Jeb Wallace-Brodeur / Staff Photo
Norwich graduate Lou Bello talks to soldiers at combat outposts to keep the “finger on the pulse of the command.”
There are certain topics on which I editorialize a few times each year: understanding civics, being engaged citizens, and always keeping the “big picture” in mind as individual decisions are being made. The job of editorial writing is connecting dots, taking a side in a debate and educating the public to the issues not outlined in news stories.
It was not until I met Lou Bello that I came to realize I was not just being an ideologue when opining on those broad issues of citizenship. Bello lives in Barre with his wife and six children. He is active in this community, and is well known among Barre school officials and coaches, around City Hall, and even in both chambers of the Statehouse and around state government.
Bello takes long views on issues and events. He is not quick to judge. He understands networking and how nothing in our community is random. To Bello, everything has a place in community-building, no matter how seemingly insignificant. Without throwing politics and posturing in my face, Bello, a Norwich grad, told me why he loved living in central Vermont, and how we each could be agents of change in our own way. (His wife’s family has deep roots here; he grew up in New York state.)
Lou Bello was living proof of my ideology — the “reader” I always hope we reach as a newspaper.
In our two-hour conversation last month at The Times Argus, I listened as Bello astutely connected the dots of public policy, economic development, political brinksmanship, constitutional rights (state and federal), and even family values. He quoted my reporters by name, and even quoted me back to me (without knowing I was the author, I can only presume). He reads constantly, devouring books of nonfiction and history.
I had invited him in because I wanted to exploit him. True story. I wanted to exploit Lou Bello.
You see, Bello’s home, family, friends, church — his life — are in Barre. The commute to his job is 7,000 miles away at frontline combat operations in Afghanistan. After serving 27 years in the U.S. Army, Bello retired two years ago as a lieutenant colonel. In his military role, he served with and under generals whose names we have come to know well, like McChrystal and Petreaus.
Yet, as an active duty officer in the Vermont National Guard, he is serving as an inspector general in Afghanistan’s lower province. He is there today as a civilian, advising the military. (Every state has two inspectors general.)
It is his job, in part, to assist soldiers, study the chain of command, problem-solve and much more.
In his own words: “We are considered the eyes, ears, voice and conscience of the commander, and we serve four primary functions: assistance, inspections, investigations, and teach and train the force. We basically have our hand in everything that impacts the morale, welfare, training, and readiness of the unit we’re responsible for. In my case that is Regional Command -East, which is the largest of the regional commands in Afghanistan. It is commanded by an American major general.”
Bello travels to combat outposts (yes, taking fire and in harm’s way) and forward operating bases to talk to soldiers and commanders in an effort to keep the “finger on the pulse of the command to head off potential issues.”
Sports Editor Anna Grearson had met Bello at the gym while he was home for a few days out of his 13-month stint. His daughter Sarah plays for Spaulding High School girls basketball, and has appeared in The Times Argus this season a few times. He talked to Grearson about how much he enjoyed following the newspaper’s high school sports coverage while he was overseas.
Hence, my urge to exploit. Problem is, after our conversation, I was overcome with guilt. I did not feel it was right to promote a local man who does so much for his country, community and family from the other side of the globe. Instead, he inspired me and reminded me how important the roles we all play are to community- building.
This past week, Bello sent me an email, just saying hello and thanking me for the time to talk. It had, somehow, inspired him, too. When I told him about how I was struggling with the dilemma of deliberately exploiting his cross-the-globe reading of The Times Argus (and the Freeps and VtDigger, by the way) to stay connected with his hometown life, he again took the long view to say what my conscience had been gnawing on for weeks.
Technology has made the world as small as email, as accessible as Skype. Bello talks to his family via Skype each Sunday before church. They email daily, and he has even been known to advise his wife about something he read in the online version of the newspaper (before she was even awake). That included finding a picture of daughter Sarah making a drive during a game in a photo taken by our own Jeb Wallace-Brodeur. The proud dad couldn’t show enough soldiers in Afghanistan to contain his pride.
To my concern, Bello wrote, “Soldiers and deployed civilians stay connected to their hometown through the Internet accessing their hometown newspaper. Additionally, those who move away from Vermont to other parts of the country and other parts of the world also use the Internet to read their hometown newspaper in order to stay connected to their roots.”
He went on: “I can tell you that many soldiers and many of my civilian colleagues here access the Internet to view their hometown newspaper to stay connected to events... It is mandatory daily reading for most.”
Long gone are the days of care packages arriving with copies of old newspapers. The days of handwritten letters have been replaced with emails. Facebook and Twitter offer new vehicles for keeping in touch. Information is instant — even 7,000 miles away.
“It means we are connected in ways that make a difference... We can continue to be where we need to be, know what we need to know, and even see what we need to see,” he told me.
The Department of Defense and the U.S. Army make sure soldiers get the access to home, through banks of computers, Smartphones and more, he said.
For Bello, on the frontlines, information is crucial, whether it’s troop movements or a police blotter mention of robberies in his neighborhood in recent days. If he knows, he can act — and make a difference — even so far away.
Lou Bello is making that difference.
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