A train ride to friends and history

I could feel the rumbling of the ground before I heard the warning horn that the train was approaching the first railroad crossing on the southern end of downtown Southern Pines.  I stood on the platform in the pre-dawn morning light and waited for the Silver Star to slow to a stop at its second North Carolina stop on its way from Miami to New York.  I had been wanting to take this Amtrack route for a trip to Washington DC for quite some time, so when I started arranging a leisurely trip to the DC area to visit my friend Bridie, I finally had the perfect excuse.  No sitting in traffic or trying to find a metropolitan parking spot – it was a great way to travel to our nation’s capital!

Amtrack’s Silver Star line runs daily from Miami, FL to New York’s Penn Station with a stop in Southern Pines, NC. Although it took 8 hours to traverse what would’ve been 5-6 hours by personal vehicle, the reduction in traffic and parking stress made the train a pleasant alternative. And these economy train seats had much more leg room than economy airline ones.

I arrived on-time at Union Station in DC, where Bridie quickly swept me up and started our whirlwind weekend adventure.  I’ve been to the National Capital Region several times for both work and leisure, so I had visited most of the museums and many of the monuments/memorials before.  There were a couple I hadn’t been to yet that were high on my list to experience though, so Bridie wasted no time in whisking me away to the first one.  Since entrance to the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture requires timed passes, Bridie had planned ahead and got us time slots for shortly after my arrival.

The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture is divided into concourses that take visitors through history from the origins of slavery, to the paradox of liberty, to the era of segregation in order to give context to the current state of race relations in the U.S. More than just telling the story of horrific treatment, the museum highlights the accomplishments and flourishing culture of African Americans. This fountain in the Contemplative Court near the exit provided a great opportunity to reflect on all we had learned.
When Bridie asked me where I wanted to eat for dinner, I decided to take advantage of the great DC food scene and requested Ethiopian food. Following the recommendation of one of her friends, we enjoyed this vegetarian platter at Dukem Ethiopian Restaurant. Spicy split lentil, yellow peas, greens, cabbage, shiro salad, potato in spicy sauce, and other scrumptious dishes (that I cannot remember the name of!) served on injera (a sour flat bread that you use to scoop up the food and eat with your hands). Everything was delicious!
The sight of the Lincoln Memorial, and the whole National Mall, at night is truly a moving experience.

Bridie had never been to Arlington National Cemetery, so I asked her to accompany me to visit the grave of a good friend.  I returned earlier than planned from my cross-country motorcycle trip last summer in order to make it back in time for the interment of his remains.  This was my first time seeing his headstone and paying my respects since the funeral.  Rob Eiserman was working as a Dept. of the Army Civilian employee when I met him over a decade ago.  He was instrumental in establishing THOR3 (a human performance optimization program) for Special Operations Forces (SOF) at the U.S. Army’s SOF schoolhouse, and helped to grow it throughout the Army SOF community.  An avid cyclist, runner, triathlete, and surfer (among other sports), and a staunch advocate of SOF operators and support personnel, he epitomized human performance and a warrior ethos.  His zest for life and sense of humor are missed daily.

Rob Eiserman retired as a Command Sergeant Major from active-duty service in 2009 after more than 24 years of service. He qualified and served in 4 of the 6 enlisted positions on an Army Special Forces Operational Detachment-A (aka A-Team). Not only did he wear the green beret, he was Ranger, Master Parachutist, and Combat Diver qualified. Rob had deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan multiple times during his service, earning four Bronze Stars and the Combat Infantryman Badge. His legacy continues to echo throughout the Army Special Operations Community and those of us who had the privilege to call him a friend and co-worker.
We caught a full military changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington Cemetery, presided over by SGT Kamille Torres Zapata, the U.S. Army’s first Hispanic female Tomb Sentinel. We didn’t realize it at the time, but only days later, she would take those 21 steps for the last time, on her final of 746 walks during her tour with the “Old Guard.”
We visited the Military Women’s Memorial, which sits right near the entrance of Arlington National Cemetery. The Memorial maintains a registry that preserves the history of women who have defended this country – both past and present. If you, or a woman that you care about, has served in the U.S. Armed Forces, please consider entering that service into this interactive database. Bridie pulled up my register entry on the big screen in the memorial, but the whole database is available online for registered users.
I got Bridie a National Park Service (NPS) passport, and in the process, got her hooked on collecting stamps! With over 420 NPS units (63 of which are Parks), these passport books serve as a great guide, and incentive, to visit the sites and get a stamp to remind you of the location and date you visited. Bridie is getting her very first stamp at one of the National Mall Visitor Centers!
Although our first day of sightseeing was frigid, the weather cooperated for the rest of my visit and even provided lots of blooming colors. The Washington Monument is just as beautiful in the daylight as it is lit up at night.
The National Native American Veterans Memorial, on the grounds of the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, was a great place to sit and reflect after touring the museum and having a scrumptious lunch at its café. The museum houses a stunning collection of objects, artifacts, photographs, and media, including a temporary exhibit titled “Why We Serve: Native Americans in the United States Armed Forces.” From scouts to code talkers, Native Americans have made critical contributions to this country, even in the face of genocide and discrimination.

Before I knew it, the weekend was over and it was time to head south again.  It was so great to reconnect with Bridie and spend some quality time exploring such an historic area together.  I’ll definitely be back!

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