Leading members of the Society of American Military Engineers gathered for dinner on Friday, March 19, in Arlington, Va., to bestow the group’s highest awards. Each year since 1996, SAME has honored two distinguished individuals with its Golden Eagle Award: one award is given for service to the engineering profession and another is given for contributions to national security.

The event answers the question of what happens to the chief engineers of the uniformed services and all the other engineering leaders in the services when they retire. They turn their considerable talents to challenging projects all over the world in the service of private industry. And they turn up at SAME events, along with the active crop of leaders, to exchange business cards and stories.  It’s a great crowd of men and women of energy, power and discipline. Whether they are in uniform or black tie, you can’t help but look around the gathering and think about the other thing that so many SAME members have in common, and that’s their service to the American public at the direction of its commander in chief.

One thing I learned from spending time with military engineers is that they don’t serve the person in the White House. They serve the Commander in Chief. Once, in Iraq I heard some of them discussing plans for a surprise visit from POTUS, and I had to ask who that was. They looked at me blankly, and then they realized I didn’t know they were talking about the President Of The United States. The name George W. Bush never came up. It was the person who held the office of the president they were discussing, whomever the American public had decided that should be.

That’s an important quality of our military. It is professionally non-political. Our uniform services work for the American people, as directed by POTUS, the commander in chief.

SAME opens its events with the presentation of the colors, the national anthem, the pledge of allegiance and an invocation. It’s not an unexpected way to start a meeting of a group of people who spend so much time thinking about national security. But when you look around the room, those rituals of flag and pledge take on an special poignancy when you realize how many of the men and women there have spent most of their adult lives in that subset of citizens who always stand ready, and who have gone forward, as commanded, and put themselves in harm’s way because POTUS says it is in our larger interest, as a nation, that someone must do so.

Then, as everyone remains standing following the invocation, comes a series of 10 back-to-back toasts:

“To the Commander in Chief!”

“To The United States Army!”

 “To The United States Marine Corps!”

“To The United States Navy!”

“To The United States Air Force!”

“To The United States Coast Guard!”

“To The United States Public Health Service!”

“To The United States Society of American Military Engineers!”

“To The Military and Other Defenders of Freedom Serving Around the World!”

“To Our Fallen Comrades!”


There’s not much you can add to that, except “thank you.”

SAME presented its Golden Eagle Award for engineering contributions to William A. Brown Sr., the executive vice president of PageSouthlandPage, LLP. Brown is former deputy director of Military Programs at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, among a long list of distinctions that make you wonder how many lifetimes it has taken him to cram them all in.

The honorable Eric K. Shinseki, secretary of Veterans Affairs, received the national security Golden Eagle Award. Shinseki, a retired Army General, is a former Army Chief of Staff and a man whose distinctions could, and actually do, fill books.

SAME has information about the Golden Eagle Awards and its other programs on its Web site, http://www.SAME.org