DOHA, Qatar—Col. Tom Bright remembers a moment when he was packing his suitcase to go to war: He looked at his 3-year-old son, Thomas, who loves Hot Wheels.
"Thomas, give me a car so I can take it with me," Bright said.
Little Thomas Bright, the terror of their house in Tampa, Fla., brought a whole handful. Bright started to put them into his suitcase.
"You can't take those!" Bright recalls the boy saying.
"Then give me something I can take," Bright said.
Thomas came back with a little silver plastic coin.
"Here," Thomas said. "You can take that with you."
Bright keeps the little plastic coin on his nightstand at Camp As Sayliyah, where the U.S. Central Command has established its forward headquarters in preparation for a possible war against Iraq.
Occasionally, when he needs to feel closer to home, he pops the coin into his right front pocket and carries it with him into the top secret Joint Operations Center (JOC), the nerve center for all military intelligence and operations, where Bright is the chief of operations.
Colleagues say the 45-year-old Marine with the subtle Texas drawl has a great "Brain Housing Group," a Marine term for intellect. He is praised for his leadership and decision-making, for remaining calm and focused during a crisis.
If there is a war, Bright will have one of the most important roles in it. "My job is an orchestrater," he says. "I just have to orchestrate all this expertise that is in front of me, and they help solve any problems. It's my job to make sure it's focused down a narrow road."
Since the Sept. 11 attacks on the Pentagon and New York's World Trade Center, Bright has worked almost nonstop, taking only one five-day vacation. Bright loves being outside, mountain biking or running. But he wishes he had more time to work out in Doha. If there is a war, he'll probably get about four hours of sleep a day.
Being away from home is especially difficult on Bright's oldest son, Nick, 15.
"Here's a young kid who has gone from middle school to high school," Bright says. "He has a million questions about life. He and I correspond a lot by e-mail. I've taken the time to tell him stories about my life when I was his age.
"I told him, `I'm not expecting you to come back and say anything, I just want to share with you some of my life stories because it's important.'"
Bright has been married for 20 years to Denise Bright, a pilot for Continental Airlines. "Since November of 2001, she took a leave of absence, which has been a blessing in disguise," Bright says. "She handles it like a trouper. Being gone is real tough on the families, especially on the wives or spouses. They do run the household while you're gone. Denise is exceptionally good at it."
Bright was raised in Muenster, Texas, north of Fort Worth. "It's a German town, about 1,500 people, a mile square, and it hasn't gotten any bigger since I was there."
Bright's father, David Bright, spent 27 years in the Air Force. He retired in 1967 as a lieutenant colonel after stints in World War II, Korea and Vietnam.
"He was an extremely bright man," Bright says. "He absolutely taught me the capacity to solve problems. I think the job I'm in today is a problem-solving position. No two days are the same. You are constantly focusing on a wide spectrum of issues that go from Washington, D.C., to the riflemen in the field. You are pulling that stuff together and formulating guidance and recommended decisions for the commander."
(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.
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