A Tangled Web

October 16, 2002

Weird dreams again last night.  Since I’ve been here I’ve had dreams about trying to chase a man down and shoot him but I kept fumbling around with my magazine and barely got it loaded in time to shoot him.  I finally put the gun to his head and then woke up.  Last night I dreamt that I put my hair in rollers and when it was time to take them out, my hair was burnt to the roller and stuck to them.  I wasn’t upset though—that was the funny part.  I just sat there saying, well, I guess I’ll have short hair now.  Strange.

Well, my predecessor, Michelle, got on the freedom bird and flew out of here today.  She earned it after 6 months.  That will be a cherished moment knowing on my way home to my yummy hubby.

Well, my dad always told me to think before I speak and never let my “mouth overload your butt.”  Good advice—I wish I would have remembered that this week!  I commented twice about how cultish and baby-making the Mormon’s are around and to Stephanie (a girl who is from my Alaska unit deployed here at the same time).  Finally, today, I said, “you’re not Mormon are you?” (please say no, please say no…I thought)…but she responded, “Yes, but not practicing.  My parents are, I just didn’t want to make you uncomfortable.”  Well, I was ashamed of myself and deserved to be made uncomfortable.  The only reason the subject ever came up was because she said her mother’s church had sent her 30 copies of the Book of Mormon in Russian.  (We worked with Russians and Steph spoke Russian.) Well, I’m obviously a horrible intel officer not to but those indicators together and immediately deduce that she’s obviously Mormon or at LEAST her mom is!  IDIOT!  But, the lesson I’m learning here is what I should have learned and applied from Tuesday’s reading about slander.  “The tongue, being in a wet place, is apt to slip.”

“Today let only thoughts that bless

Dwell in my heart and mind;

Silence my lips and tongue to all

That wounds or is unkind”

-white

Well, I’ve always admitted that it takes a hard lesson for me to learn so hopefully, this was mine.

k

Fast Forward:  I’ve come to not only accept, embrace and love humanities differences but now I am wiser and teach my daughter kindness and acceptance.  I also teach her that although we don’t look the same, talk the same or pray the same—we are all of the same creator and should all be treated with dignity and respect.  My journey is different from hers but it is mine…and hers is hers.  Love is love is love is love.michellestephme

Michelle, Stephanie, and me playing Charlie’s Angels before Michelle flew away

Coed Naked Peacekeeping

14 October 2002

Monday Night

I’m watching “My Cousin Vinny” — just finished “Ever After.”  I’m slowly turning into a lump.  I need to snap out of this slump—maybe tomorrow.  Way too much alone time.

I’m learning my job—it’s going to be completely up to me to stay busy and be productive because this job doesn’t amount to much.  I’m trusting that God has a plan and has put me here for a reason.  I’ll just go with the flow and make the best of it.

Sipping on a delicious cup of tea, thanks to India (my friend, not the country).  She sent me a big bag of Earl Grey, a jar of vanilla sugar and a single cup filter.  So nice!

Time for sleep.

ks

ps. The thought of the day is: Adding up your blessings will multiply your joy.

My blessings:  My sweet husband, my family, health, kindness of strangers, my puppy, friends, our home, freedom, forgiveness…

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Payday—one down eleven to go!

I sent Shane and orchid today.  I want him to know how much I appreciate everything he’s doing while I’m away.  Getting up every morning with Zoe to walk her, chase her around the love-seat a few times before work, come home every day to make his dinner alone, pay the bills and keep the house up and still find time to miss me and write me—filling me up with so much love I could burst.

Good things that happened to me today:

  1. Brian shared his picture of his 3 daughters with me at lunch today—he’s been here at least 6 months and carries it with him in his ID card holder for a smile.
  2. Gave my first CIB (current intel brief) and was told it was the best they’d seen yet.
  3. Took a ride in a SIMI Susi (??) “Duck” — armored ambulance!  The Danish guys took us for a 30 minute ride around base—awesome.
  4. The clouds went away and NO RAIN!
  5. I got a nice email from mom about her trip to Dolores (got an email from Shane too, swoon)

Funny Saying So Far:

“It’s called grits, Ma’am”

“M.T.W.”  Mugs, Thugs and Wacko’s  (Army term)

HUAH

“Coed Naked Peacekeeping” — I saw this on a big ass Dutch guy’s t-shirt

“It’s called grits, Ma’am”

“M.T.W.”  Mugs, Thugs and Wacko’s  (Army term)

HUAH

“Coed Naked Peacekeeping” — I saw this on a big ass Dutch guy’s t-shirt

“My what a big snizel you have” — the subject line of an email from Bill R.

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Deployment Week 1 – Guns and Booze

The images and voices of the original Star Wars keeping running through my brain, “stay on target, stay on target, stay on target,” says the Rebel pilot as he maneuvers through the topography of the Death Star before he fires that fatal blow to its core…

Drama Queen, maybe, distracted writer, definitely.  My short term goal is to narrate my 6+ months on deployment to Bosnia.  I dutifully kept a journal, this should be easy, but I’m mentally, physically and most of all emotionally distracted by the present.  I also want to write about the current political climate as well as the emotional roller coaster of facing another year-long deployment (the hub is off again).  I want to write about the power of friendships and the need for more gentle words, love and kindness in todays world.  Finally, I want to write about my friendship with my new neighbor who lost his wife to a stroke recently and our long talks and developing friendship.  If only I had a boss and a deadline—that would make it so much easier!  fullsizerender-3

I’ve decided to travel back to Bosnia for today.

12 October 2002

I went to my first “liaison meeting” today.  I quickly learned this was just an excuse to get the nationalities together to drink.  So, we broke the rules and drank.  (We are under “General Order #1” but the other nationalities were not so they stocked the booze and we locked up our guns for these events.)

The room was filled with Dutch, Fins, Danes, Russians, Frenchies, Italians and Americans.  Michelle (the woman I was replacing) and I were the only US Air Force people, and there were 2 US Army girls there too.  This was clearly a social function and it was fun—the wine was good.  I was glad to have Michelle by my side since I was so new.  As the night progressed the Army girls got randy and hung all over the guys—gag.  I have no idea if they were married though it usually doesn’t matter anyway.

Good night.

k

13 October 2002

It’s Sunday night.  Today was the base “Oktoberfest.”  For the first time, the leadership let everyone dress in civilian clothes and drink 2 beers.  The Air Force personnel had to turn in our weapons for the day—apparently the Army can drink with their guns? Yikes.

Everyone seemed to have a good time.  The “tent” was set up with a ton of board games and card games but it was mostly an opportunity to hang out together and talk over a beer (most of us chose wine over the beer because they didn’t measure their pours and, after doing some quick math, we figured out that we got a smidge more alcohol in our SOLO cups this way).  After a couple of hours, I was bored since I didn’t know many people and civilian clothes didn’t seem like a special treat to me yet.

After Oktoberfest, I checked out a couple of movies from our in-house movie rental shop (pretty sweet deal, thanks to awesome people who donate movies for troops), washed my clothes, hit the dining facility (DFac) called Shane and then FINALLY really cleaned my hooch.  This room is now clean.  It was really nasty when I moved—feels better now.

I’m ready to take over the job now.  I don’t think it will be difficult—in fact, I’ll be challenged to keep myself productive.  I really wish I could be in a targeting job working a real mission instead of sitting in a peacekeeping role/unit providing current intel to a sexist, asshole who doesn’t even like intel.

My new boss is Colonel Joe Jackhole (ok, that’s not really his name but it will be throughout this blog).  He’s touchy-feely, sarcastic, cynical, rude, arrogant, and completely unlikeable.  He’s been in the AF for 28 years and is an old EF-111 pilot—that jet has been retired for at least 5 years so I don’t know what he’s getting paid for now.  He is in AETC when he’s not sexually harassing female intel officers in Bosnia.

Anyway, I’m not going to dwell on him anymore tonight…time for bed.

I’m watching Birdcage—it’s a good laugh.

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“Danger UXO Area”signs were all over the base…it was smart to just stay on the path!

Fast Forward:  As I read this, then typed it, then thought about it again…I found it infuriating how some things never change.  Always a sexist wanker in charge somewhere.  Another thought was that I CHOSE Bosnia over the desert, where the crap was about to hit the fan…coulda woulda shoulda.

Deployment Day 1

6-10 Oct 02

From Anchorage to Ramstein

I’m sitting in the cockpit of a C-130 from Georgia.  It’s being flown by a Guard unit called the Savannah Guard Dogs.  Nice guys—they offered to let me sit upfront so took them up on it.  Yay.  Here I sit with my M9 by my side, wearing my gortex jacket, earplugs in and I’m chewing orbit gum—even though I look like a big tree, my teeth look fabulous!

Anyway, there’s a problem with a gauge so we’re waiting for a replacement part.  Apparently, engine 3 keeps reading too high of a temp and they’ve narrowed it down to a gauge, hopefully that’s the fix and we’ll be off soon.  I am ready to get this party started.  Your deployment days do not count until you are in-country.  I enjoyed my short stop in Georgia with my “other parents” (my friend Katie’s folks took good care of me).  When you are in the military you have friends, friends of friends or parents of friends in nearly every state.  On this trip, Katie’s mom (Sandy) was delighted to show me her newly renovated kitchen.  Dad was equally pleased since he knows how happy she was about this long-awaited project.

Our flight to Germany went well.  When we arrived, we were all put up in a billeting space that was used strictly for troops in transit.  I think they did this to keep the cost down since we all shared rooms and there appeared to be very few niceties such as coffee machines and TVs.  No one seemed to mind since we were still in Germany and could drink beer and drink beer.  For my 3 day layover I enjoyed the schnitzel, rumpsteak with garlic butter, bib lettuce (dang the Germans can make a yummy salad), pomme frits and, of course, the weizen bier.  (FYI, our weapons were safely locked up in the armory the entire 3 days.)  In addition to feasting and drinking, I had the pleasure of reconnecting with a friend I had not seen in years–someone I knew in a past life and was excited to see again.  Tracy and I were Airmen together–she was stationed in Northern Germany and I was in Belgium (in the 1880’s my daughter would say).  Now she is married and they have an adorable little girl (Darian) whom I was privileged to meet.  (fast forward–she’s all grown up and ridiculously beautiful & smart like her hot momma.)  We hit it off just fine.

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10 Oct 02 (2100)

From Ramstein to Tuzla—day 1 of 180

Upon arrival to Tuzla Air Base, I was greeted by “Michelle” (the woman who called me her new best friend—I was replacing her), who showed me to my hooch.  Its late, I’m exhausted and I’m going to bed now.  Tucked in my well-worn, twin-sized bed I can say it’s not too bad.  My room is about 20’x20’ and has a TV, VCR, DVD player, a medium size fridge, microwave, little couch, table and chairs, and 4 x large lockers.  Michelle was nice enough to give me her room right next to the bathrooms so I only need to take a couple of steps to the shower/toilet/sinks.  She moved into a temporary room until she leaves next week.

Joan of Arc (my patron saint) is on the TV right now, how poetic.  I’ll watch her until my eyes close, which won’t be much longer.

Good Night.

k

Fast Forward:  I remember feeling comfy in my little nest when I lived in this hooch.  The mission was winding down so everyone had private rooms on the Air Force side of the base.  I would soon see how the Army lived—in tents with a minimum of 8 Soldiers to each tent (didn’t matter if you were an officer or enlisted).  On the flip side, it got lonely in that room too and although I wouldn’t have traded my shitty twin bed for a shittier cot, it was probably comforting to have people around you day and night.  You could get into your head enough on these deployments without the benefit of solitude.

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Feelings of a Girl

It was my first, long deployment, I was a newlywed and new dog-mom too.  We were stationed in Alaska and my assignment team basically gave me a choice on where I would go (very unusual)—the desert or Bosnia.  Hmm…Europe or the Sandbox, tough choice.  It was after 9-11 but before OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM.  There were whispers of what was about to happen in Iraq but I didn’t really know for sure and I knew the Bosnia gig was a peacekeeping effort since the war that tore this land apart had come to an end and Milosivec was out of power.  So, I chose Bosnia for the next 6 months.

I had no intention of keeping a journal of this time but my friend, Jill, gave me one at my farewell and inspired me to do so.  I’m forever grateful to her for this since so much happened that I would have forgotten.  It’s interesting to climb back into the cobwebs of your mind and revisit yourself years later.  I’m sharing this journal and putting myself in front of you now.  This is a much younger version of myself (15 years ago) in years and life experience, I wonder how the future me will read the pages of today.

4 October 2002

“Friendship is the bread of the heart.”  Mitford

That quote was on the lovely card Jill presented me tonight, along with this cute journal.  These gifts were truly heartfelt—these friends are gifts to us.  Jill and Cary are wonderful people and I’m glad we met them.

As I packed today I worried about forgetting something, not cleaning the house enough before I go, not calling everyone I’m supposed to, all kinds of little things but I never, for a second, worried about my relationship with Shane.  What a comfort and joy!  Our relationship is blessed and I thank God constantly for this incredible blessing.  I hardly feel worthy of such a blessing but I promise to cherish my sweet husband forever in an effort to show my thanks for this man I’ve been entrusted with—he trusted me with his heart.

So, I’m sitting at the airport in Anchorage, I’ve said my good-byes.  I was “fine” until Shane and Zoe-dog dropped me off at the airport.  Then, the small lump in my throat suddenly grew from the size of a bouncy ball to an orange and I found myself swallowing hard and blinking wildly to avoid a breakdown. I walked up to the ticket counter—unable to look back as they drove away and nearly lost it.  The man at the counter was so nice and helped me but I couldn’t smile or joke with him…it was all I could do to keep from crying.

I went and bought some water and sat in front of the magazines for a while to get my mind off my sadness.  It helped—funny how looking at stupid fashion and tabloid magazines can get your mind off everything.  I found myself picking apart the models, the stars, the ugly, expensive dresses and feeling much better (an escape).  I’m glad I avoided the temptation to go into a bathroom stall and cry my eyes out.  The orange in my throat is down to a lemon now…baby steps, right?

Well, time to board.  I put Enya in the CD player, I have my pillow and eye mask in hand and it’s off to Atlanta.  St. Francis of Assisi is on my mind.

ks

Fast Forward:  All these years later and I read this thinking about how much I always avoided crying.  I was taught (by my tough-guy dad) that it made you stronger to stay angry or stoney faced when your emotions wanted to take control.  Ask me someday how many teeth I have lost over grinding them instead of just having a good cry.  Too many.  Ask me how many pills I’ve taken to avoid my emotions…I’ll tell you that not only have I damaged my kidneys, liver and stomach by swallowing pills and vodka instead of my pride, I also had stomach surgery to stop the heartburn, I bleed internally from my colon to my gut and still can’t cry.  I’m a fucking robot now.  What we teach our children can hurt them.  Take care.

PS.  I think it’s hilarious that I compared the lump in my throat to a bouncy ball.  New dog-mom for sure!  🙂

Massacres and Dinner Parties

It was July 1995, the month of the massacre at Srebrenica, and I was working as a protocol officer to the Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR).  My entire world was all about keeping the General, the Mrs. and their guests happy—it was the most thankless, exhausting job I’ve ever had in my life.  I aged about 10 years in the 3 years I served them.  However, the education was incredible and the pace was exhilarating.

The cool side of this job was meeting every European leader—the rock stars of the military and political world.  I met Kings, Princes, and every military person who was a 4-star or higher from every NATO country (at this time, there were only 16 members of NATO).  The headquarters’ official camera man and I would play a game, every time the General had an office call with someone in uniform, he would take a photo of me wearing that persons hat as I walked around the office in it.  I wore hats belonging to the King of Norway, King of Belgium, Prince of Spain, Chiefs of Defense and Ministers of Defense of nearly every NATO country…I wonder what they would say if they knew?  I wish I had those photos, I wonder if the camera guy kept them?  Funny to think about now.  Embarrassing to think of how cocky I was at such a young age—I would roll my eyes at my 21 year old self now.

When we weren’t setting up coffee and preparing gifts for the office calls, we (the 3-person Protocol Team) put on countless dinner parties at the Chateau Gendebien (the residence of the SACEUR).  The General had 5 house staff (US Army NCOs—led by a Sergeant Major) who would clean and prep the house, set the table, cook and serve the meal.  It was our job to place the guests at exactly the correct position (it was a serious offense to seat someone of lower rank closer to the General at the table), we also had to know about food allergies and names of family members.  I kept files on all of our guests so we wouldn’t accidentally serve someone with a shellfish allergy shrimp (it happens).

On this particular night, we were hosting several military leaders, including the Dutch Chief of Defense.  He was not only a dinner guest but an overnight guest too.  The dinner party was uneventful—a good thing in the protocol world but the night was only beginning.  After the guests went home, and the Generals had their nightcaps, they were off to their bedrooms when I went to the kitchen to start wrapping things up before I went home.  At one point I got in the elevator to go to the basement where the staff kept their personal items and the General was in the elevator in a t-shirt and shorts, holding a cocktail.  Talk about awkward moments!  He was never uncomfortable since he always assumed he owned the room so why give a shit what anyone else felt.  He gently tugged on my ponytail while we were standing in silence and I gave a nervous chuckle—this was how it usually worked.  I was happy to walk out of the elevator and pack up my things to leave.

I checked back in with the kitchen staff before leaving when the phone rang.  It was an urgent call for the Dutch General, 10 Dutch soldiers were captured Bosnia and I needed to contact the air base and have a plane ready to take him back to The Netherlands immediately.  It was like a shot of adrenaline, I had to face the General again tonight (gross) but this was real world shit and I had to move quickly.

I played my part, woke up the pilot, called the drivers and security teams, and made sure everyone was sorted out.  When all the work was done, I reached into the refrigerator to get a beer and the General walked into the kitchen (still in shorts and a tshirt) and said, “are you drinking one of my beers?” To which I replied, “yep.”

It was a lifetime later, when I was an intelligence officer (in my 30s) when I would be deployed to Bosnia as a UN Peacekeeper.  I read detailed reports about the atrocities committed by Milosevic and his followers, and learned about all of the mass graves and land mines reported by the local farmers.  I sat in my closet-sized office on Tuzla Air Base, over 7 years since Srebrenica and the night those Dutch soldiers were captured, and thought about how unimportant my existence looked through the rear view mirror.  How stressed out I was over dinner party seating while at the same exact time people on the same continent were being tortured, raped, dehumanized and exterminated.  This makes me wonder now what I will think about today—will my stressors of today seem unimportant or insignificant 7 years from now?  I really hope so.

http://www.nytimes.com/1995/10/08/world/dutch-conscience-stung-by-troops-bosnia-failure.html?pagewanted=all

https://www.hrw.org/report/1995/10/15/fall-srebrenica-and-failure-un-peacekeeping/bosnia-and-herzegovina

A Year of Short Stories

So, as a rooster, I find it satisfying to cluck…a lot.  Since the hub will be far far away for over a year, I might as well start writing–it’s not fun to cluck to an empty side of the bed. I have a ridiculous amount of wacky weirdness I’ve done, seen, been told or otherwise been party to, so why not start writing it down before I forget it all?

Here’s a short one to begin.

When I was 19 years old, I was an Airman First Class (E3) stationed in a small, southern town in Belgium.  It was a pretty simple job–I basically worked in a mail room.  However, there were opportunities that made life interesting now and then.  Once, I was asked to go to NATO HQ for a week to help with administrative work for a Ministerial.  This basically meant I’d work in a modern day equivalent to of a typing pool and assist the administrative staff who were there from Washington DC.  This also meant a paid hotel room in Brussels for a week–giddy up!

This gig required me to wear civilian “office attire” which was a challenge for my 19 year old self.  When I wasn’t in uniform, I lived in jeans or mini skirts.  So, I borrowed a few outfits from the Colonel’s secretary (yes, we are talking blazers with padded shoulders at that time) and mixed in a few of my own pieces to form a semi-appropriate working wardrobe.

Never a wallflower, I enjoyed meeting the other admin staff and pretty much anyone who sat next to me.  Since I was stationed in Belgium, I had a working knowledge of every cool bar and apre-drink gyro stand too.  I was an asset!  The woman I was more or less assigned to was very young, super fun and we hit it off right away.  She was very excited for me to take her out on the town and I was happy to oblige.  But, work first!  So, I learned all about CVs, talking points, agendas and meeting notes.  I typed my little fingers off and ran errands for my pseudo-boss, Lisa, all day.  I made copies, fetched mail and other menial tasks with a smile on my face–it was a high-energy, exciting environment with world players everywhere.  Although we were all in civilian clothes, there were some people who just couldn’t take the uniform off (metaphorically speaking).  One guy, Staff Sergeant Jones (we’ll call him Jones because I have absolutely no recollection of his name) called the room to attention when Gen Colin Powell entered.  It was embarrassing for everyone–the only one in uniform was the General and to call a bunch of civilian-looking people to their feet is not only awkward it’s pure jackassery.  Even General Powell stopped in his tracks and said, “WOW! It’s just me.”  He did have the aura of a star though–I was a bit star struck meeting him since he was so tall and handsome  with a very warm grin (hey–it was a long time ago).  After the General left the room we all gave Sergeant Jones the “you are a moron look” and hoped he wouldn’t pull that crap again.

When meetings were going on things got quiet and it was time to have a cup of coffee.  I grabbed a cup and sat down in a lovely executive suite–I wasn’t just an Airman here–I was Ms. So and So and I could blend in so much easier.  I was impressed with the massive platters of free food at my disposal since I was just a poor Airman, I couldn’t afford to buy those fabulous little, individually wrapped cheeses.  I ate a lot of cheese that week…and fresh pastries and chocolate…yum.  Anyway, as I was sitting there, eating my cheese, a gentleman sat next to me and we began to talk.  He was very nice and told me stories about a town in Portugal where he and his family used to live.  We talked about life in Europe and the ups and downs–he told me about a time his wife had her purse snatched once and chased the guy up a hill in a vain attempt to catch him.  I told him about my wild times with friends in Paris for New Years Eve and nights in Brussels.  We talked for at least an hour about it all and he never gave off that creepy “dirty old man” vibe so I liked him.  I hated dirty old men, they were everywhere and gross.  Eventually, he went back to work and I went back to my typing and that was that.

The hotel I was put in was quite an economy option since I had to share a bathroom (down the hall) and there was no transportation to NATO HQ arranged for us lowly souls.  We had to walk to the Sheraton next door to catch our bus.  I didn’t care–I was happy for the adventure.  After 2 hard days of work, I finally had the chance to show Lisa my town.  I took her to Le Cercueil to drink out of a skull mug, to the Delirium Cafe, La Porte Noir–to drink the oldest beer in Belgium and plenty more whose names I forgot!  Finally, we wrapped up the night on pita-row and devoured the best tasting gyro EVER.   It was a very late night.

The phone in my room rang extra-loud the next morning and all I remember hearing was, “Hey, are you coming in to work soon?  We need you here.”  SHIT!  I overslept and probably wreaked of booze and garlic…rookie mistake!  So I scrambled to get ready, threw on my nearest outfit and raced down the stairs and across the street to the Sheraton for a bus ride to HQ.  Yup, I missed the last morning bus.  Crap.

However, I saw that nice gentleman I sat next to at work and boldly approached him to ask if I could catch a ride in when he goes back to work.  He was kind and said he’d be happy to let me tag along, huge relief.  We walked toward the door together and I see a bullet-proof Mercedes pull up and the driver jumped out to open the door to the back seat.  Gulp.  Holy CRAP, who is this guy?  I never thought to ask him his name…just figured he was some GS-someone working the Ministerial too.  I nervously giggled and said, “Are you sure I should go in with you?” and he responded, “yes, of course, its no trouble.”  I confessed to him that I tied one on the night before and slept in and missed my bus.  Classy.

As we approached the Marine security guard at the HQ, the Marine peeked in and looked at me sitting next to the old man and couldn’t help but smile a bit.  I was beyond embarrassed at this point but I think the old man was enjoying it.  I finally said, “who are you?” and he told me he was the former Ambassador to Portugal and currently holding another position (I can’t recall now).  I said, “I hope you don’t mind walking in with a young woman to work because you know what everyone will assume about us.”  He smiled and said, “I know.”

Did I mention that this was the day I chose to wear my fishnet pantyhose with the line up the back of my legs?  Good Lord.