Category Archives: Literature

Now Showing — Madam Ambassador: “I will buy my way if I have to!”

By Domani Spero

Now showing at the Capital Fringe Festivaltickets are still available for the July 20 and July 27 engagement of Madam Ambassador, a play by retired diplomat, historian and playwright Duke Ryan.  

Madam Ambassador, Capital Fringe

Image from Madam Ambassador, Capital Fringe

According to the preview of the play via DC Metro Theater Arts:

Madam Ambassador is different. It is a satire, which focuses on the bizarre way the United States chooses it top diplomats. The problem, of course, is that many Americans don’t even know that we have diplomats, much less have any idea what they do. Foreign affairs?–armed forces handle that, don’t they? Alas, they do, more and more, partially because of the ridiculous system lampooned in this play.

After a reading in England, a sophisticated Cambridge audience enjoyed it immensely, but, interestingly, they said again and again—do you actually pick ambassadors like that? The answer, of course, is yes– the ones in the nice posts anyway.

Carolyn Kelemen reviewing the play writes:

“Part Ann Richards, Madeline Albright, and, perhaps, Pamela Harriman – if they were Republican – Magno captures the feistiness of all three world leaders plus a little bit of Margaret Thatcher with her crisp English pronouncement, “I will buy my way if I have to!” Sound familiar?

As a retired diplomat and historian, Playwright Duke Ryan is savvy to the plots of international diplomacy, and his humor in dealing with these issues comes off clear and direct. “When you are in public service you have to think of money,” the appointed Danish ambassador proclaims to Buzz, about to stir up more trouble.

WaPo writes that this play is probably terribly funny to FS folks and that when the actors find their feet, maybe the non-FS audience may find it really funny, too:

“Madam Ambassador,” a satire about diplomats written by former diplomat Duke Ryan, is probably really funny to people who have worked in the foreign service. To the rest of us, it’s a slightly clunky story about a bored wealthy woman (Patsy Magno) who buys herself an ambassadorship to Copenhagen and then has to play some dirty politics in order to . . . well, it’s not entirely clear. 

The show drags because the actors often seem to have trouble remembering their lines, and in at least one case an actor is still surreptitiously on book. We see that script on your desk, masquerading as papers, Madam. Perhaps once the actors find their feet, the whole thing will be faster and lighter, and the diplomats in the audience won’t be the only ones guffawing.

A brief description of Madam Ambassador, the play from Duke Ryan via http://www.henrydukeryan.com:

The Corn Belt meets the Beltway when Valerie Butts makes up her mind to get back to the hub of power from which she was dumped abruptly when her powerful senator husband first lost his seat then died campaigning to get it back. That left her in Union, Illinois, far out where the prairie meets the horizon, or as she sees it, in the middle of Purgatory. She decides she wants to be an ambassador and believes she still has the connections to do it. Maybe she does, maybe she doesn’t. We watch her try.

Cast and Setting

Valerie Butts: She is middle-aged, conservatively well dressed, and well spoken. She grew up in Chicago’s fashionable North Shore suburbs and was educated in private Eastern schools. Shortly after college graduation she married an upward-bound politician who soon became a senator. She became used to living in high-powered Washington circles, but the senator’s defeat, then death, left her in a small prairie town.

Buzz Butts: He is Valerie’s second husband, and he, too, is middle-aged, but a good cut below her on the socio-economic scale. Except for a tour in the Marines and a cruise he took to get over a divorce, he spent all his life on Chicago’s West Side until he met Valerie. He has spent much of his life managing a gymnasium and was once an amateur boxer.

Gumpston: He is a small town activist and political party operative who is moving higher in non-elective politics. He is eager, almost over-eager, to gain recognition for his work.

Gretta: She is a maid in the home of the Danish Minister of Sport and Recreation. She is sometimes casual about what is hers and what is not and can be quite brazen about it.

Leon Strummer: He is a high-powered Washington lawyer, sometimes holding high office, sometimes acting behind the scenes, but always a major player in power circles. He is profane, arrogant, and abrasive.

Mr. Ryan’s real name is Henry Butterfield Ryan.  He joined the Foreign Service in 1961.  He served with the U.S. Information Agency for 25 years in Brazil, Norway, Australia, and Washington.   USIA sponsored him for an academic year at Harvard where he earned a Master’s degree in Public Administration (M.P.A.). Later, he went on leave without pay to get a Ph.D. in diplomatic history at Cambridge University. He returned to USIA afterwards and subsequently retired in 1986. He is the author of several books and plays.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Ambassadorships, Diplomatic Life, FSOs, Literature, Political Appointees

Baghdad Nights by Raymond Maxwell

✪ By Domani Spero

We have previously hosted Raymond Maxwell’s poem in this blog (see Raymond Maxwell: Former Deputy Asst Secretary Removed Over Benghazi Pens a Poem).  That was quite a riot.

What do you think about when you’re taking mortar rounds?

“Baghdad Nights” which originally appeared in FB and published here with Mr. Maxwell’s permission will not be quite so controversial but it stands out as a poem of stoic calm amidst the chaos of war.

We particularly like its auditory images which gives the poem a sense of place but also a sense of that specific moment in time.  A poem of faith or in a fatalistic sense of whatever will be, will be. A total acceptance of what is unknowable.  An inner freedom from fear in the face of a disorderly and dangerous external world.

According to his LinkdIn profile, Mr. Maxwell served in foreign service assignments in Guinea-Bissau, the U.K., Angola, Ghana, Egypt, Iraq and Syria.  In a previous 12-year career with the U.S. Navy, he “served division officer tours (auxiliary engineering and weapons systems) aboard the guided missile destroyer, USS Luce DDG-38 and enlisted engineering tours as a machinist’s mate on nuclear-powered submarines the USS Hammerhead SSN-663 and the USS Michigan SSBN-727 (B).”

 

Photo by US Embassy Baghdad

Baghdad Nights

© By Raymond Maxwell

Baghdad nights

It was a long-assed day.
We had dinner at the DFAC
and returned to the office.
Finally knocked off around 9pm.

The mandatory protective vest
weighs heavy on my already tired shoulders –
while the strap connecting the two sides
cuts into my waist as I try to balance
the weight on my already tired hips -

I lumber on to my tin-foil hootch
in Embassy Estates on the
the Republican Palace grounds…

It is late.  I take a shower and
turn on Fox News,
the only station that works.
“In California today, Senator Clinton says
President Johnson was more important
than Dr. King to getting the Civil Rights Bill
passed.”  Aw shit.  White House better stay white.

I fall asleep while reading “Certain to Win,”
one of those Army War College texts
from the Strategic Studies Masters program
I was falling further and further behind in
with each passing Baghdad day.

2am.  The witching hour.
Time for target practice.
I’m awakened by the sound
of the Duck and Cover alarm.
The concrete reinforced shelter is 100 meters
away from my tin-foil hootch –
100 meters as the crow flies…

Nope.  I’ll sit this one out – and pray –

Bong!  Bong!  Bong!  Bong! The alarm
sounds.  I hear people stumbling,
some drunkenly staggering –
to the safety of the shelter.

I shelter in place and
start my usual prayer
(I skip a lot of drills these days):

The Lord is my Shepherd,
I shall not want.
He maketh me ….

SWOOOOOOSH!

A mortar round flies over
the tin foil roof
of my tin foil hootch –

….lie down in green pastures.
He leadeth me
beside the Still Waters….–

THUMP.

The round hits the nearby ground.
Maybe it is another dud.
I continue my prayer:

….He restoreth my soul —

KABOOOOOM!

It was not a dud.
But I pinch myself and
I am not dead.

I finish my prayer:

And I will dwell in the House of the Lord,
forever.

Back to sleep.
Tomorrow is another Baghdad day.

🔥

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Filed under Foreign Service, FSOs, Iraq, Literature, Poetry, US Embassy Baghdad, War

Old Bugaboo of Packout Bothers You? Pick Up This Foreign Service Companion

— By Domani Spero 

*You Might Be in the Foreign Service If…

√  The sound of packing tape makes you cringe.

√  Every time you stay in a hotel, the kids ask if it is their new home.

√  You look at everything you want to buy with a view to: A., how much does it weigh and B., will it explode without a transformer.

√  When you return home, you have a nervous breakdown in Walmart because there are too many choices.

√  You come back to the States for home leave and your 3-year-old yells, “Look, Mama, they have McDonald’s in AMERICA, too!”

Miving Your Hosehold_AAFSW

Every day, somewhere in the world, one or more of the 13, 787 Foreign Service employees and unknown numbers of family members are in the process of moving.  The largest rotation often happens during the summer transfer season, typically after school is out.  This is one of the most stressful part of the Foreign Service, one that we don’t think ever gets easier with time.

If you want to know what moving is like every few years, pick up The Foreign Service Companion Moving Your Household Without Losing Your Mind. This  is a 180-page book divided into five sections: The Big Picture;The Nitty-Gritty; Kids, Pets, and Moving; When Things Go Off-Script and Taking Care of Ourselves.

Eva Groening, a 30-year veteran of FS life with seven consumables posts writes that “moving begins, at least in your mind, the day you learn you will be leaving “here” and going “there.” Then this gem:

“Barter is a wonderful thing – some roach killer for a few tubes of toothpaste? A box of corn starch for a package of chocolate chips?  I treat expiration dates as mere suggestions, but bulging cans go in the trash immediately. 

Ana Gabriela Turner, a spouse who naturalized in 2012 writes about foreign born spouses: culture shock particularly for those moving to the United States, the naturalization process, to work or not to work and other challenges. She forgot to add obtaining a driver’s license as one of the necessities for foreign born spouses navigating their new lives in the United States.

Ed Dyer is part of a trailing household currently assigned to Harare, Zimbabwe writes about the Azimuth Check,  a bearing point or why you need that home leave.

Danielle Dumm, a traveling, writing, shutterbug mama currently in New Delhi, India writes that storing your household’s most important documents and most treasured media in digital form has never been easier and tells you How to Digitize Your Life.

FSO Janet Heg from US Embassy Kabul writes about Packing for an Unaccompanied Tour, what to put in your “Go Bag” and passes on an advice for “shoes that are not only comfortable but also allow you to run in an emergency.”

Michele Hopper, a mom of four who “lives by a well-stocked pantry” writes about Shopping for Consumables and advises readers that  “A full pantry of familiar foods eases even the most difficult day.”   True dat.  Also, how can one not enjoy having a grocery store in your very own home?

FSO Sadie Dworak writes about losing her faithful 10-year-old shih tzu, Hattie during her assignment to Saudi Arabia. A heart-wrenching experience at home but particularly overseas where so many things can go wrong.

Then there’s Public Diplomacy Officer Marlene Monfiletto Nice’s Packing Out is Hard to Do to the tune of Neil Sedaka’s “Breaking Up is Hard to Do.”

Don’t take my plates away from me, My pots and pans, my cutlery,
Got more entertaining to do,
And packing makes it hard to do.

Remember when we first arrived,
It took so long to get the house just right, Now I can’t wait to start anew,
But packing up is hard to do.

But our favorite contribution is hands down, The Slacker’s Guide to Moving by “Ima Spouse Oh”

An international move could be compared to a hurricane: You know it’s coming, you look at maps and worry, and you do the best you can to get ready, whether that means securing patio furniture or downing huge tropical drinks.

The list of things that you “should do” before a move can darken your mood faster than a chocolate shortage. For instance, the first chapter of the State Department’s Foreign Service Assignment Notebook fills 13 pages with preparation suggestions.

This Slacker is here to tell you that you can skip pretty much every- thing in that chapter and still arrive at your destination. In many cases, spending more hours on your move will not actually result in a better experience at post.

Somebody described this book like having folks over and chatting about packouts. If so, then we’d all be happy to have jugs of coffee with EFM, ‘Ima Spouse Oh’ and her pearls of wisdom.  Do you know that you can have things moved in “as-is” condition?  “Yes, the trusty toaster oven arrived complete with crumbs and blotches of melted cheese.”

We had a full laundry basket and a trash can moved in “as-in” condition. Both survived the transfer.

Looking for work before you get to post? Forgetaboutit. “All of the local work Ms. Spouse Oh eventually found was obtained once she started meeting people face-to-face. She decided to change from a job “hunter” to a job “gatherer”: The work is sitting there, she just has to show up in the right place and load it into her basket!”

Mrs. ‘Ima Spouse Oh’  is also huge on delegation, unless “it’s too much effort:”  “Ask the movers to unpack the boxes. Claim you have to work and let your spouse handle everything…. Go on vacation and let the Foreign Service officer in the family manage the move –that’s what would happen if he/she were single anyhow! Just promise not to complain about how things were done if you did not help do them.”

Hah!

The only thing missing in this book is when a spouse is ditched by the FSO overseas, and how that packout in the midst of a separation or a divorce can be extremely messy.

The Associates of the American Foreign Service Worldwide (AAFSW) has put together this Foreign Service Companion Moving Your Household Without Losing Your Mind.   The book edited by Kelly Bembry Midura and Zoe Cabaniss Friloux.  Kelly blogs at wellthatwasdifferent.wordpress.com.  The editors and authors are volunteers. Your purchase will benefit the programs of the AAFSW.  We understand that this is part one of a series planned for publication, we look forward to the rest of the books in the series.

*You Might Be in the Foreign Service If… excerpted from the book.

(^_^)

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Filed under AAFSW, Americans Abroad, Book Notes, Diplomatic Life, Foreign Service, FSOs, Literature, Realities of the FS, Spouses/Partners

After End of War, Operation No Easy Exit

Tom Engelhardt has a piece on How to Forget on Memorial Day (excerpt):

Afghanistan has often enough been called “the graveyard of empires.” Americans have made it a habit to whistle past that graveyard, looking the other way—a form of obliviousness much aided by the fact that the American war dead conveniently come from the less well known or forgotten places in our country. They are so much easier to ignore thanks to that.

Except in their hometowns, how easy the war dead are to forget in an era when corporations go to war but Americans largely don’t. So far, 1,980 American military personnel (and significant but largely unacknowledged numbers of private contractors) have died in Afghanistan, as have 1,028 NATO and allied troops, and (despite U.N. efforts to count them) unknown but staggering numbers of Afghans.

So far in the month of May, 22 American dead have been listed in those Pentagon announcements. If you want a little memorial to a war that shouldn’t be, check out their hometowns and you’ll experience a kind of modern graveyard poetry. Consider it an elegy to the dead of second- or third-tier cities, suburbs, and small towns whose names are resonant exactly because they are part of your country, but seldom or never heard by you.

I did check out the hometowns and I’ve never heard of Normangee, Texas.  According to the 2000 Census, Normangee is a town of 719 people, 277 households, and 185 families.

Sgt. Wade D. Wilson
(Photo via YouTube)

Sgt. Wade D. Wilson, of Normangee, Texas, died May 11 while conducting combat operations in Helmand province, Afghanistan.  He was assigned to 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, I Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Pendleton, California.  He was 22.

But even as we pulled out our troops in Iraq, and combat operations are planned to end in Afghanistan in 2014, the next operation is one with no easy exit.

Excerpt from Probably Not the Final Destination by Dale Ritterbusch (WLA. Volume 23 • 2011):

Fall semester, second week of class, a student stays after:
his field jacket, his scruffy beard
tell the story. I don’t know if you have noticed,
he says, but when I answer your questions
sometimes I lose my line of thought
and I stumble a bit trying to find it again.
I tell him the lie I hadn’t noticed, but his speech,
slurred, slowed, gives it away—a sergeant,
twenty-seven months in Iraq. My wife thinks
I have PTSD he says. Every class he stays after,
and there’s little I can say, little I can do
except listen: maybe there’s little anyone can do,
that old lesson we never seem to learn,
moving from “costly their winestream”
to the “red, sweet wine of youth”:
enough there to embarrass half the demons of hell.

At night the NewsHour runs pictures
of the dead, name, rank, hometown flashing,
holding, silently across the screen—the first man just eighteen.
We might remember Urien’s lament: “I bear a great
warrior’s skull; I bear a head at my heart.”
Or has war’s paradigm so changed
Urien’s progeny may now swear,
“I bear the dead, the half-dead
in my half-dead skull; I bear
the dead in my half-dead heart.”

Photo Taken By Cpl James Clark | 01.20.2012

Domani Spero

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Filed under Literature, Poetry, PTSD, War

War of Choice in Iraq: Curveball Lied But Who Sent the Troops to Die?

The last of our combat brigades departed Iraq in August 2010. In eight months, the US State Department will assume responsibility for training the Iraqi police. Staffing at the US Embassy in Baghdad currently at 8,000 is expected to grow in the coming year to about 17,000 people, the vast majority of whom will be contractors. Yes, in this jobless economy, there are still jobs. In Iraq.

In Capitol Hill on February 16, Defense Secretary Robert Gates says Iraq will face major security “problems” if U.S. troops leave the country by the end of this year as planned.

Over in Iraq, Baghdad’s city government demands an apology and  $1 billion for the damage done to the city not by bombs but by blast walls and Humvees since the U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.  Via Reuters: “The U.S. forces changed this beautiful city to a camp in an ugly and destructive way, which reflected deliberate ignorance and carelessness about the simplest forms of public taste,” the statement said.

“Due to the huge damage, leading to a loss the Baghdad municipality cannot afford…we demand the American side apologize to Baghdad’s people and pay back these expenses.”

On money matters, the FY2012 budget proposal includes a total U.S. government Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) effort in Iraq at $15.7 billion. Billions.

Meanwhile the US debt continues ticking on like the energizer bunny. Every citizen, including my minor son now carries over $45,000 as his share of the US national debt. 

Amidst all this, Rafid Ahmed Alwan al-Janabi – codenamed Curveball by the CIA – surfaced recently and gave an interview to the Guardian where he explains why he lied about Saddam’s chemical weapons capability. His false claims were quoted at the UN by former secretary of state Colin Powell and used to help justify the Iraq war.

Here is Curveball’s video.

Full text of Colin Powell’s UN speech on February 2003 using Curveball’s ‘evidence’ is here. Excerpt below:

The source was an eyewitness, an Iraqi chemical engineer who supervised one of these facilities. He actually was present during biological agent production runs. He was also at the site when an accident occurred in 1998. Twelve technicians died from exposure to biological agents.

He reported that when UNSCOM was in country and inspecting, the biological weapons agent production always began on Thursdays at midnight because Iraq thought UNSCOM would not inspect on the Muslim Holy Day, Thursday night through Friday. He added that this was important because the units could not be broken down in the middle of a production run, which had to be completed by Friday evening before the inspectors might arrive again.

This defector is currently hiding in another country with the certain knowledge that Saddam Hussein will kill him if he finds him. His eyewitness account of these mobile production facilities has been corroborated by other sources.

Curveball now admits to WMD lies that triggered the Iraq war; he ‘invented’ tales of bio-weapons, reportedly to try to bring down Saddam Hussein.

Curveball must be quite a political strategist to pull this off, or the intelligence communities here and across the pond should be awarded 400-lb medals for being great suckers to this Iraqi fantasist trying to topple Saddam.

It won’t surprise me if Curveball will also get away with a ghost written book contract. No more allowance and free car from his adopted state, he needs to sell something … like …. a book!  After all, just about everyone is this sorry episode, has already hawked their books on teevee and online. Why not Curveball?

Here is Curveball, a freedom fighter in the sly:

“Believe me, there was no other way to bring about freedom to Iraq. There were no other possibilities.”

“Saddam did not [allow] freedom in our land. There are no other political parties. You have to believe what Saddam says, and do what Saddam wants. And I don’t accept that. I have to do something for my country. So I did this and I am satisfied, because there is no dictator in Iraq any more.”

More here on Curveball’s lies – and the consequences. Check out the Guardian’s Curveball page here.

As can be expected, old history becomes new again. And a serious ink fight has broken among the “formers,” which is quite maddening to watch.

The Guardian reports that Curveball’s admissions vindicate the  suspicions of CIA’s former Europe chief: 

“My impression was always that his reporting was done in January and February,” said Drumheller, adding that he had been warned well before 2003 by his counterparts in the German secret service (BND) that Curveball might not be reliable. “We didn’t know if it was true. We knew there were real problems with it and there were inconsistencies.”

He passed on this information to the head of the CIA, George Tenet, he said, and yet Curveball’s testimony still made it into Colin Powell’s famous February 2003 speech justifying an invasion. “Right up to the night of Powell’s speech, I said, don’t use that German reporting because there’s a problem with that,” said Drumheller. “[Curveball] recanting doesn’t really change that. It just makes me feel better. It confirms what we found at the time.”

He recalled a conversation he had with John McLaughlin, then the CIA’s deputy director. “The week before the speech, I talked to the Deputy McLaughlin, and someone says to him, ‘Tyler’s worried that Curveball might be a fabricator.’ And McLaughlin said, ‘Oh, I hope not, because this is really all we have.’ And I said, and I’ve got to be honest with you, I said: ‘You’ve got to be kidding? This is all we have!’ “

According to the Guardian, the ex-German foreign minister Joschka Fischer also accused the former CIA chief George Tenet over his knowledge of Iraqi defector’s sketchy background. Mr. Fischer by the way, also has a new autobiography, I Am Not Convinced.

On February 16, 2011, George Tenet, former Director of the CIA, citing recent press accounts about “Curve Ball” says in his website that “The handling of this matter is certainly a textbook case of how not to deal with defector provided material. But the latest reporting of the subject repeats and amplifies a great deal of misinformation about the case.  In order to provide some perspective, the following excerpt if from my 2007 memoir “At the Center of the Storm” and offers additional detail that the media continue to ignore.”

Excerpt from his book:

If Drumheller or anyone had brought to John McLaughlin or me these doubts about Curve Ball’s credibility, let alone his sanity, we would have gone to great lengths immediately to resolve the matter. Unfortunately, the first either of us learned of Tyler Drumheller’s lunch with the German BND official and of the latter’s supposed warnings—and his refusal to stand publicly behind them—was when we were interviewed by the Silberman- Robb Commission as it prepared its March 2005 report, two years too late to do a damn thing about it.
[...]
On January 27, 2003, right before the Powell UN speech, our man in Germany sent another cable, this one expressing his own reservations about the source. He did so because he had received no response to his December 20 cable. Curve Ball’s reporting was problematic, he said, and should be relied on only after “most serious consideration.” This cable, too, went to Drumheller for action. In the three days and nights we sat at headquarters working on the secretary’s speech, nobody ever told us of our senior man in Germany’s reservations or of the letter from the BND chief.
[...]
My successor, Porter Goss, asked his staff to run down the Curve Ball story. They found in 2005 that the letter, located in the European Division, had not been formally logged in as received. Despite extensive searching, no records have been found that the letter was sent to either John McLaughlin or me.


Sounds like a game of Drumheler, Drumheller, tell me who is IT?

Oh, dear god, all that money for the intel folks and they could not do a simple log in of an important piece of communication? And why is Mr. Tenet “talking” for both himself and John McLaughlin as if they were joined at the hip? Mr. McLaughlin should get a chance to write his own book, no?

The US was duped. Deceived. The most powerful country in the world, with billions allocated to intelligence, was  tricked and outsmarted by Curveball? 

Did the USA “allow” itself to be duped? That is the $3 trillion plus dollar question (counting the future med/health expenditures for all war vets). Anyone? Anyone?   


So now, Colin Powell is reported to have demanded answers over Curveball’s WMD lies. The former US Secretary of State is asking why the CIA failed to warn him over Iraqi defector who has admitted fabricating WMD evidence.



And on and on it goes …

He said vs. he said vs. who said vs. drat said vs. enough said!


And this is giving me a mighty headache.

Here’s what confuses me …

We used taxpayer’s money to investigate a small blue dress and presidential sexual indiscretion. Fine.  But we don’t have the balls to examine how we got into Iraq? Not fine. 

Our elected officials who served the American public should be publicly answerable for their actions. After all, aren’t they the servants of the people? Wouldn’t it be the honorable thing to do to stand up and be accountable for your actions instead of writing self serving books?

Colin Powell demands an explanation. What he should do is call for an Iraq War Truth Commission and volunteer as its first witness.

There are 4,754 reasons why.

And they’re all dead. 

 

 


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Filed under Huh? News, Iraq, Literature, People, War

David Willson’s Diary of Dying and Bureaucratic Complexity

David Willson is the author of REMF Diary (1988) and The REMF Returns (1992). Working from his diaries composed in Vietnam, Willson tells the story of the war as it occurred for most soldiers. Willson has now turned his eye to his current battle with cancer and the Veteran’s Administration. His REMF Diary of Dying and Bureaucratic Complexity appeared as a Special Feature of WLA Online. The magazine writes that it will be updated with new installments the first of each month. Four chapters ending in 2009 had been posted here.

Below is an excerpt from Charpter 1:

My ribs had been causing me some serious pain since June. I’d been to see Dr. Brooks several times and lots of theories had been pursued but none had panned out. Finally, in October, I was sent to a specialist. He did a biopsy and had me do a 24 hour urine collection. Dr. Lee gave me the diagnosis.

Multiple Myeloma. Okay. I thought I recognized the name of the disease from the Agent Orange Dirty Dozen list. Dr. Lee kept saying that she hoped that I had prostate cancer, and I didn’t get why she’d say that. She explained that prostate cancer could be cured, but that multiple myeloma had no cure and no remission. I got it then.

When I got home I looked up the Agent Orange disease list on the VA website and there it was, nestled between Hodgkin’s disease and respiratory cancers (lungs, bronchus, larynx, trachea.) Fine bedfellows. The big heading on this section was “Presumptive conditions for disability compensations.” An open and shut case. I am a Vietnam veteran who served in-country from September 13, 1966  through October 23, 1967. I was stationed in Tan Son Nhut and then in Long Binh, but because I worked for the Inspector General, I was all over the country. I was presumed to be exposed. I was diagnosed with multiple myeloma by several doctors, including Dr. Norman, my oncologist. I was told that I had Stage 2 B, and that my disease was in an aggressive mode. Looks to me as though I have hit the jackpot.

I sat right down and wrote the VA a letter apprising them of my situation. I included a copy of my DD 214, the one that my SS# is wrong on. Also I included a copy of a document from my doctor which showed that I had been diagnosed with multiple myeloma, with no remission. This should do it I thought. Here’s the short letter I sent them.

Dear Claims Office,

I wish to start the process for a claim for disability. I served in Vietnam for over 13 months from 13 September 1966 until 23 October 1967, in the U.S. Army. (please see attached DD214.) I was recently diagnosed with multiple myeloma at Group Health, Tacoma. (See attached.)

Please let me know what the next step is in this process. I would also appreciate notification of receipt of this letter. Thanks.

David A. Willson

I got a letter back from the VA in a week or so. I was given a file number, but not a claim number. That’s a start, but I wondered about the difference between a file number and a claim number. Is a file number different from a claim number? Does that mean my status is lower? I didn’t know. The letter assured me they had received my application for benefits. They sincerely desired to decide my case promptly. They have a lot of claims, so I shouldn’t hold my breath. I am paraphrasing here. They will contact me if they need additional evidence or information. They tell me that they don’t want me to contact them. They will contact me. Well, that was food for thought. I was getting a sinking feeling. They tell me that if my mailing address is different from that shown above that I should contact them. Please advise them of my new address.

Why would the address be different, I thought? I just gave them the address I’m going to live at until I die. I’ve been living at this address for 16 years. I looked at the address on the letter. It was wrong. So wrong that I couldn’t figure out how the letter got to me. They’d inverted the second and third numbers of the street address. Not good. My eyes danced to my name. My name was wrong, too. Oh, oh. I was beginning to think this process might not work as well as I’d hoped. How much faith can I place in an agency that gets my name and address wrong, when the information I provided them was correct? I suspected this agency didn’t care about me. I started to worry and fret.

I talked to Vietnam veteran friends. They told me that I was doomed if I didn’t have a service rep helping me get into the VA system. As a long time member of the VVA, I decided that I needed to get the name of a VVA rep in the Seattle office. A dear old friend who works for the national office of the VVA referred me to Roosevelt Ward and I set up an appointment with Roosevelt Ward.

I wrote another letter to the VA:

Dear T. Clark,

I know that your letter dated November 4, 2008, told me not to contact you , that you’d contact me, but I am worried that further letters you send me might not reach
me. The reason for that fear is that you got both my name and address wrong on your first letter. Those errors did not inspire confidence. My name is David A. Willson. Two
“L’s” in Willson. My address is: 23630 201st Ave SE, Maple Valley WA 98038. Not “210”—Not.

I have been diagnosed with multiple myeloma Stage II B, and my disease is aggressive. I cannot afford the cost of the thalidomide my doctor prescribed for me. That is not good. I will die sooner without it.

I had to pay $4,000.00 last Friday for my prescription. The U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs Website tells me that multiple myeloma is on the list of Agent Orange presumptive disabilities. So, as I did 13 months in Vietnam, I want the VA to pay for my medicine. That seems reasonable to me. Also, please get my name and address right.

Thanks.

Yours,
David A. Willson

I hoped that the VA would fix my name and address problem. I drove into Seattle and met with Roosevelt Ward in the VVA office on the tenth floor of the Henry Jackson Building. I spent a couple of hours with him as he patiently helped me through the forms for the VA. He gave me a serious orientation into what I had to deal with. Basically the VA had developed a series of hoops that are incredibly hard to jump through. I couldn’t answer many of the questions the VA asked. Not off the top of my head. I couldn’t answer the questions related to my marriages and divorces. Mr. Ward explained to me that my disability application wouldn’t go anywhere with the VA without copies of the documents related to my marriages and divorces. I went away from my meeting with Mr. Ward armed with the information I needed to do battle with the VA. I’d learned that the VA would not be easy to deal with.

My wife, Michele, and I spent the next Friday morning in the Seattle courthouse and the records center. The marriage records were in one building and the divorce records were in another building. I guess they didn’t want the records commingling. We did battle with ancient microfilm readers and ancient microfilm and microfiche. The film and fiche were damaged and tattered, and the faint entries from the divorce decree ledger of 1971 were almost unreadable. Without the decree number, the clerk could not retrieve the certified copy of the decree that we needed. I had to use a large magnifying glass to read the retrieval number of the divorce decree.

Around us were other sick old veterans, nearly crying tears of frustration as they tried to deal with the decrepit machines and the ruined microfilm. It was a struggle for me, too, and I had the advantage that I’d spent my thirty year career as a reference librarian working with old microfilm readers and with ancient microfilm. These old guys had never seen a microfilm reader or microfilm before today, and they weren’t doing well. They didn’t know which end was up on the microfiche.

We got our retrieval number, gave it to the clerk, and received our copy of the decrees and paid and were on our way. The other sick old vets were still struggling. Good luck to them. I saw the clerk come out from behind his counter and go over to them. It looked as though they would get professional help. Good.

Michele and I then drove down I-5 south to the Tacoma Group Health Building in rush hour traffic. We checked in with Dr. Norman’s office and completed the process of qualifying for the thalidomide.

It’s part of the Thal-Dex treatment. We went down to the pharmacy and learned that the thalidomide cost $9600.00 of which we had to pay $4,000.00 out of our pockets, due to something called “the donut hole.” This was the first I heard that Medicare had anything called a donut hole. What is it? I’d have to look into that. But for now we chanced maxing out our Visa card to pay for the needed medication. I wanted to start taking the stuff right now as my life depended on it.

We left Group Health feeling poor and bereft. Shouldn’t the VA be paying for this? Dr. Norman had informed us that some of his cancer patients did get their medication paid for by the VA. He didn’t know what process they went through to get the VA to pay for the medication. Neither did I, but I would try to find out. I knew it wouldn’t be easy. The book on Federal benefits for Veterans and Dependents says that I met the presumptive conditions for disability compensation. But when? In the fullness of time? When I got them every marriage and divorce document that they required?

Time passed. I took the thalidomide and the steroids as prescribed. Michele and I drove to American Lake and I registered for a VA medical card and got put into the VA system for medical care. That involved filling out a three page form that required detailed information about our income last year when Michele was still working fulltime as a principal, well before she quit her job to spend more time with me. Now she’s working part time, just enough to pay for our medical coverage.

Everyone I dealt with at the American Lake VA Hospital was kind and helpful. Michele and I watched the sick old vets (many of them Vietnam vets younger than I) stumble past us. Some of the veterans around us couldn’t even walk at all. The passing scene made me feel lucky. I looked good and felt good, except for the pain in my ribs, the pain in my back and the pain in my right leg. We waited about an hour while our paperwork was examined and entered into the system. Then we were called to Room B for our interview. We were informed of what was available for us and that I’d get my ID card in 7 to 10 days. We were informed that free valet parking would be available for us when we went to the VA Hospital in Seattle for the next step in this process, which would be the Agent Orange Registry. Then I was sent to Room A where my picture was taken for the ID card.

When I got home I called the Agent Orange Registry Office at the Seattle VA Hospital and was given an appointment for 10:30 Monday morning. This was on Friday. Things were moving along a bit faster. Good. I felt that I was making progress.

Saturday we got our mail. There was an 81/2 inch manila envelope from the Department of Veterans Affairs. I checked my name and address. Both were wrong, again. This is not an agency that will be easy to deal with. Why can’t they get my name and address right? How is their mail even reaching me with the address so wrong? They want service treatment records from the service department. Those records will help them determine how my claimed disabilities are connected to my military service. How? They have my name wrong, my address wrong, and they think my service treatment records will have something to do with my recently diagnosed multiple myeloma? They are incompetent or fools.

I am in a world of hurt. They prefer original records to copies. How would I have originals? The Army keeps the originals. I was a stenographer in the U.S. Army. I know how Army records keeping works. Soldiers never get the originals. The Army keeps them. That’s how it works. Included in the envelope was VA form 21-526. Many pages of mind boggling questions, questions that I’d struggled to answer with Roosevelt Ward’s help in the VVA Office. I need to call him and see if he’s got enough information now to submit the forms to the VA to move this attempt on my part to get disability for my multiple myeloma, and my medication paid for. I will also ask him for advice on how to correct my name and address with the VA. Writing them a letter didn’t work out.

Continue reading, REMF Diary of Dying and Bureaucratic Complexity Part One.  Read all the chapters here.


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Book burning craze goes weirder, 9,500 copies of "Operation Dark Heart" up in flames

Book burningImage via WikipediaVia CNN:

The Department of Defense recently purchased and destroyed thousands of copies of an Army Reserve officer’s memoir in an effort to safeguard state secrets, a spokeswoman said Saturday.

“DoD decided to purchase copies of the first printing because they contained information which could cause damage to national security,” Pentagon spokeswoman Lt. Col. April Cunningham said.

In a statement to CNN, Cunningham said defense officials observed the September 20 destruction of about 9,500 copies of Army Reserve Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer‘s new memoir “Operation Dark Heart.”

Shaffer says he was notified Friday about the Pentagon’s purchase.

“The whole premise smacks of retaliation,” Shaffer told CNN on Saturday. “Someone buying 10,000 books to suppress a story in this digital age is ludicrous.”

Read the whole thing here.

Active links added above. If a copy or two of the original edition escaped the flames, we should see it soon over at eBay in four figures. That is, unless DOD buys it first in five figures.

 


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Bob Sutton: 12 Things Good Bosses Believe

World's Best BossImage by Kumar Appaiah via FlickrRobert Sutton is a Professor of Management Science and Engineering at Stanford University. He studies and writes about management, innovation, and the nitty-gritty of organizational life. He is the author of Weird Ideas That Work and The No Asshole Rule.  His new book is Good Boss, Bad Boss, forthcoming from Business Plus. He also blogs at Work Matters

Below is an excerpt from his post in the Harvard Business Review on  the 12 Things Good Bosses Believe:

[I]‘ve come to conclude that all the technique and behavior coaching in the world won’t make a boss great if that boss doesn’t also have a certain mindset.

My readings of peer-reviewed studies, plus my more idiosyncratic experience studying and consulting to managers in many settings, have led me identify some key beliefs that are held by the best bosses — and rejected, or more often simply never even thought about, by the worst bosses. Here they are, presented as a neat dozen:

  1. I have a flawed and incomplete understanding of what it feels like to work for me.
  2. My success — and that of my people — depends largely on being the master of obvious and mundane things, not on magical, obscure, or breakthrough ideas or methods.
  3. Having ambitious and well-defined goals is important, but it is useless to think about them much. My job is to focus on the small wins that enable my people to make a little progress every day.
  4. One of the most important, and most difficult, parts of my job is to strike the delicate balance between being too assertive and not assertive enough.
  5. My job is to serve as a human shield, to protect my people from external intrusions, distractions, and idiocy of every stripe — and to avoid imposing my own idiocy on them as well.
  6. I strive to be confident enough to convince people that I am in charge, but humble enough to realize that I am often going to be wrong.

Read the whole thing here.  In late July, he also did the keynote at the Summit At Stanford talking about Good Boss, Bad Boss. Click here to see video of his talk.


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A Warrior’s Poem: "Murder–So Foul"

by Sgt. James Lenihan
World War II Veteran (1921- 2007) and Purple Heart Recipient

I shot a man yesterday
And much to my surprise,
The strangest thing happened to me
I began to cry.

He was so young, so very young
And Fear was in his eyes,
He had left his home in Germany
And came to Holland to die.

And what about his Family
were they not praying for him?
Thank God they couldn’t see their son
And the man that had murdered him.

I knelt beside him
And held his hand–
I begged his forgiveness
Did he understand?

It was the War
And he was the enemy
If I hadn’t shot him
He would have shot me.

I saw he was dying
And I called him “Brother”
But he gasped out one word
And that word was “Mother.”

I shot a man yesterday
And much to surprise
A part of me died with Him
When Death came to close
His eyes.

The above poem was published in the Defense Centers of Excellence (DCoE) blog with the following notation:

While cleaning out their father Sgt. James Lenihan’s basement after he died, Brooklyn, N.Y. based Rob Lenihan and his sister, Joan Lenihan, found this poem that he wrote about World War II. Lenihan was assigned to the 413th Infantry in the 104th Infantry Division, U.S. Army, nicknamed “the Timberwolves.” He toured Europe fighting.

With the mantra, “nothing in hell must stop the Timberwolves,” the division was responsible for overrunning the Dora-Mittelbau concentration camp, and was later recognized as a liberating unit by the U.S. Army’s Center of Military History and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Sgt. Lenihan was wounded in action and later received a Purple Heart. He never spoke with his family about the emotions he experienced during war, and they were very surprised to find this poem. Towards the end of Lenihan’s life, he actively sought out his old war buddies and described his time serving as one of the “worst and greatest experiences” of his life.


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An Undiplomatic Mistress Writes Book, Does Tour

I recently just saw this piece about UK’s Ambassador to Yemen, Tim Torlot. The same one who survived a suicide attack last April in Sana’a.

Apparently, there’s more to Ambassador Torlot than you and I may not care to know, but soon would be public knowledge because his mistress has written a book.  This whole thing went down the last couple of years when the ambassador’s wife and daughter returned to England at the beginning of 2008 and the ambassador’s mistress moved into the ambassador’s official residence in the spring of that year. That must have been quite a scandal in a country where adultery is punishable with death by stoning.

This is not the first incident involving a British Ambassador and a mistress in recent years, of course.  Her Majesty’s Ambassador to Uzbekistan Craig Murray also walked away from a 20-year marriage in favor of a bellydancer from a Tashkent nightclub. That dancer later opened a one-woman show in a London stage called The British Ambassador’s Belly Dancer and wrote about it here.

Hey! I can see you rolling your eyes.

Anyway, below is Barbara Davies of Mail Online with some more bits on this story. Be warned, some parts might make you want to — well, run to the vomitorium … 

Six months after his affair with 41-year-old journalist Jennifer Steil threatened to cause a diplomatic crisis in the deeply Muslim country, the amorous 52-year-old’s tumultuous private life has come back to haunt him once again.

And this time the drama comes straight from the pen of his raven-haired lover, who – having given birth to Torlot’s daughter, Theadora Celeste – last November, has now published an extraordinary no-holds-barred account of the events leading up to their affair and their life together in Yemen’s ancient walled capital.
[...]
As one source put it to the Mail: ‘Torlot has behaved with a complete lack of honour. He is presumably well aware of how distasteful his behaviour was to so many people at the Embassy, and how it compromised his reputation.’
[...]
When news of her affair with Torlot became public, many assumed that the Ambassador was having some kind of mid-life crisis. Their liaison began not long after Torlot paid tribute to his loyal wife Bridie at his 50th birthday party.

‘There was a lot of joking that he’d given himself a 50th birthday present to remember by sleeping with Steil,’ says a source.
[...]
[H]er descriptions, often in semidiary form, also make clear that she set her sights on the Ambassador right from the moment she met him.
[...]
‘My heart trips over itself. This is the man I want to marry. The thought flashes through my mind only seconds after our hands meet. I want to check his left hand but I can’t look away from his eyes.’
[...]
My love for him has no expectations; it just is. But why, why must there be a wife?’

In fact, throughout her entire account of her relationship with Torlot, it is clear that Steil barely gave Bridie Torlot a second thought as she moved in to seduce her husband.
[...]
Friends say that Bridie Torlot finally ‘deduced’ what was going on from her husband ‘ s erratic behaviour. Steil says: ‘By Christmas eve he’d told her everything, and by January she is gone.’
[...]
Since then, Steil has taken Bridie Torlot’s place at the Ambassadorial Residence. She returned to London with Torlot last year to give birth to her daughter, and all three are now living back in Yemen.
[...]
The Foreign Office has continued to insist that it is a private matter for Torlot and Steil.

But thanks to Steil’s indiscretions, it is hard to see how it can be described as that any longer.

What – you’re calling this gossip? No, it’s not. It’s now called literature. Read the whole thing here

The book’s title?  The Woman Who Fell from the Sky: An American Journalist in Yemen. Below is Random House’s book blurb:

Restless in her career and her life, Jennifer, a gregarious, liberal New Yorker, initially accepts a short-term opportunity in 2006 to teach a journalism class to the staff of The Yemen Observer in Sana’a, the beautiful, ancient, and very conservative capital of Yemen. Seduced by the eager reporters and the challenging prospect of teaching a free speech model of journalism there, she extends her stay to a year as the paper’s editor-in-chief. But she is quickly confronted with the realities of Yemen–and their surprising advantages.  In teaching the basics of fair and balanced journalism to a staff that included plagiarists and polemicists, she falls in love with her career again. In confronting the blatant mistreatment and strict governance of women by their male counterparts, she learns to appreciate the strength of Arab women in the workplace. And in forging surprisingly deep friendships with women and men whose traditions and beliefs are in total opposition to her own, she learns a cultural appreciation she never could have predicted.  What’s more, she just so happens to meet the love of her life.

That blurb seem almost romantic, doesn’t it?  The Woman Who Fell From the Sky  is on Facebook and also has its own website now. 

The last name acknowledged in the book?

“Timothy Achille Torlot, for reading this book more times than anyone should, and for loving me more than I thought anyone could.”

No, she did not thank Mrs. Torlot for vacating the official residence quickly.

At the back of my mind I wonder about Mr. Torlot’s career prospects after this.  I can’t imagine a scandal like this would play well with the new FCO boss, traditionalist conservative, William Hague. But that remains to be seen. 


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