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Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Hanoi Hilton: The Scuttlebutt on Tuttle

Andi's World and Greyhawk at Mudville Gazette have been all over Hilton's decision to not renew the lease of Washington, DC steakhouse Fran O'Brien's, which every Friday night for the past two-and-a-half years has served up free steak dinners to wounded troops from Walter Reed Army Medical Center in DC and the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, MD. Head over to those two sites for a wealth of information on this issue (the links go to their homepages because they've both got too many posts on this subject to link directly), and check out this article over at America Supports You on the "Friday Night Dinners Reunion Celebration," which marked the two year anniversary of this program. There are some great quotes from wounded soldiers about how the Friday night dinners really motivated them and made them feel like they belonged somewhere.

(An aside: if you have any interest in military affairs and you're not reading Mudville Gazette and Andi's World, you're wrong.)

Fuzzilicious Thinking (via Mudville) points to commenter Lawrence Kelly at Andi's World who provided a list of who serves on Hilton Corp's Board of Directors. One member of the Board is former Deputy Secretary of Commerce Donna Tuttle, who The Cranky Insomniac has learned was appointed by California Governor Arnold Schwartzenegger in November 2004 as co-Chair of his Council on Base Support and Retention. According to the Governor's website,
The Council will build on the progress California has made this year to increase the state's ability to welcome military missions and installations with a hospitable economic and regulatory climate. The Governor signed legislation that increased funding for the Office of Military and Aerospace Support, the state office charged with coordinating base retention and conversion, and gave it the ability to seek grants and private donations to support its mission. Additional legislation signed by the Governor is expected to reduce the cost of constructing and maintaining military housing, encourage the basing of the Joint Strike Fighter in California, and prevent threat of encroachment on military installations and special use airspace by requiring local communities to recognize the needs of military bases in local planning.

The Council on Base Support and Retention is made up of 18 members with backgrounds in the military and state and local affairs. Co-chaired by Leon Panetta and Donna Tuttle, the Council will conduct public hearings and receive input from experts and the public on BRAC policy. Administrative support will be provided by the Office of Military & Aerospace Support under the aegis of the Business, Transportation & Housing Agency. Members of the Council will receive no compensation for their work.

I'd like to know how the Governor, as well as the retired military officers on the Council, feel about Tuttle's being part of a corporate Board of Directors that has callously decided to shut down a service that provided some much-needed morale boosting for wounded servicemen and women. Ahnold's website claims that his Council is "comprised of retired military officers and civic leaders," but Tuttle is not retired military and her actions concerning Fran O'Brien's are far from civic minded. And in light of her apparent disregard for the welfare of those who serve, what business does she have co-Chairing a Council whose mission is to "build on the progress California has made this year to increase the state's ability to welcome military missions and installations...?"

As someone who has worked in publicity for ten years, I don't see any way Hilton gets out of this unscathed, unless its Board moves quickly to reverse itself. The economic cost to Hilton of keeping Fran O'Brien's open surely pales in comparison next to the cost to its corporate image should it become known as the company that didn't want to help out wounded soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines. As Greyhawk says,
Though not quite in league with New Coke, this is likely to be one of the worst business decisions ever made by a major corporation. If you push through with your plan you'll certainly at least never live down the "Hanoi Hilton" nickname the vets are now starting to use. Can you imagine any segment of the American public that will support or applaud you for this?
Additionally, the economic costs themselves could end up being higher if Hilton follows through with its plan to shut down the restaurant: a nationwide boycott of Hilton by veterans, active duty military, and sympathetic fellow travellers could conceivably cost the company millions of dollars. In this instance, doing the right thing would also serve Hilton's self-interest. It would be nice if someone at Hilton Corporation were smart enough to figure this out.

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