President Bush calls local loadmaster

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Clinton Atkins
  • 379th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
Christmas presents come in all shapes and sizes, but one junior enlisted Airman here received a gift he never expected -- a call from President George W. Bush.

Senior Airman Dan Gutowski, 816th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron loadmaster, found out about the surprise Dec. 23 and received the call on Christmas Eve. Both are days he will never forget.

"It was just a normal day," said the Manistee, Mich., native, referring to the day he found out about the call, Dec. 23. "My leadership got me to hang around by telling me I had to write a (biography) about myself, but I came to find out it was just to have me stick around. Once it was confirmed, they finally let me in on the secret that I was going to be talking to the president the next day.

"(My co-workers are) always joking around so you don't really know what to expect from them," said Airman Gutowski, deployed from Charleston Air Force Base, S.C. "When they first told me I was kind of hesitant, but I was still going along with it because it was from the commander so I assumed he wasn't lying."

When the truth was confirmed later that day by a call from the White House, Airman Gutowski's typical day instantly became surreal.

"I was like, 'Wow, I'm going to be talking to the most powerful man in the world tomorrow,'" he said. "I was completely awestruck."

The rest of the day was filled with excitement as Airman Gutowski informed family and friends about the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

On the big day, excitement spread through the squadron and a crowd of spectators waited eagerly for Airman Gustowski's call.

"(The White House called) and asked me to hold for five to 10 minutes," he said. "I was just sitting there and we had about 15 people standing outside the office watching me listening to the phone. Everyone had their cameras and video recorders going. It was unreal."

Airman Gutowski spoke with the President George W. Bush for approximately five minutes.

"He asked how I was doing and how the deployment was going and I told him it was just another day in (Southwest Asia)," Airman Gutowski said. "He also asked how (Southwest Asia) was. I can't remember the year, but he said he's been through here and I said they've built it up a little since then. He told me, 'Merry Christmas,' and told me to tell everyone he said Merry Christmas and happy holidays. He also said to tell everyone they are doing a good job."

After Airman Gutowski's phone call with the president was finished, the White House called again to tell him he is authorized one unlimited morale call.

"They gave me unlimited time so I called home to tell my family I just got done talking to the president and my mom just started to go nuts," he said. "She just couldn't get over it."

That day, the squadron commander received a press release from the White House stating the president called a total of nine servicemembers across the entire Department of Defense. Two of them were Airmen. Airman Gutowski was chosen for the honor because he was the squadron's Airman of the year, a distinguished graduate from the Airman Leadership School and a participant in 10 combat airdrops.

"It's great for someone from our unit to be recognized for all of the hard work they've done out here," said Lt. Col. John Lamontagne, 816 EAS commander. "Normally we get recognition in the form of awards and decorations, but to get a call from the president is phenomenal and completely over the top. I couldn't be more proud of him."

The phone call may have served an even greater purpose than originally intended, said the Yorktown, Va., native.

"It just goes to show that leadership all the way up to the commander-in-chief is engaged and genuinely cares about their troops," Colonel Lamontagne said. "The call has had a huge effect on all of our morale. It really has enforced our belief that people do care and what we're doing is making a difference."

When asked where this present ranked on his list Airman Gutowski said this takes the cake.

"Getting a call from the president is probably the best Christmas present I ever had," he said. "Not many people get a present like that."

Comment on this story (comments may be published on Air Force Link)

View the comments/letters page