Just having fun

Kenai native takes position in Pentagon, reflects on 18 years of service

The other day, Larry Porter Jr. had a strange thought.


Understandably, he was in a strange place, one he never really imagined being - the Pentagon.

"You know, this is where MacArthur and Patton and those guys would walk down," he remembered thinking. "I could be on the exact spot where these guys were walking at one time."

Porter, a Kenai native and newly minted lieutenant colonel in the Army, said walking daily through what is arguably the world's greatest military intelligence hub is humbling.

"And then of course I wonder what my kids or my grandkids are going to think about what we are doing today," he said. "Will they look at us like I look at my grandfather and the generals with a sense of awe?"

But, Porter wasn't there to stand in amazement wondering about his journey and those before him. He was there to work.

After serving more than 18 years in the Army, Porter accepted a position working as a public affairs officer under the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Navy Adm. Michael Mullen.

"We're his worker bees," he said of the work his office of six performs. "For example, when he was on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart the other night, you get him prepared for that. You find out what he wants to talk about ... so we go get him smart. There is no way anybody can know everything."

Where Porter is currently and where he started out are seemingly worlds apart - the younger man a directionless college student and the older a critical piece of military intelligence and an information disseminator to American and foreign media.

But, he said he doesn't much stop to think about that. He's too busy having fun, as he puts it.

"You've got to have fun whatever you do, if ... you are not having fun, either make it fun somehow or find a new job," he said. "The job is going to get done no matter what it is, so you might as well have fun doing it."

Porter contends he joined the service because of a volcano - specifically the eruption of Mount Redoubt in 1990.

A few days before Christmas that year, Porter was a sophomore at Central Washington University when word spread about the pending eruption. Wanting to get home as not to miss the big burst, he and family, including his mother - Kenai mayor Pat Porter - had to change their flight plan.

On the extra flight from Los Angles to Seattle, Pat, who had advocated for Larry's consideration of the military for some time, switched seats with him.

"I had no desire to do it," Porter said of military service. "My mother told me to at least look at ROTC once I got to college. I still had no desire."

It turned out the seat-switch on that flight put Larry next to an Air Force ROTC cadet. That conversation subsequently also put him on the path to a military career.

"I was set up from the word ‘Go,' because I had to switch seats with her," he said with a laugh.

In the 1990s, the military was cutting back operations and after finding out he would have to wait a year before going on active duty in the Air Force, Porter switched to the Army. It fit like a glove, he said.

"They were always motivated and everything was ‘Go, go, go' and I had a ball doing it," he said.

Eventually, Porter branched out to the infantry division where he made his first great memory of his service during his first field exercise.

At the time, he was commanding a M2A2 Bradley tank.

"I just finished talking on the radio and I start giggling," he said. "My gunner ... hits me on the side and says, ‘Sir, what's so funny?' I said, ‘I'm nothing but a big kid in a huge Tonka toy talking on walkie-talkies. At the age of 24, I signed for $15 million worth of equipment."

A few years later, Porter switched to Public Affairs and spent time in Korea and Italy, also working for the Armed Forces Network radio and television.

Public affairs stuck, even though nobody else really wanted the job. At the time, Porter said the position was considered a dead end.

"I didn't know anything about public affairs, I didn't know anything about TV and radio and it was kind of thrown in my lap almost by accident," he said. "Whenever a VIP would show up or a TV camera would show up, my bosses would say, ‘Hey Porter, you're smiling go over and talk to these guys.' I just did it and had fun doing it."

From 2006 to 2007, Porter also did a tour in Iraq where he served as the Iraqi Media Engagement Team Chief. He was charged with dealing with all Arabic media that wanted information on the American presence.

In May of 2010, Porter was shipped to the Zhari District of Kandahar Afghanistan for about a year.

"We were in the heart of the Taliban hometown," he said.

The Taliban were used to foreigners coming into their area, but more used to their retreat. No one had won there, Porter said.

"We went in and beat the living daylights out of these guys to the point where we had intel on them and they were saying, ‘The Americans are here and they are fighting like barbarians,'" he said.

While Porter served to meet the needs of media inquiries into the operation, the soldiers were building and upgrading a base that would hold the surge brigade of more than 3,000 soldiers, plus another brigade of Afghan forces.

"We had to build this base while under fire," he said, noting the base that was there when they arrived was built to only hold 200 troops.

IEDs and firefights were commonplace, but Porter joked that if he was ever shot at, he wasn't aware of it.

"My brigade lost 65 soldiers," he said. "Our first KIA was my NCOIC, which is a non-commissioned officer in charge. He was my right-hand man. That brought reality upon us really quick."

From June to December of last year, he dealt with an average of 40 media representatives at any given time.

"You name it, I had them," he said.

"I have been in front of the camera many times, but ... nobody wants to talk to a public affairs officer. They want to talk to the soldier on the ground, or the boss."

When it comes to sensitive information, Porter said it isn't so much a dance with the media as it is a trusting relationship. He said his job was to provide the information to the journalists who, following the agreed ground rules, would use their discretion.

"We do not censor," he said.

On July 15, Porter accepted the position under the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. It's been three years since Porter has been back to either Alaska or his hometown.

What he misses most is the openness, he said. His grandmother describes it best - the sky simply "goes on forever."

"Here it just doesn't seem the same," he said of living in Washington D.C.

He also hasn't seen the Northern Lights for quite sometime, even when he goes home for a visit.

"I never find them, but I always look," he said.

With his wife and 3-year-old daughter, Porter is thinking more and more of the future and his tenure in the military.

"It definitely is a young man's sport," he said. "I can't run as fast ... and I got two more years before I can even think of retiring and this is a three-year gig at the Pentagon."

But, Porter insists he is still having fun, and it is only time to change jobs when you stop having fun, as he puts it.

"I can't believe I have been in 20 years," he said. "I can remember that day that soldier hit me in the side and said, ‘What's so funny?'"


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