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Published by the Corpus Christi Caller-Times. CLICK FOR NEWSPAPER DELIVERY

Sunday, June 24, 2001

Carroll grad hears call of Capitol Hill

Coast Guard officer Charlie Diaz is point man for the war on drugs

By Tara Copp
Scripps Howard News Service

Scripps Howard News Service
Charlie Diaz, Carroll High School Class of 1978, is shaping drug policy for House Speaker Dennis Hastert in Washington, D.C. ‘In a role like this you are actually part of the process,’ he says.

   Corpus Christi native Charlie Diaz had his orders. He was finally getting a captain's assignment; he was to lead the 270-foot Coast Guard cutter Escanaba. Then the phone rang.
   On the other line was Adm. James Loy, who was asking Diaz to serve the Coast Guard in a different way: Would he shape drug policy for House Speaker Dennis Hastert?
   "The commandant called me up personally at home and said 'I know you have a great set of orders, but I need you to consider doing something for me,'" said Diaz, who joined the Coast Guard after graduating from Carroll High School in 1978.
   Loy, who has a close working relationship with Hastert, R-Ill., knew the speaker's office was in transition. And the new administration's drug czar, John Walters, hasn't been approved yet by Congress. The nation's drug policy needed more of a voice on Capital Hill.
   With Diaz's background, he was a good fit to be an advocate for money and resources to wage war on drugs: As a Coast Guard officer, he had been selected to attend a special master's program at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government. He graduated in 1997.
   Getting into politics
   In 1999 while still serving in the Coast Guard, he worked for two years on a drug policy subcommittee for Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind. That fellowship is a way for military personnel to "sort of learn the political process," Diaz said.
   "Instead of being a Coast Guard officer that maybe comes up here for a meeting or two, and you're kind of on the outside looking in," Diaz said, "in a role like this you are actually part of the process. And if you can do that at the leadership level - that's huge."
   Diaz grew up on Hermosa Drive, with three brothers and sisters. Both his parents, Maria and Tony, were teachers and both spent more than 30 years in CCISD schools. Diaz's summers were spent playing with another neighborhood success story, Terry and Bobby Labonte.
   Famous neighbors
   "The Labonte brothers lived right behind us," he said. "I remember there was a bunch of us that used to get together and play pickup baseball ... and they were always riding go-carts when they were small, then they drove dune buggies and finally they did the local track. And we were always like 'Ah, you guys are wasting your time. You ought to be playing ball with us.' Of course, look where they are now."
   Diaz's family still lives in Corpus Christi, and this April, he returned to get married at Heritage Park.
   For Diaz, the next year will be busy trying to secure anti-drug funding and to keep the war on drugs front and center while John Walters waits for congressional approval.
   "My concern is that under the Rumsfeld review (the administration's review of Department of Defense spending) that they are going to try to diminish their role or even walk away from it altogether," Diaz said. For now, he's hoping that Hastert and Rumsfeld will meet on the issue.
   Then by next year, he'd like to finally get his chance to captain a ship.
   "I am just a Coast Guard guy, I like driving ships and being at sea," Diaz said. "For me there is something very peaceful about that."

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