Army Col. Steven Bucci: The Secretary's Team Leader
By Zeno Gamble
Special to American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, April 25, 2003 More than 20 years ago, U.S. Army 1st Lt. Steven Bucci was a team leader in the mountains of Greece near the Yugoslavian border. Now, the Special Forces colonel is serving a two-year tour behind a desk at the Pentagon, armed only with a computer and a tomahawk he keeps as a memento from his A Team in 5th Special Forces Group.
The Green Beret officer has come a long way since his days as a young, gung-ho paratrooper. His assignments over the years have prepared him to be the calm, well-modulated voice of reason in the high-stress situations that occur daily in the Defense Department.
While his comrades in arms are doing legwork in Afghanistan and Iraq, Bucci oversees the coordination of critical meetings and planning that support their work.
There is no job description that can accurately reflect Bucci's scope of duties as military assistant to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Diversity is commonplace, and every day goes by as if it were two, according to the colonel. In a small office shared with a Navy commander, Bucci rarely finds a moment to sit back and enjoy his window overlooking the Potomac River in the foreground and the National Mall across the river in Washington.
"In the Department of Defense," he explains, "there is a network of military assistants. Executive assistants serve military generals, and military officers serve civilians."
Bucci is one of two military assistants to the secretary; the other, a three-star general, is Rumsfeld's senior military assistant.
"Military assistants are the human grease that keep the Department of Defense and Joint Staff working," he said. "The duties are not the same as those of an aide. Our job is to let our bosses do their jobs correctly and effectively."
Bucci helps control the flow of information among the White House, the military services and the defense secretary. He tries to improve efficiency and not much happens that he doesn't have his eye on. Bucci said he feels privileged to be able to contribute to the overall planning of worldwide operations.
"I answer phone calls from the White House and funnel papers into and out of the secretary's office highlighting important information to be read," he said.
Despite his insistence that his is merely a sedentary job with nothing exciting to talk about, the colonel is constantly interrupted throughout the day by phone calls and visits from senior officials from the White House, CIA and State Department. The job requires the ability to think on the go and push information through the right channels to ensure crises are handled quickly.
The job has taken him to the presidential ranch in Waco, Texas, to the Intrepid Foundation Sea-- Air-Space Museum in New York City, and he has carried the defense secretary's briefcase throughout the world. Somehow, Bucci manages to do all of this while drinking only decaffeinated coffee.
Life at the Pentagon, he's learned, is not always safer than duty in a war-torn nation overseas. Bucci, along with his wife Suzanne, were in the Pentagon when terrorists slammed a hijacked jet into the historic military headquarters.
Suzanne is a nurse practitioner who volunteers her help at the Pentagon Flight Clinic. Her first day was Sept. 11, 2001.
"I was in the executive support center that morning," Bucci recalled, "and I felt the whole building move when it happened. We didn't see each other until six hours later."
The colonel and his wife both became immersed in the chaos. Rumsfeld immediately rushed to the burning crash site, and Bucci wasn't far behind. Suzanne assisted in the triage of victims and ensured the rescue workers were hydrated and treated for injuries.
"After 9-11, Suzanne became an every day fixture in the Pentagon," Bucci said. She was originally scheduled to only work two days per week, but she came in every day to help wherever she was needed.
Duty in the Office of the Secretary of Defense continues to demand the utmost of Bucci and other members of the staff as the military combats global terrorism. The colonel and his wife can sometimes be seen on a park bench in the Pentagon's outdoor center courtyard, trying to get away from the workplace for a little while.
Despite the long hours and high-level responsibilities, Bucci has signed on for another 12 months in the secretary's office. What assignment could possibly follow that of military assistant to the defense secretary?
"I don't know," Bucci said. "The secretary has asked me to stay for a third year. So, whatever comes next, will have to wait."
(Zeno Gamble is a writer in the Executive Secretariat at the Pentagon.)