I was in a hotel room in Tokyo on Sept. 11, 2001, preparing for negotiations at the Japanese finance ministry. I had just been sworn in as U.S. Treasury Under Secretary for International Affairs. We immediately cancelled our meetings and were soon on a C-17 military jet flying back to the U.S. To get back faster we refueled in midair overAlaska that night. The pilot invited me to watch the procedure from the cockpit; it was the most impressive combination of advanced technology, hand-eye coordination, precision teamwork and raw nerve that I had ever observed.
Our pilot approached the tanker jet from underneath, using a specially designed joystick with a monitoring device consisting of rows of lights that turned red or green depending on whether our plane was coming up at the right position relative to the tanker. These two huge jets were zooming through the dark at something like 500 miles per hour, so close that I could see the faces of the guys in the tanker as they lowered the fuel hose. After a while the tank registered full, and we headed home across Canada. As we flew into U.S. airspace there were no commercial airliners to be seen. The plane’s radar screen was nearly blank.
That aerial refueling would mark a watershed for me. It was the beginning of a much closer cooperation and coordination between the Treasury and the military. It was also the start of many completely new experiences that I could never have expected when I signed up for a job at Treasury. I would be forging new teams to handle new tasks. I would be relying on the expertise and experience of others -- people like those pilots -- and they would be relying on mine. Months later I would be flying on other military aircraft -- from C-130 transports inAfghanistan to Blackhawk helicopters in Iraq.