|Issue 64||April 2001||Volume 6 - Number 5|
Welcome to the CANDOER News. Suggestions as to what you would like to see in the CANDOER are welcome. Letters to the editor, articles consisting of general information, feature articles, G-rated jokes, or poems, written/submitted by retirees or OC/IM employees, past or present, will be published, unedited. Material may be submitted on a 3.5" floppy disk (disk will be returned) using WordPerfect Version 6.1 or earlier (if it contains graphics), on a plain sheet of paper (if it has no graphics) or via e-mail. The deadline for submitting material is no later than the 25th of each month. Material received after that date will be published in the next issue of the CANDOER, space allowing. Please, restrict articles/submissions to two single spaced, typed pages. No hand written submissions, please.
The snail-mail address for submissions or letters to the editor is:
Robert J. Catlin, Sr.
Publisher/Editor CANDOER News
2670 Dakota Street
Bryans Road, MD 20616-3062
It is with deep sadness that I inform you of the death of a long time colleague and friend of many of us, Leroy Farris.
The following was received from Leroy's daughter this morning, February 28, 2001:
I am sending this e-mail to inform you that my father, Leroy Farris, passed on February 26, 2001.
Funeral services were held on Saturday, March 3, 2001, at Mount Ephraim Baptist Church located at 610 Largo Road, Upper Marlboro, MD 20774.
A card has been sent to the Farris family in the name of the CANDOERs.
The following was received from the Farris family:
Perhaps you sent a lovely card, or sat quietly in a chair.
Perhaps you sent a floral piece, if so we saw it there.
Perhaps you spoke the kindest words, as any friend could say.
Perhaps you were not there at all, just thought of us that day.
Whatever you did to console our hearts,
we thank you so much, whatever the part.
The Farris Family
The following was received from Bill Headrick:
Thanks to the "CANDOER," I've received many e-mails and cards of prayers and encouragement. These have been a powerful morale builder, during a very stressful new phase in my life. I would appreciate it if you would pass on my heartfelt thanks to all.
At the moment I'm on a very aggressive chemotherapy program. Surgery or radiation is not an option for this type of cancer. If I respond to the chemotherapy, I will then concentrate on a yet to be determined nutritional program, after that, it's in God's hands.
Thanks to you and all my friends and colleagues, I have a great support group and plan to put up one heck of a fight.
The following was received from Swain Britt:
I talked to Audrey Schenck this morning - she underwent 14 treatments of chemo for her lymph nodes (stomach) lost her hair but it's back now and she is doing great. She starts work again next week (March 19) at the mission in Geneva.
The following folks were at the March 13 CANDOER lunch:
Cal Calisti, Bob Campopiano, Chuck Chesteen, Dennis Combs, Lou Correri, Al Debnar, Paul Del Giudice, Charlie Ditmeyer, Tom Forbes, Pete and Gert Gregorio, Charlie Hoffman, Joel Kleiman, Mel Maples, Bob Scheller, Dick Thompson, and Dan Ullrich.
Thanks to Paul for furnishing this information.
• On my return from holiday in Florida, I learned from Paul Del Giudice that his father had passed away on February 7, 2001. Paul said, "My father passed away at 102. He had a good life was active until he was 97 or 98 and drove until he was 95."
• Bob Campopiano reported that during a visit with Gene Caruso he learned that Gene had triple bypass surgery. Bob reported that Gene was looking strong and well and still gets out to play golf just about every day.
• March 1, Larry Ward furnished a new e-mail address.
• March 5, I received an application from a new member, Dennis Hinen. Welcome Aboard!
• March 6, David Neuser furnished a new e-mail address.
• During our holiday trip to Florida, Nancy and I had the pleasure of being invited to Bill and Pat Callihan's on March 7, for a great home cooked dinner. Bill and Pat are doing well and asked us to pass their greeting on to their many friends.
• March 7, Mark Pero notified me that he had broken the bonds of Virginia and reestablished himself in a new colony called Florida.
• During our holiday trip, Nancy and I had the pleasure of attending the Foreign Service Retirement Association luncheon at the Splendid China Park at Kissimmee. Speaker at the luncheon was Chen Yonglong, Minister Counselor, Head of Political Office, Embassy of the People's Republic of China in Washington, D.C. They had an outstanding turnout of 157 people, including Bob and Aida Bell (Nancy and I sat at their table for the festivities), Jeytte Hendrix, and Lou and Madeleine Vraniak.
• March 9, I received an application from a new member, John Aiston. Welcome aboard!
• March 11, Bob Reed furnished a new e-mail address.
• March 12, Alan Haydt furnished a new snail-mail address, telephone number, and e-mail address.
• March 12, Valjeanne Westley applied for membership. Welcome aboard!
• March 13, Alan Bishop furnished a new e-mail address.
• March 18, I received a new address and telephone number for Frank and Yasemin Pressley.
• March 19, I received a change of address for Bob Sandberg.
• Wednesday, March 21, Jackie Clark furnished an e-mail address.
COLD BEER FOR CHRISTMAS!!
One Christmas, Lt.Col. Wooten, Commander of the 70th AACS Air Group from Honolulu visited Kwaj on an inspection trip. He was flying a B-25 bomber. He asked our Company Commander when we had cold beer last. Refrigeration was scarce and there was no room for beer. Occasionally we would pour aviation gasoline in a tub. We put a case of beer into a container in the gas and then pumped air with a tire pump to hasten the evaporation, which cooled the beer. This was dangerous and discouraged. So Col. Wooten loaded many cases of beer in the bomb bay and flew up to about 25,000 feet for a few minutes with his bomb bay heaters off. He then made a quick landing and we had cold beer for Christmas. All units passed inspection with flying colors. He told our company commander that if he had to be drunk to run his outfit that he would send whatever brand he wanted.
Our mission on Kwaj was to operate the control tower and provide air to ground and point-to-point communications for aircraft heading for the invasion of the Philippines and Japan. After the war, the air traffic reversed bringing the troops from the forward areas home. We often worked 12-hour shifts seven days a week. During the 21 months, I spent on Kwaj, I had about seven Captains assigned to my sections. Each lasted about three months and was reassigned. That was about par for the course for the other sections as well. The Non Commissioned officers ran the show. During this time, several men from our company were sent home for section eight discharges (battle fatigue) and they never heard a shot fired in anger.
LEAVE MY DOG ALONE!!!!
One night, at about one o'clock in the morning, all was quiet on the second floor of my barracks, which were located on the ocean side of the Island. Suddenly a loud voice rang out from the bunk next to me "God dammit --- if you don't leave my dog alone I'm going to blow your head off!!!"
When the lights went on, one of the men from my Teletype Section was sitting on the bunk of the man next to me holding a 45-cal pistol to his ear. I rolled out of bed and figured that the guy with the gun was very angry about something and I said "John were you messing around with Bill's dog again? How many times have I told you to leave the dog alone?" After some discussion, I convinced Bill to put down his weapon and cool off, after assurances from me that John would not bother his dog again. The MP's were called and took control of Bill. He went to the Hospital suffering from battle fatigue syndrome and was evacuated to Hawaii.
One of the problems was that Bill did not have a Dog! I include this episode to indicate the devastating effect the boredom and heat had on some of the men who were stationed or Kwajalein.
Prior to our departure from Kwaj, a large contingent of Navy CB's arrived with construction equipment. They paved the roads, put up a new control tower and made other improvements. It was a little late for us. Two months later the war ended. When I left Kwaj in January 1945, the CB's were still there. As I understand it, later Kwaj became a "down range" missile test site for AEC and it is still an NSA site with high rise apartments and shopping centers. The island was 3 1/2 miles long by 1/2 mile wide shaped like a half moon. So I imagine it is pretty crowded.
We, of course, heard about the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I don't know where the fire works came from but the air was filled with flares, other pyrotechnics, and rifle fire. Parties broke out everywhere. All the clubs opened and booze and beer was plentiful for everyone.
If you're not part of the solution, start another problem!
It was in London supporting a SecState visit in the early 90s, and I had just finished installing some radios in DS vehicles in the embassy garage and was walking back to the Churchill Hotel where I was billeted. I decided this would be a good time to check out the repeater on top of the Hilton Hotel. I was already on one of the predetermined routes to be used during the visit. Wearing a surveillance kit, I would periodically key the Saber radio and listen for the squelch tail, meaning that I was activating the repeater. A Brit in a new Jaguar pulled up in front of a restaurant as I was walking past. The Brit got out of his car and hit his remote to set the alarm and then went into the restaurant. About this time, I keyed my radio and watched as the owner came running out of the restaurant, looked around and keyed his remote to turn off the alarm. I decided this was a good time for a cup of coffee, so I entered the restaurant, found a seat close to the window, and ordered. I keyed the radio again, the alarm went off and the Brit came flying out from behind a table and used his remote to turn off the alarm, again. I did this several more times until I finished my coffee and then left the restaurant.
I really think I ruined the Brits meal and made him wonder about the status of his Jaguar alarm system.
Tuesday, February 29 (leap day)
So Jim leapt out of bed and into the swimming pool for the usual sunrise swim, just as at home.
This afternoon we passed rather closely too just the second private sailing yacht we had seen on this journey. Poor folks! There was hardly a breath of air to stir their limp sails out here in the middle of the Arabian Sea. They were sailing in "The Doldrums" like us, but our diesel engine pushed us along nicely at 24 knots. We trust they had plenty of food and water aboard and were not in a hurry to reach their next destination.
Wednesday, March 1
The weather was still gorgeous, but with temperatures no longer in the 90F range as we sailed northwesterly to Salalah, Oman. The 80F range was just fine.
This morning we sailed through a massive, bright yellow, algae bloom. It took us 30 minutes to cross the 12 miles through it. It spread to the horizon in all directions. The wind and current were carrying it in a southwesterly direction. Look out Somalia and Kenya! We had never witnessed anything like it before in all of our travels at sea. Our first thought was it might have been an immense chemical spill, but the Chief Mate gave us the correct information.
Being at sea for an extended period like this gives one a wonderful opportunity to "get away from it all." But for us that is not one of the reasons we do this. We do like to remain in touch with what is happening in the world about us.
Keeping in touch out here is easy. The electrician gave us a special plug which enabled us to connect our SONY shortwave receiver from our room into the ship's receiving antenna. The whole world is out there for us to pull in. Being at sea, there is zero interference. Since setting sail way back in Long Beach, we have been regular listeners to the VOA, Radio Canada, BBC World Service, Radio New Zealand, Radio Australia, Radio Japan, Deutsche Welle, as well as the local FM stations we happened to pick up when near a coastline. Listening to the Sri Lanka commercial radio station advertisements brought back nostalgia of the 1940s in the USA.
Being a former amateur (ham) radio operator, Jim enjoys listening to a lot of "DX," day and night. Once that virus is in your veins, you can't get it out, particularly when conditions out here are so good! Sitting outside at night, the stars above, the world at your fingertips, it doesn't get any better than this.
Thursday, March 2
At 1030, we docked at Salalah, Oman on the extreme southeast coast of the Arabian Peninsula.
When originally signing up for this voyage, Salalah (pronounced Sa-lal-ah) was a mystery port on the itinerary. We knew nothing about it and little about Oman. From the encyclopedia and INTERNET, we found plenty on Oman, but nothing on Salalah.
Oman was the only place on our around-the-world itinerary which required a visa, and it was not easy to obtain. We advised MAERSK Lines we were not terribly interested in disembarking in Salalah, preferring to remain on ship. But they would not allow us to commence the voyage without an Oman visa lest they be severely fined by the local government.
Obtaining the Oman visas was the most expensive, frustrating and difficult thing in the organization of this voyage. Several telephone calls to the Oman Embassy in Washington and a FAX message went unanswered while we were "getting down to the wire." We eventually were put in touch with a "visa facilitator." Presto! We had two Oman visas, but for a price. If any reader ever requires a difficult visa, please contact us for details. We now know there is a lively business in obtaining visas in Washington. All you need is a little money.
It was initially puzzling to us as to what industry could be in Salalah that would cause container ships to call at such a remote place. There is nothing there.
The almost nonexistent coastline is meagerly populated. Mountains 5,000 feet high rise abruptly out of the Arabian Sea.
Salalah now is a fairly modern city of more than 200,000. Everything about it looks quite new. It turns out its raison d'etre is the new, large container port constructed on the extreme southwest part of the city, about 30 minutes away by car. It has been open for two years and is still under construction.
The Strait of Hormuz connecting the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman has become a difficult transit point for shipping. It is a "pinch point" for the large number of tankers and freighters doing business in the numerous ports of the surrounding lands. As a consequence, the big, fast container ships (i.e., Dagmar MAERSK) could not spend the time and effort required to call at a large number of these medium-sized ports.
So, Omani entrepreneurs had a new container terminal constructed which would be able to expeditiously handle the largest container ships. Smaller, slower ships from ports on the horn of Africa, Red Sea, Persian Gulf, Pakistan and India carry containers for long distance shipments to Salalah for transshipment on the "big boys" to Europe, North America, the Far East, and Australia/New Zealand.
We made our way to the main gate of the terminal, quite some distance, with the help of a Filipino van driver. These guys were really helpful. There were no taxis hanging around at the gate. But, like in other ports, there always seems to be some guy hanging around with a car that would be willing to take you into the city, stay with you, and ultimately bring you back. We explained to him what our objectives were and that in all it would take about three hours. We agreed on a price of $45.00 in advance, and while he first seemed a little disappointed at the amount, finally said, "Okay." He was very good, spoke English and did exactly as we wanted.
Driving into the town on a broad, new super highway, we did not notice a single truck with a container going to or from the container terminal. Yet, there were thousands of containers stacked in the yard awaiting the next vessel to (name a port, near or far).
From our limited visit here, it appeared that all labor positions of supervision are occupied by Omani citizens. It is immediately obvious that there is an enormous foreign "guest worker" program in place. Somalis, Pakistanis, Indians, Sri Lankans, and Filipinos are everywhere. English is the second language and seems to be spoken by just about everyone. Communicating while ashore was no problem.
While Jim stayed at the local Hilton Hotel to send and receive his E-mails, Mary went with the driver to the city to do a little touring and shopping. There wasn't much to buy, but she did manage to buy a T-shirt and some fruit. The driver showed Mary the Sultan's local palace (he probably has quite a few around the country). What she found very interesting was how many tailor, hair dresser, and fruit/vegetable shops there were. Especially the tailor shops which were lined up one after the other along most of the streets.
Oman is one of the more expensive places we have ever visited. It's right up there with Norway and Switzerland. Mailing a few letters, sending E-mails, a little sightseeing with minor purchases used $200 worth in local currency before we knew what happened. The rate of exchange is: $100.00 = 37 Omani Rials. The five post cards and three airmail letters sent cost 12 Rials, or $32.43!
Because of the above, we opted not to eat ashore, but returned to the ship for supper. That's too bad, for the Omanis told us the local fish and seafood here are excellent. But at $50 per person for a fish dinner without wine (alcohol is prohibited), is just a bit too much for our taste and pocketbook.
Back on board ship, we noted that a large number of refrigerated 40-foot containers were added to our load. Containers rarely list on the outside the contents. Our cabin on "C" deck had just had a row of 13 40-foot containers added marked with frozen shrimp, lobster, and fish from a supplier in Cochin, India destined to an importer in Tampa/St. Petersburg. Gosh, we wonder if there is a shortage of seafood in western Florida, or is it that "the price is right?"
Friday, March 3
The ship was to have sailed shortly after midnight. However, due to the heavy cargo volume exchanged (more than 1,800 containers) and a couple lashing problems of stem-loaded containers, we did not sail until 0800. All crew members worked throughout the night. We definitely left with much more cargo than we brought. Business is good.
Saturday, March 4
The temperature was over 90F on another brilliant day as we sailed into the Gulf of Aden toward the Red Sea. Although we were about 60 miles from shore, the Arabian Peninsula is always in sight because of the high mountains along the coast. The place is called "Ar Rab' al Khali" or the "empty quarter." The name is appropriate for there is absolutely no sign of life along this mountainous, barren coast.
After lunch, we turned the corner and entered the Red Sea through a relatively narrow passage of about 20 miles wide. There were a lot of vessels now entering and departing the Red Sea. Speed was also reduced. Consequently the Red Sea is divided into three traffic lanes, each approximately five miles wide. On the east (Yemen and Saudi Arabia) is the northbound lane, in the center the "no traffic" buffer lane, and on the west (Eritrea, Sudan and Egypt) is the southbound lane. The plan seems to work well.
Two of the first vessels we saw in the Red Sea were sheep ships. Yes, sheep ships. Sometimes under the right conditions you can smell them even before you see them. The captain calls them "stinky ships."
It's the time now of the "Haj," or pilgrimage to Mecca for Muslims each year. There is an exceptional requirement for large amounts of mutton to feed the crowds. New Zealand and Australia oblige by selling live sheep to the Middle Eastern countries. They are transported on special built ships, usually old ones converted from other uses. The bridge and crew quarters are always forward on these ships. All sheep are in multi layered pens above deck. Manure and waste are put over the side. Likewise sick or dead sheep become shark food. The ships travel with a veterinarian for delivery must be made of only certified healthy animals.
It may be that your sole purpose in life is simply to serve as a warning to others.
The following was received from Joe Hazewski:
Now I sit me down in school
Where praying is against the rule
For this great nation under
God Finds mention of Him very odd.
If Scripture now the class recites,
It violates the Bill of Rights.
And anytime my head I bow
Becomes a Federal matter now.
Our hair can be purple, orange or green,
That's no offense; it's a freedom scene.
The law is specific, the law is precise.
Prayers spoken aloud are a serious vice.
For praying in a public hall
Might offend someone with no faith at all.
In silence alone we must meditate,
God's name is prohibited by the state.
We're allowed to cuss and dress like freaks,
And pierce our noses, tongues and cheeks.
They've outlawed guns, but FIRST the Bible.
To quote the Good Book makes me liable.
We can elect a pregnant Senior Queen,
And the 'unwed daddy,' our Senior King.
It's "inappropriate" to teach right from wrong
, We're taught that such "judgments" do not belong.
We can get our condoms and birth controls,
Study witchcraft, vampires and totem poles.
But the Ten Commandments are not allowed,
No word of God must reach this crowd.
It's scary here I must confess,
When chaos reigns the school's a mess.
So, Lord, this silent plea I make
Should I be shot; My soul please take!
It seems to me that each time my family and I moved to another country we were told that the weather was or had been abnormal. "It's much hotter than usual." "It's much colder than usual." "It's much wetter than usual." "It's much drier than usual." These were all phrases we heard upon arrival at nearly every new assignment. Other times, it was explained to us that we were fortunate to have arrived that year because it had been brutal the year before. Brussels fit into this category. "Boy are you lucky you didn't get here last summer when it rained for 40 days and 40 nights straight," was the refrain we heard over and over. I don't know if it really did rain for 40 days and 40 nights during the summer of 1979 but everyone who was there at that time believed that it did. During our three years in Belgium, we discovered that it did rain a bit; and summers, as well as winters, could have some gray days but it never rained for 40 straight days and nights. I didn't know whether to be disappointed or happy. After all, the last time I can remember it raining for that number of days and nights, it became a world-changing event involving an ark and animals, etc.
Rainy, gray days aside, Brussels was a wonderful city full of old-world charm and centrally located in Europe. The chancery was situated on a busy main street near central Brussels. A half block away was USEC, the U.S. representative to the European Economic Commission. At one time there had been an actual communications section at USEC. It was connected to the Embassy by a small pony circuit. Before my arrival, the USEC CPU was closed and a courier service from the Embassy instituted. I believe this happened three times per day during my stay in Brussels. Once in the morning, after lunch, and in the late afternoon (rain or shine), the courier trudged between the two buildings carrying a briefcase full of telegrams and other correspondence. Upon arrival at USEC the material would be slotted in the proper boxes and any outgoing correspondence that had accumulated would be gathered up and brought back to the Embassy for further delivery. For the Brussels communicators, this was a minor nuisance. We had to remember to go to USEC at the designated times each day. I say it was a minor nuisance because it got us out of the office for a while. When the weather was good, it was an enjoyable respite from the otherwise busy workload. When the weather was inclement (sometimes, as we've seen, for forty straight days) it wasn't so great. I also always wondered about the Security risk of carrying a briefcase load of classified messages on the streets of Brussels. Surely if the wrong people knew what was happening, there was ample opportunity to snatch it as we walked along unprepared. This never happened to material we carried was and had better things to do with their time.
The Ambassador had a pink button! It was located on his telephone instrument in his office. The Brussels Telephone Technician had installed the pink button at the Ambassador's insistence. When the Ambassador pressed the pink button, he could listen in on, undetected, any conversation on the private line in his daughter's room at the residence. His daughter was a teenager at the time. I don't know whom she talked with that would warrant this action or if the Ambassador ever listened, but he had the ability to do so if he wanted. All he had to do was push the pink button.
The Ambassador was a political appointee and a close personal friend of President Ronald Reagan. They spent Christmas together nearly every year. When the Ambassador wanted to make changes to the residence or Embassy or had bilateral information concerning the U.S. and Belgium, he sent it directly to the White House, sometimes with a copy to the State Department. This skipping of a link in the chain-of-command didn't endear him to some at State. It was, however, effective. I assume the Belgians rather enjoyed having someone representing the U.S. who had direct contact with the President. The Ambassador went on to London after Belgium where I suspect he represented the U.S. in fine fashion. I don't know if he brought the pink button with him to his next assignment.
"Never judge a book by its cover" is an old adage that perfectly described Carl's eating prowess. He was skinny as a rail but could he pack away the chow. In Brussels, when I was there, there were two rotating shifts. One group worked the morning shift and the other, the afternoon shift. On a normal evening shift we would work until approximately 2000 (8:00 p.m.) and then sit down together in the break room and have our dinner. Dave, Joe and I brought a normal size meal. Maybe we had a sandwich, a piece of fruit and some snack or a dessert item. Carl, however, had a shopping bag full of food, fattening food that we could only marvel at and watch as he devoured it all while eyeing our meager fare. Boy, were we envious. Carl had one of those metabolisms that burned brightly. If only I could have bottled it some way, I would be a billionaire today. Carl bounced off walls powered by his superheated metabolism that allowed him to eat everything he wanted and still stay rail-thin.
Brussels is where 1 purchased the Van from Hell. At first, the brand-new VW bus we bought from a local dealer seemed perfect. Then, inexplicably, it developed a loud but intermittent squeak. I took it back to the dealers several times before they even heard it, which didn't help my credibility. I was even starting to feel that people at the dealership were going out of their way to avoid the foreigner with his phantom noise. Finally, after several trips to the dealer and attempts at pinpointing the cause, a mechanic heard the noise. Unfortunately, he had no idea what was causing the racket, but at least someone else now believed that there was a problem. With the noise verified, the hunt was on. My relationship with the garage changed overnight. No longer did they try to avoid me. They were now eager to solve the enigma of the squeaking car. Each trip became more and more involved. The garage kept removing pieces of the Van from Hell, trying to locate the source of the noise. This included, at one point, driving it around without seats and a gas tank. In the end, it was discovered that a tool or some other extraneous piece was left in a support beam when it was manufactured. It wouldn't, we were told, cause any harm and to remove it would be expensive. It remained in the van for as long as I owned it. Anyone with any sense would have sold the Van from Hell, upon departure from Belgium. Unfortunately, it didn't work out. The market for used cars in Belgium is nearly nonexistent. So, unable to sell it, the Van from Hell accompanied us to Malta. At the end of our two-year tour in Valletta we again tried to sell the Van from Hell but there was a national law that said no van could have side or rear windows unless it was registered as a tourist vehicle. This meant that any individual who bought the van would need to weld covers over the windows. A couple of influential and affluent Maltese were interested in buying the Van from Hell, and took the matter all the way to the Congress, where the law was upheld. So, a little long in the tooth, the Van from Hell went with us to Geneva. In Geneva, the Van from Hell soon developed another strange symptom. While driving peacefully along, the engine would suddenly stop running. This usually happened when we were on a long trip. The only way to entice the Van from Hell to start was to wait for 30 minutes or more. After 30 minutes it started back up and ran perfectly. Obviously, this was less than satisfactory, so once again we began visiting the Volkswagen garage looking for an answer. After several visits, the garage decided (maybe because they didn't know what else to do) that the Van from Hell needed a complete engine replacement. I decided it needed more than that and the Van from Hell and I parted ways soon thereafter. The Swiss charged several hundred dollars to junk a vehicle but I was able to arrange for it to be shipped (free of charge) to Sri Lanka, where it is probably still haunting some poor Sri Lankan family.
Last, but certainly not least, on my 40th birthday my wife called me at work to inform me that she was pregnant with our son. Describing the roller-coaster ride of emotions that I felt at that time isn't something I want to do here, but suffice it to say that on the one hand we had never completely given up on the idea of trying for a son to complement our two wonderful daughters. On the other, starting over raising a baby in our forties wasn't something we were sure we were prepared to handle. Nevertheless, the happy event was soon upon us and our son Kevin was born six months prior to our departure from Belgium. Our life hasn't been the same since, but that's another story.
During my tenure as Information Management Officer in Seoul, Korea, I was often occupied with crisis management and emergency communications issues. The Non-Combatant Evacuation Exercises (NEO) in particular, had been an interesting mix of military and civilian interoperability solutions to ensure rapid and reliable communications between various U.S. Government elements and the general civilian world.
An important human element of any NEO or emergency response involving American citizen's abroad is the direct responsibility and role of Consular Officers. We had a great team in Seoul that took readiness very seriously. Every Embassy Consular Officer was trained on contingency radio and telephone systems.
Familiarization with the portable - briefcase size and appearance off-the-shelf commercial INMARSAT equipment was required. Our Communications Staff would conduct regularly scheduled training sessions. We had a well-scripted INMARSAT overview and realistic live demonstration that included familiarity with standard operating procedures, equipment programming, compass use, and orientation to the Pacific Ocean satellite. Following a Communicator's demonstration, the Consular Officers would perform an entire exercise from scratch, but use the Indian Ocean satellite. With additional terminals available, it was always a fun contest between separate Consular teams to see who could set up the equipment and make a successful call to the instructor's cell-phone, via the INMARSAT and POT networks first. Our training was effective and well received. Sometimes we would add a laptop PC logged into a remote e-mail account to demonstrate INMARSAT capabilities. The briefcase INMARSAT is indeed a cool tool.
For a "Parents-Career Day" activity at the Seoul Foreign School, I was asked to describe a facet of my job that could be shared with students. Embassy management approved a demonstration of INMARSAT as a public relations event and educational science experiment. Remember someone had to pay the phone bill. (There actually was plenty of justification simply with an off-site contingency drill.) Using the INTERNET to download photo images - received from the INMARSAT satellite, each student was given a color handout of the actual satellite looking at them. This helped to simplify azimuth and elevation theory. A world globe and quick study of geo-synchronous orbits rounded out a science lesson of satellite communications. But the real fun was the live, hands-on demonstration. There was plenty of excitement with kids calling their Moms and Dads via our portable system.
Word quickly spread around the school. My afternoon session had more teachers and administrative personnel present than students. They too enjoyed the lesson of satellite communications and follow-up practical demonstration. However, the most memorable highlight was when the school principal called his college-attending son in Colorado, and excitedly told him: "I am standing on the school roof and talking from a briefcase." Somehow his son, awakened from a sound sleep, didn't quite buy the story and wondered what type of a wild party was actually taking place.
"The Talking Briefcase" remains an integral and valuable part of common crisis response inventories.