Monday, August 23, 2010
I’m talking about Katie Couric and she was walking toward me with a huge grin on her face. My first thought was, “Holy crap, that’s Katie Couric” followed quickly by, “But she’s so little.” I think I was just surprised that someone who has made such a big contribution to the journalism world was so petite.
And she was right here in Kabul, here to interview the commander of NATO Training Mission – Afghanistan before we left for a visit to Kandahar. I looked around at the crowd of maintainers gathered in the aircraft hangar – they had to stop working for the interview – and a majority had their cameras out taking pictures. It seems everyone was as starstruck as I was. Katie hardly seemed to notice but I’m sure she’s quite used to it by now. I was fortunate enough to be introduced to her; “Call me Katie” she said, when I addressed her as ma’am. I immediately call her ma'am again. Oops. It's a hard habit to break.
For the next 40 minutes I watched her interview General Caldwell. She was gracious and warm; friendly with her camera crew and with her the boss. She thanked him several times for agreeing to sit down with her before the trip and after the interview, took a group photo with everyone, where I tried to squeeze in as close as possible. I know, I know. Starstruck.
Tuesday, August 17, 2010
While this can be exciting at times, it can also mean a lot of planning, preparation, rehearsal’s, last minute schedule changes and a lot of waiting. People get very nervous when there are VIP’s involved, so of course, there is the rolling out of the red carpet, so to speak.
Some days we are hopping from event to event or in the case of a recent visit from Undersecretary of Defense for Police, Michele Flournoy, pooling our staff to cover a tour. During her visit to Afghanistan (her second since I’ve been here), Flournoy went to the Kabul Military Training Center, where the Afghan National Army runs their basic training program. The tour was designed to show Flournoy the progress being made at the training center, both with meeting the recruitment and training goals for the ANA and with improving the overall quality in training. At each stop, she took time to ask trainees, both men and women, about their experiences and why they personally joined. It was a crazy tour with multiple photographers assigned to capture every stop, including arrival and departure … its times like these when we joke that we’re the paparazzi.
Over the Fourth of July, several congressional delegates - Senator John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Joe Lieberman – came to Eggers where they helped promote and present awards to several servicemembers. I know this was a huge treat for those who were personally recognized and for all of those who were able to meet and speak with their elected leaders. These Senators serve on the Senate Armed Forces Committee and help shape policy on everything from our military benefits to Department of Defense policy.
Saturday, August 14, 2010
Ahhh, the sweet coconut smell of suntan lotion, a splash of cool water on hot skin and the relaxing, sleep-inducing warmth of the sun … is there anything better than being near the water in summertime? Especially when you add in the tart bite of a lime swimming in an icy corona.
But there’s none of that in deployed zone, especially the beverages of an alcoholic nature, so yesterday, when I found myself lying on a deck chair in my bathing suit, smelling like sunscreen and sweating under the hot, hot sun as I watched people swimming, holding onto my icy cold bottle of water, I could almost pretend I wasn’t really deployed. I felt a little like Cinderella must felt all dressed up at the ball - out of place and out of character. Could these happy, and very tan, embassy people tell I didn’t belong? The day glow skin surely gave me away.
This little fairytale setting at the U.S. embassy, is typically off-limits for us military folks, but my co-worker Rachel and I had signed up to participate in a swim-a-thon, a fundraiser for the Wounded Warrior Project, so we were granted access for the day.
We walked over to the embassy - as required - in our uniforms with our weapons and arrived, a sweaty, hot mess to be greeted by the sound of music pumping, people lounging on towels, and oh, that glorious, beautiful blue pool just waiting for us to jump in. Yes, we were there for a good cause – the WWP helps injured service members and their families – but the fact that we would have an opportunity to escape the heat in a pool didn’t hurt the cause either. The mission was to swim for 15 minutes and of course, raise money for WWP. Some people were competing for the number of laps they could swim in that time, but my goal was not that lofty; I aimed to just stay afloat, and I performed marvelously, if I don’t say so myself.
All in all there were about 170 swimmers involved and we raised almost $20,000 – not too bad for a day’s work. After finishing my swim, I stayed awhile to cheer on other swimmers, including several folks from our camp who were participating in the team competition. Oh, all right, it was to soak up the atmosphere a bit more too …. and to grab a hot dog (or two) from the grill.
But alas, this fun in the sun was not meant to last. As the sun started to sink, I again felt like Cinderella, trying to enjoy every leisurely minute until at last, I had to trade my swimsuit and flip flops for a uniform and combat boots. It was time to come back to reality, grab my weapon and begin the walk back to camp. No fairy godmother was going to rescue me but it felt amazing to be normal again, even for just a little while.
For more information about the Wounded Warrior Project, visit their website at:
And, thanks to my friend (and co-worker) Chris Mobley for providing the outstanding photographs.
Monday, August 9, 2010
It’s fascinating to learn about other cultures and the Afghan’s I work with are always more than willing to answer our questions in exchange for their own. We’ve talked about everything from dating rituals to holiday and family traditions. Afghans are known for many things, among them their generosity and hospitality, and their family-oriented culture. Arranged marriages are very common, as is the custom of marrying cousins but as times change, so do relationship practices. Many of our Afghans have talked about the new, unwritten (and confusing) rules of meeting and dating women in Kabul today. More and more they are seeking out their own partners as opposed to getting to know a girl after marriage or marrying a family member with whom interaction is permissible, until the “couple” is older, and a chaperone is required.
Several of our interpreters have girlfriends whom they secretly date, however, I was shocked to hear that A not only had four, but to hear some of his escapades … and the way he’s using technology such as blue tooth to exchange phone numbers. Girlfriend number four was picked up at a wedding; given that he couldn’t very well cross the room and strike up a conversation, A told me that they “talked” with their eyes. Then he held up his phone for her to see and casually walked by, whispering out of the corner of his mouth for her to turn her blue tooth on. Phone numbers were exchanged and now they are free to speak to each other whenever they choose. And here I though dating in American was complicated.
And of course, if things don’t work out, A can always use one of his creative break-up methods. My personal favorite was the heart-surgery story. Rather than ending things with a girl, A prefers to tell her that he has to go to Pakistan for a risky heart operation, during which he has a 98 percent chance of dying. Now, if the girl happens to call your phone to check up on you and your mom answers the phone, as A’s did, this could backfire, but all in all, not a bad plan.
I believe, ladies, that there is a lesson here and that would be to be careful who you date and perhaps not be too trusting … especially if your man has to undergo an extremely dicey operation. Not all men are bad but it seems there definitely shady characters in any culture.