie was en route to Boston's Logan Airport, he writes, when he learned a friend and colleague, Capt. John Ogonowski, was in the cockpit of American Airlines Flight 11, which was hijacked and crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Dubie was asked by the airline to serve as "casualty notification" to his friend's wife and three young daughters.
As an Air Force officer, Dubie writes, he was also part of a Federal Emergency Management Agency team "responsible for airlifting rescue workers and supplies to disaster sites." While he was with his friend's family, Dubie writes, his supervisor called, "ordering me to FEMA headquarters immediately."
So what did Dubie do? In his own words:
It raised a dilemma: respond to my nation’s call to duty or continue serving the family of a friend at a time of tremendous need. I informed my commander that I was where I needed to be. I knew that was the right decision. I was grateful my commander supported it.
Did Dubie disobey a direct order? On 9/11, of all days? I'm no military expert, but it certainly reads like that. I guess I always thought that when you're in the military, an "order" is, you know, an order. Maybe it was another misstatement?
Dubie certainly demonstrated intense compassion and loyalty by staying with his friend's family. It seems like highlighting this on the front page of Vermont's largest newspaper would open a candidate to questions he'd rather not get into — and not just by "alternative" news outlets like Seven Days.
In the Freeps piece, Dubie goes on to explain that he later connected with his FEMA team.
Later that day I reported to the FEMA Regional Center in Massachusetts. As soon as communications were reestablished at FEMA Operations Center in New York, I went there.
Dubie describes how he personally got badly needed radios into the hands of emergency workers at Ground Zero — with just a touch of Jack Bauer "ends-justify-the-means" rule-breaking bravado:
It was my responsibility to coordinate military airlift and ground transportation for urban search and rescue teams, and specialized support equipment. To ensure that rescue workers at ground zero were able to communicate, a Motorola factory in Fort Lauderdale preprogrammed 2000 radios, but were told to wait for the proper authority before we could act. With a choice of waiting for approval or bucking the chain of command, I decided to act. I called the aircraft commander of the Florida Air Guard, gave him my Social Security number and said, “I take full responsibility, just get those radios to the people in need right now." We got the radios to rescue personnel working the wreckage of the Twin Towers. The director of New York Emergency Management later said the timely delivery of those radios was one of the most critical tools rescue workers at ground zero had in their effort to save lives.