“They spit at us,” General Robert Van Antwerp says, reflecting back on his and his team’s experience reaching out to devastated neighborhoods in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
Those saliva projectiles were clearly directed at the wrong person. Why would New Orleans’ finest spit at an army general? Why would they spit at the person who was there to rebuild their city, the chief engineer at the Army Corps of Engineers?
It was “okay,” General Van Antwerp reassures me, explaining that sometimes people need to vent and express their anger before a leader can begin the process of building trust.
I sit amazed as General Van Antwerp recounts his team’s decisions to drive the streets, hold town-hall-style meetings, and relocate to New Orleans, becoming neighbors to the devastated. This guy was an army general, and at the time the corps had thousands of employees focused on hundreds of key priorities around the world.