On paper, they’re on different sides.
But a shared love of the Constitution has made friends out of lifelong poet and activist Sue Spivack of Cobleskill and Rich Crusan, a public information officer for the United States Southern Command.
U.S. Southern Command oversees the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base and for five years, beginning on October 23, 2013, Mr. Crusan was usually the one fielding Ms. Spivack’s emails and phone calls advocating for the release of the Gitmo detainees and the closing of the facility.
Slowly those phone calls generated a mutual respect and then a friendship, and in August, Mr. Crusan and his wife—on their way to his 30-year reunion at West Point—spend the weekend with Ms. Spivack and her husband, Jay.
What never came up?
“It was a wonderful time,” Mr. Spivack said. “We talked non-stop,” about the things people just really getting to know each other do. Childhoods. How they met their spouses. Their parents.
When it was time for Mr. Crusan to leave, he presented Ms. Spivack with a framed photo of the US Southern Command with the notation:
You have been stalwart in exercising your individual rights and standing for the rights of others.
We recognize your commitment and applaud your efforts.
The U.S. Southern Command Public Affairs Office.
“It’s such a heartfelt message,” Ms. Spivack said. “It means so much.”
Looking back to 2013, Mr. Crusan said their shared story is really one of “standing up for what you believe in, standing up for the rights of others, recognizing each other’s rights, and loving each other in spite of our differences.”
“I respect Sue and her endeavors,” he said. “She is a special and incredible person. She stands for something. If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything. She committed.”
Whenever she calls anyone, anywhere, Ms. Spivack makes a point of getting names and from the start, she said, Mr. Crusan was “engaging and personable.
“He’s been to Cobleskill and knew the difference between upstate New York and New York City and we were talking like that right away…”
Ever the professional, Mr. Crusan never offered his own thoughts on Ms. Spivack’s concerns, she said, but he encouraged her to keep calling and writing—and she was one of the few who did.
“When the detainees started their hunger strikes in 2013, SOUTHCOM received hundreds of calls from different human rights organizations,” Mr. Crusan said.
“After only a year, only Sue was still calling regularly. I let her know that she was the only caller. She was surprised. For a few weeks, we received tens of calls, but a few months later, only Sue.”
Mr. Crusan remembers one week when his office didn’t get a call from Ms. Spivack and he called to make sure she was okay—a phone call they still both laugh about.
“I asked around the office, ‘Has anyone heard from Sue’?” Ms. Crusan remembered. “I got worried…”
It turns out Ms. Spivack was traveling—and she promised to let Mr. Crusan know if it happened again.
Both Ms. Spivack and Mr. Crusan spoke to their love of the United States and the Constitution, things they both see reflected—and respect--in each other.
“I get it. Rich loves our country so much,” Ms. Spivack said. “What really brings us together is our love for the Constitution.
“Rich took an oath to uphold the Constitution and as a voter, I have a commitment to speak out.”
For her part, Ms. Spivack said she’s learned a great deal about the Constitution and habeas corpus from Mr. Crusan.
And then there’s the personal connection.
The day that Mr. Crusan and his wife pulled up in the Spivacks’ driveway, “tears were welling up in both our eyes and we were hugging each other. We like each other. I know he’s happy to be my friend. I’m not looking to change him. “
Mr. Crusan is a former military police officer who retired from active duty in 2005 before continuing his career with SOUTHCOMM as a civilian in 2012.
In 2017 he was promoted to a different position at SOUTHCOM so he no longer fields calls like Ms. Spivack’s.
But he’s already planning his next visit to Cobleskill and has promised the Spivacks a tour of West Point in the spring.
“We can have our differences, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be good friends,” he said. “I’ve moved 14 times since I joined the military…it’s hard to make friends. But I consider Sue a friend. I’d do anything for her.”