Tentagon City, Amman.
We arrived late. After dinner. The chow hall was closing and the smell of grilled meat permeated the air. “Sign in and grab a tray,” Lt. Scott said. So I did.
Tray, plastic silverware set, plate, bowl for salad. Rice, meat stewy stuff, vegetable. Iceberg lettuce. “This is the new normal,” I thought to myself.
After dinner, Lt. Scott took me to the female officers’ tent, and helped me drag my bags across the stones.
He dropped me off at the female officers’ tent where a young brunette in a red rugby sweatshirt quickly took my oversized orange bag without a struggle, and turned to find me a bed. “I’m Kiona,” she called over her shoulder.
I followed this brunette beast down the carpeted aisle of the tent–with twenty metal twin-sized beds on either side. “There’s no room,” Kiona said, “they’re all taken.” I smiled and tried not to show any anxiety to the warrior standing in front of me. “That’s okay,” I said. “I’ll head back to the Commandant’s tent to see what’s next.”
The Commandant put me in the staff non-commissioned officer tent on the other side of the chow hall. Luckily, the brunette beast had quietly followed me to the Commandant’s tent and said, “I’ll grab your bags.” I swear in the blink of an eye, she was schlepping my bags across the gravel yet again, leading me to my new home.
“We’re here,” she said. I think I squeezed out a “thank you” and she told me there was a group who met for breakfast at 0700. “I’ll be there,” I said.
And she was gone.
I looked around this tent and quickly counted 11 open beds. I liked that number. It is repetitive, consistent, and symmetrical. I chose the second to the last bed on the right-hand side, and tried to unpack before lights-out. I was not successful. I made my bed with the bright pink sheets I found at the thrift store on base–the only twin-sized sheets they had. Blankie and Grover found their prized position at the top of the bed, and I was set.
I crawled in, took a deep breath, and mentally prepared for the next morning–with phrases from Joint Publication 5-0 drifting through my mind.
Kiona and the Single Ladies Vacation Club.
The following morning, I met Kiona for breakfast. She gave me the lay of the land and we grabbed coffees at the Green Bean before heading to Tentagon City–that’s where the Joint Operations Cell was. That’s where we would be working for the entirety of Exercise Eager Lion.
Kiona, or “Ki” got to talking. She’s a beast because she’s fiercely intelligent, a rugby player, and doesn’t have time for people who don’t take care of others. “I like this one,” I thought to myself. Throughout the next couple days, Kiona would check in on me and make sure I was included and apprised of Tentagon City going-ons. She always made time for a breakfast, lunch, or dinner date, and offered to grab me coffee on the mornings that were just too much for my schedule.
On the bus to Petra, we shared secrets you shouldn’t share after a week of knowing someone. “I like this one,” I thought to myself again. On the bus, Kiona told me about her girlfriends who also love to travel. “We kind of have this Single Ladies Vacation Club,” she said. “You should hike Kilimanjaro with us next summer.” OHMYGOSH, KIONA, I’D LOVE TO! I thought, but said something more along the lines of, “That sounds cool–just let me know the dates!”
Kiona’s the type of person who follows through on things. She doesn’t say things unless she means them and she’s incredibly patient with me. Kiona reminds me of a firm, fierce female and I’m the little shih-tzu running around her in circles, excited just to be in her presence. That night, Kiona “introduced” me to the other girls in the Single Ladies Vacation Club. “She meant it! I’m in!”
“I like this one…” I fell asleep thinking…
Vocabulary lessons, bloody heels, and caliphates.
My first few days running public affairs for the entirety of the exercise portion of Exercise Eager Lion were frustrating. They were. The exercise was poorly organized and I was understaffed. I worked with a Navy officer from Bahrain who quickly became a good friend. We run a public affairs shop differently. He’s chill and I’m NOT CHILL and because he’s chill, he let me kinda own and run with things. Our public affairs cell originally consisted of three people–a Jordanian, Joe, and me. Over time, four other Jordanians floated through, making friends, bringing us food, and going home to their families in the late morning.
My work day was pretty consistent. I’d wake up at 0630, roll out of bed and into my uniform, brush my teeth, and meet some of the Combined Joint Task Force (CJTF) for breakfast at 0700. From there, my meetings started:
- 0730-0815: Morning shift change brief
- 0830-1015: Commander’s Update Brief (CUB)
- 1100-1200: Inter-Agency Working Group
- 1230-1315: Media Interview with WNN
- 1330-1430: Information Operations Working Group
- 1430-1530: Targeting or Fires Working Group depending on the day
- 1600-1700: Logistics Board
- 1800: Evening shift change brief slides due
- 1930-2015: Evening shift change brief
- 2300: CUB slides due
Then shower. And do it all over again the next day.
I LOVED IT.
BUT: There’s a few things I didn’t love. I only brought one uniform but 10 brown t-shirts, so Febreze was my bestest friend–I’m sure my teammates’ too!
I forgot my towel so I used a pillow case and shook dry like a puppy for about three days until I could get to the Exchange. That was…neat.
I also had a bit of a uniform catastrophe before I came…When I first PCS’ed to Sigonella, Sicily, I brought a suitcase of uniforms and a few days’ worth of work attire. I gave the uniforms to my girlfriend to hold on to for me, and she was kind enough to agree. She hung all my dress uniforms and even had my whites laundered. Unfortunately, she couldn’t find my NWU Type IIIs…and she looked HARD. It’s an honest mistake. So, the week before I had to leave for Jordan, I pieced together a uniform that is traditionally issued to us in expeditionary units. While I was in Naples for the 6th Fleet Public Affairs Symposium, I met a strikingly small-footed Seabee.
“What size shoes are you!?!?” I asked a little too excitedly.
“Six…” he trailed off, much less excitedly.
“THAT’S FANTASTIC!? DO YOU HAVE AN EXTRA SET?!” I asked even more excitedly.
“Sure do, but they’re my muddin’ boots,” he said even LESS excitedly…
Nevertheless, Savior Seabee gave me an extra set of his already broken-in boots! Which was fantastic because that’s the hardest uniform item for a small-footed female to piece together. It was ALSO fantastic because I was one of the lucky ones who didn’t have a scorpion in her boots during the exercise. Unfortunately, the boots were already molded to his strikingly-small feet, and they didn’t like mine too much.
My morning routine including wrapping my feet in gauze and adding moleskin to my heels. Then saying a quick prayer and hoping for an easy day without a lot of walking…no such thing.
Despite my uniform snafu, there’s nothing quite like working public affairs operations in a joint environment. I could write and talk about this all day. Participants from the Navy, Air Force, Army and Marines from countries including: Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Iraq, Australia, Bahrain, Egypt, Kenya and others sat together every morning for the commander’s update brief.
In a joint environment, words matter. Each branch has its own vocabulary and it’s imperative that we speak the same language with our joint forces.
In a combined environment, words matter. I spent 58 minutes with the general’s aide discussing the word “caliphate” because I used it improperly in a sentence to refer to the state-within-a-state a terrorist group might attempt to build.
“Why you say ‘caliphate’?” the aide asked. I tried to explain.
“No. Muhammad built caliphate. This is a good word. You make it a bad word here,” he said as he pointed to the paper I wrote. He then spent the next 56 minutes and three cups of tea making sure I truly understood. It’s a lesson I won’t forget.
I forgot about toast.
There’s not much more to this statement. I don’t normally buy bread or jam and Eager Lion DOES and I had at LEAST FOUR PIECES OF TOAST with hot tea over two weeks! It’s the little things, guys.
Women are women are women.
One of the most memorable pieces I’m taking with me from Exercise Eager Lion is that women are women are women. No matter what we wear, no matter where we live, no matter who we marry, no matter who we call our friends, no matter what religion we follow, women around the world are fiercely strong and are able to lead the world when they have the opportunity. In our Joint Operations Cell, I worked with women from Jordan, Australia, Belgium, and the United States. We all struggle with gender discrimination; we all want equality.
This trip definitely made me more aware of my “white feminist savior” mentality. Every time one of our Jordanian women spoke, I felt compelled to stay and help her fight for equality. I imagine how great it will feel to be part of something bigger–to work toward real freedom for these women. I felt compelled to raise my hand for an IA as soon as Trenton graduates high school in order to go and HELP. But, what I didn’t think about was IF they needed saved, IF they wanted saved, and, if so, HOW.
As Teju Cole said in his essay The White-Savior Industrial Complex, “There is the idea that those who are being helped ought to be consulted over the matters that concern them.”
I need a better education on HOW to help. Oppression is not equal around the world. If my parents arranged my marriage, I wouldn’t like it very much. In fact, I would feel trapped and it would greatly hinder my relationship with them (are you reading this, Mom!?). In Jordan, most women embrace the idea of pre-arranged marriage and find it an acceptable practice. Scoffing at pre-arranged marriage isn’t the answer. Thinking that all of the Middle East is like Jordan is not the answer. Thinking I can teach an American-style democracy is not the answer. Helping on one hand and sending drones into civilian-populated locations is not the answer.
But, maybe, diplomacy is.
I’m not sure what to do with this information–the idea that diplomacy may be a much better trajectory for my life. But, Reader, I promise you that I will continue to marinate on the idea and make some decisions over the next year on what to do next. I promise you that I will set my ego aside and listen before acting. I promise to keep my tenacious spirit, go forth and do good works, and ensure that intention matters in all I do. And, as always, I certainly hope you will all hold me accountable.