“Don’t want to send them home dirty.”

the fold IIImage by beccaxsos via Flickr

Air Force Reserve
Major Richard C. Sater
was activated for a one-year tour of duty in support of the war on terrorism in May 2003. He was initially assigned to 4th Air Force, March Air Reserve Base, California. In September 2003, he deployed to Afghanistan for seven months in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, assigned first to Combined Joint Task Force 180 at Bagram Air Base; and later to Combined Forces Command-Afghanistan, Kabul. He kept a journal during the deployment, from which the following is extracted. On the civilian side, he has been a college professor of English and the arts and a classical music announcer for a National Public Radio affiliate station.

Notes from a JournalAfghanistan, 11 Sept 2003-7 Apr 2004
was published in War, Literature & the Arts Journal (public domain material). Richard C. Sater is currently a Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force Reserve.

28 Nov. 2003: SPIN

BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan—

Usually I spend as little time as possible in the laundry room, stuffing things into two washers and then bolting for forty-five minutes. This night, as I mea­sure soap powder and wait for the tubs to fill, a gentleman comes in—tall, lanky, generously mustached, with sad eyes the color of hazelnuts—with three bags of laundry. Small ones, with little in them.

He wears a desert-tan flight suit, the two-piece kind, with no markings on it, identifying him by not identifying him as special-forces air crew. I introduce myself. He gives me a single name: Diz. I don’t ask for more, not wanting to put him in a position of not wanting to say more. His words colored with British, he says he is an MH-53 gunner. I extend my ignorant sympathies to him for the crash, and he shakes his head, disgusted.

“It was a re-supply mission,” he says. “Not even a combat sortie.” Had the crash occurred during a combat mission—even if the helicopter had been forced down by enemy fire—he would not be as troubled. One can make peace with such things under war. But such cost for an ordinary re-supply mission insults all who fly and fight.

Three colleagues lost. Friends, perhaps, at least brothers-in-arms. And somehow or other, the task has fallen to Diz of doing the laundry of these three, prior to sending their personal effects to their families. “Don’t want to send them home dirty,” he says.

I listen, since he seems to want someone to. He tells me a little about the deceased crew members. One was divorced, he says; one was a recent father and another had teenaged children. Through wash and rinse and spin and tumble dry, I stay with him, each of us sitting on the edge of a dryer, our feet hanging down. The air smells of fabric-softener sheets; the rhythmic click of buttons and the soft thud of damp clothes turning underneath us punctuate his story.
Carefully, he folds his three bags of clothing, mundane socks and undershirts, some gym shorts, uncommon only because they’re forced to bear the weight of wasted potential, of the price extracted for freedom to endure. Courteously, gravely, we shake hands. I would like to meet him again, I tell him before he departs, and he says the same. But we will not (one of the less remarkable costs of deployment, though such things will empty one’s pockets eventually).

And he goes.

Quickie: They no respect the contract?

In Which The Other Shoe DropsImage by Coda Hale via Flickr

Hannah Allam, a Cairo-based McClatchy Newspapers correspondent writes the blog, Middle East Diary. She visited Iraq last month and wrote about The New U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. Makes you kind of wonder if the private security contractors’ other shoe will drop here before too long:

Today, I arrived at the embassy with half an hour to spare before my appointment. I couldn’t enter until my escort arrived, so I passed the time talking with a Peruvian guard — in his broken English and what little Spanish I remembered from high school.

“Are you press?” he asked.

When I confirmed that I was a journalist, he lowered his voice and looked around to see if his American supervisor from Triple Canopy was watching the interaction.

“They no respect the contract, this company,” he whispered. “The contract says we work one, two, three, four, five, six, seven days, and then we should have a day off. But I work 12 hours a day for 12 days and then one day off. They no respect the contract.”

He went on to tell me about his 11-year-old daughter and how it breaks his heart to be so far away from her. Over the Internet, he said, she tells him to quit and come home, that the money isn’t worth the job, which from his description sounded to me like a few short steps away from indentured servitude.

“My girl, she tell me, ‘Come to Peru, come to Peru, why you work 12 hours a day for 12 days?'” he said. “I told her if I say something to the company, they say, OK, go back to Peru and they bring other guards.”

He shrugged and said, “What I do? I work.”

Read the whole thing here.

It Happens: Divorce and the Foreign Service

cover of a recent UK paperback editionImage via Wikipedia

“Yesterday, Tom came home from work and announced that he wants a divorce. He wants to get separated right away and for the children and me to leave post immediately. I was devastated! It is the middle of the school year and only the second year of our three-year tour. I had NO idea this was coming and am in a state of shock. My first thought is about our children, especially Beth, the middle one, who has special needs. How will they respond and get through this? Many thoughts are flying through my head about the dissolution of our marriage and family. How could this have happened when I thought everything was going along so well? All of us had adjusted well to this post, the kids were reasonably comfortable at school, and I had finally found a job I liked in the Embassy”

According to Pew Research (The States of Marriage and Divorce | October 15, 2009): [T]he Census Bureau survey showed that a shrinking share of Americans are married2 — 52% of males ages 15 and older and 48% of females ages 15 and older. The proportion of Americans who are currently married has been diminishing for decades and is lower than it has been in at least half a century. […]Among married Americans, the median duration of their married life in 2008 was 18 years.

Unlike Carly Simon’s song, this does not happen everyday in the Foreign Service, but often enough to pay attention to. At one post, a friend who lived in a nearby city called weeping on the phone one Sunday morning when her husband of 20 years decamped to a hotel after telling her he did not want to be married anymore. Another city and another country later, a trailing husband did not want to be a trailing spouse anymore, and went back to a real job back home. At the same post, another husband walked out of wife and four kids. At still another city, a spouse arrived at post months after her husband only to discover that she had been replaced by the daughter of her husband’s landlord. The chance of hearing a spouse ditched for a younger model is higher among wives because women still comprised 80% of the Foreign Service family member population. That and this too (read Madam le Consul’s Beware. Be Very Ware post, sorry cache files only).

Divorce is stressful and complicated enough whether you live in Texas, DC or anywhere else. Except that in the Foreign Service, the end of a marriage is often is more stressful and more
complicated because of lack of extended family support when you are overseas and because government regulations can at times place the trailing spouse at a disadvantage. The Family Liaison Office (FLO) also cites the lack of access to information as reason for further complicating divorce issues such as domicile, child custody, visitation, support, and pension benefits.

Susan, a
former spouse says in the FLO Guide:

“I would like to share my experience with other spouses who face this situation:

  • Don’t allow yourself to be forced out of your home, unless you are concerned about your safety (a possible abuse situation).

  • Don’t leave post until:

  • You have Advance Return of Family travel orders, which covers the cost of plane tickets home and allows for the shipment of HHE.

  • Your spouse signs a statement of mutual consent indicating that you are not abandoning or deserting your spouse and/or your family. Make sure that a U.S. Consular Officer serves as witness.

  • Your spouse signs an Authorization to Receive Goods Shipped from Post.

  • Your spouse signs a Joint Property Statement, which covers what you have in storage, so that this can be released to you.

  • You have the powers of attorney you need, including a limited power of attorney from your bank or credit union.

  • You have plans and resources in place. (Contact your bank/credit union to make sure that you will not be closed out of joint accounts without your written permission, which has been notarized). Without these documents in place, it may be more difficult to set up a home and take care of yourself and your children.”

It is important to note that the Department of State views divorce as a personal matter and it does not provide legal services to employees or spouses. The Family Liaison Office’s Crisis Management and Support Officer acts as an information and referral source for separation and divorce questions only and is not an advocate for either party.

Below are some important notes from the FLO Guide on The Foreign Service Family And Divorce:

Important Note:
HHE can be removed from an overseas location or from storage (if stored at U.S. Government expense) only with the employee’s consent or a valid court order. [DS– HHE or household effects are often stored in domestic locations, and occasionally at overseas location but always under the employee’s name]

Important Note:
If the employee will not cooperate in requesting this advance travel/shipment, contact the Crisis Management and Support Officer in the Family Liaison Office for guidance. On July 11, 2007, the Director General sent a cable to all posts entitled “Requirement for Employees to Provide Adequately for Spouse and Children Due to Separation and/or Impending Dissolution of Marriage”. It states that “failure to adequately arrange for a spouse or children’s transition from post can reflect adversely upon the U.S. government. Moreover, the Chief of Mission (COM) and the Department have a legitimate concern in the welfare of family members accompanying employees to post.

Important Note:
Children of divorced employees or spouses cannot be listed on travel orders unless a copy of the divorce decree establishing that the employee/spouse has joint or sole physical custody (or the equivalent) of the children is on file in the appropriate personnel office. Whether there is joint custody or sole custody, a notarized statement from the former spouse authorizing the child to reside abroad also is required. Requests for exceptions to this policy will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

Use Extreme Caution Before Agreeing to Sign Waivers!
Carefully review any document you are asked to sign by your spouse which could possibly jeopardize future annuity, survivor annuity (separate from annuity), or Federal Employees Health Benefits (FEHB) for yourself or your children. You may want to consult an attorney before you sign any such document.

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