View Full Version : A career about giving

Phantom Blooper
08-05-04, 07:13 AM
A career about giving
August 05,2004

CHERRY POINT - Maj. Gen. Robert M. Flanagan's 33-year Marine Corps career has included some interesting assignments, such as a four-year stint as a pilot for presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan.

But as he approaches his retirement on Friday, it's not what he has gotten from the experiences but what he has been able to give that provides him with the most satisfaction.

"I wanted something from the Marine Corps. I wanted to fly," he said. "That was exciting. There was a lifestyle that I was going to get something from."

Flanagan, a native of Michigan, was designated a Naval Aviator in May 1972 and quickly qualified as a helicopter pilot in the UH-1E.

"I realized that wasn't exactly the end all to be all," he said of his initial goal of achieving an exciting lifestyle. "I realized that was not a good objective and my objective changed."

When he came back from overseas in 1975, Flanagan said he realized that as a flight instructor he had something valuable to offer young Marines.

"It's really all about giving," he said. "I had some talent; I could give back; I could teach them things that were of benefit to them."

Flanagan refers to his tour as pilot to the presidents as unique, but not his best.

"Really, the best tour is when you're commanding Marines at a Marine base," he said. "But that was a special tour. Some of the things I did there, most people don't get a chance to do, and I will never get a chance to do again."

High on his list of memories from that time period is a flight to Americus, Ga., on a stormy election day.

"I flew President Carter to Americus when he went to vote in the election he lost," he said. "It was a terrible, terrible day. He was worried he wasn't going to get there; we were worried he wasn't going to get there."

Flanagan also recalled having to physically restrain Ronald Reagan from approaching a helicopter carrying Nancy Reagan when the brake that stops the rotor failed and the noise of the aircraft made it impossible to warn him verbally that he could be hit by the rotor.

"I had to get in front of him and push him on the chest. If the Secret Service had known, they might have been curious about that," he said. "He finally understood, but he was hell-bent for saying hi to Nancy."

While most people outside the base cannot see the changes brought about by the events of Sept. 11, 2001, Flanagan said they have been profound.

"The biggest difference between Sept. 10 and Sept. 11 in military terms - the forward edge of the battle area moved from someplace overseas to right here around this base and around every other base in the United States," he said.

He said the change involved more than supporting the men and women who would "disappear over the horizon" to fight and return.

"We were part of that fight," he said. "It was my job now to protect the families, the Marines."

Flanagan said he regrets that heightened security precludes the taxpayers who support the mission of the Marines and sailors from the kind of access he believes they should have.

"I've always said these bases belong to the citizens, but my first concern is for the safety of the Marines, sailors, civilians and their families that live aboard the base," he said.

Flanagan ranked community support for Cherry Point's troops and their families as "second to none that I know of in all the bases I've been to."

"The Marines, sailors and their families benefit greatly from what the community does," he said. "It absolutely makes a difference. People like to come here; they retire here, even though they had no intention of doing so to begin with. It's because of the community. I try to tell them every time I can."

Flanagan hands over his command to Brig. Gen. Charles S. Patton in a 9:30 a.m. ceremony Friday, After that, he and his wife, Debbie, will return to Tampa, Fla., where they own a home and their two sons attend college. He begins teaching part-time in the Master's program at Webster University in January.