It’s the last Flashback Friday before Martin leaves.
So I’m doing one more post about him as my German soldier.
You have to understand: though I met Martin the Student who was finishing up his last year for the Abitur, I fell in love with Martin the German soldier. His ability to relate to my career ambitions, his focus and professionalism, the way he could command authority and lead others … all of those were qualities I didn’t fully realize about him until he joined the Bundeswehr.
And I know I’m stating the obvious, but he looked really good in that uniform. I felt so international whenever we attended military functions together in our respective uniforms.
A little NATO power couple.
For this Flashback Friday, I’m sharing the blog post I wrote in August 2001, just weeks before 9/11, about a day I spent at his Kaserne. They were having a family day, and I got to actually go out and ride in the tank with Martin.
That was awesome.
Since last August, when Martin made the decision to join the Air Force Reserve, he’s been preparing for basic military training.
Obviously, after years as a banker and a stay-at-home dad, he’s not the same guy who once filled out the Flecktarn.
So he’s been getting in shape and all.
I ain’t mad about it.
In fact, I’ve been catching glimpses of the handsome young leutnant who used to do push-ups on the floor of my studio apartment in Kaiserslautern.
Who used to shine my black boots along with his as we watched television at his mother’s place in Erlangen.
Who sometimes forgot his folded black beret after sticking it in my car’s glove compartment. (No worries – he always had an extra one.)
Earlier this year, we were able to travel to New York City with the entire family and our friend Kara. Together, we visited the 9/11 Memorial at Ground Zero.
Of course, we’ve been to the Pentagon Memorial many times. We’ve yet to visit the memorial out in Pennsylvania where Flight 93 crashed in a field.
It’s been 11 years and I still don’t understand it.
I started this blog just a few weeks before 9/11. Obviously, I’ve mentioned it here a time or two … or twenty. Below are the links to just a few of those posts that I think really capture the essence of that time and how we’ve come to the terms with all that happened over the years.
The Week of 9/11 – My blog posts leading up to the actual day and how things were the days immediately after.
It’s hard to believe this statue looked like THIS the day after 9/11.
A lady feeding the bird’s outside her apartment window.
One more photo from New York City as we wait for Martin to get our van.
We didn’t see any rock stars in New York City, but I did take one to prom in high school.
His name is Nick, and he’s the bass player in the band Truckstop Darlin‘ in Portland, Oregon.
They’re working on their second album. And you can help them.
Check out the video below, and then consider making a contribution because they’re awesome. And because you, too, appreciate true talent and passionate independent artists.
And here’s something else: they’re going to be touring all across the country soon and chances are good they’ll be coming to a venue near you.
Now about that prom.
It was my senior class prom in April 1999, and I was part of a group of senior girls who decided to sort of buck tradition and invite a group of sophomore boys as our dates. Nick and I knew each other through the drama program and chorus, and we had performed together in a few school productions. We were friends, and even back then, he was really into music and standing out from the crowd. I knew we’d have a great time.
And I was right.
I mean, check out that suit. He totally rocked that suit.
It’s 12:09 a.m. as I write this. All the major networks are running nothing but 9/11 anniverary shows – showing clips from that day, talking to survivors, talking to first responders, debating the war in Iraq and the significance of this anniversary.
Here’s what I’ll be remembering.
I was at Ramstein Air Base, Germany five years ago. I worked for the Kaiserslautern American newspaper as a staffwriter in the public affairs office. I was 20 years old, and was engaged to marry Martin, who at that time was a tank commander for the German Army. The wedding – which was taking place over there – was the forefront of all my thoughts. I had a Web site set up, detailing the wedding plans so my family in the states could follow along with flower selections and cake tasting.
That day was particularly good.
The weather in Germany was sunny, blue and clear – just like it was in New York City and Washington despite being six hours ahead. Our work for the newspaper was done early, and I had spent extra time at the gym that early afternoon, whipping myself into shape for the dress. I returned from the gym to my office, where I updated the journal on my Web site. The text below is the entry I wrote:
September 11, 2001 – Well, 14 people have purchased their tickets and are anxiously awaiting for the FedEx person to bring them to their door. We are even more dedicated to coming up with activities that will truly provide for our guests a fun and memorable trip to Germany, now that we know who exactly is coming, and what interests them. On another note, my orders for Aviano have arrived, which is very reassuring. Granted, there’s a mountain of paperwork needing signatures, but there’s definitely a place in Italy for Martin and me. Yet, I don’t think the fact I’m going to be there with Martin next year at this time has sunk in. It seems like a far-off dream. Up until this point, I had my ‘life’ planned out. Ever since the 8th-grade, I KNEW I was going to be in the Air Force as a journalist, living in Germany, visiting remote countries nobody’s heard of. I have letters, journal entries and friends from back then who can vouch for this. I was determined. However, I didn’t think I’d reach all my goals before the age of 20, but that’s what happened. And so now, I really don’t know what’s ahead of me like I did as an 8th-grader. Don’t get me wrong; I still have goals and things I want to do. But everything really is a new adventure now. And nothing could be more exciting or scarier or nerve-racking or interesting as that.
Not even ten minutes after I posted that entry, our admin person came in, her eyes wide. “Did you see the tower?” she asked.
I assumed she was talking about the tower on our flight line, which stood just outside our window. It looked fine to me. “No, on the television!” We rushed to the conference room, and like millions around the world, saw the image of the second plane slamming into the building.
That’s when my boss came into the room, pointed at me, and said, ‘Get across the street, now. Advise the commander that we’re going 24-ops. Go.” She handed me a notebook and suddenly, I went from being a two-striper Airman writing for the paper to sitting at the table as the wing general and colonels talked about lock-down, the evacuation of the Pentagon (which I learned there had been hit) and how to guarantee the safety of the more than 40,000 Americans who lived in that immediate area of Germany.
I didn’t go home that night.
The base locked down immediately. European media started calling, not to get the latest dirt, but to share their condolences and to ask how they could help. Throughout the night, I acted as the base’s spokeswoman, speaking on behalf of the general to our local American Forces Network radio deejays, reassuring those in the community and letting them know of closings, of where they could contact officials, what they could expect in the morning (security-wise.) I later got awarded for that, which meant a lot to me. It was good knowing I had contributed something.
At around midnight, I was finally able to sit down and post a message on my Website, knowing my family was probably going to look there first for any news about me. I wrote the following:
September 11, 2001 – Two entries today. Tragedy has struck America and Americans today. As a U.S. servicemember, I am still at work at Ramstein Air Base, since all U.S. military installations are under strict security, and my office is responsible for alerting all the Americans in this area. I can not describe the feeling of helplessness I experienced today as things unfolded on the television screen. The military’s heart, the Pentagon, was struck; the military is small, so we all know someone who works there. I do. I’ve been getting calls from parents who’s grown children are at the Pentagon, asking how in the world they can contact their loved ones, to see if they were hurt, or worse. Media reporters, who are known to be arrogant, pushy and scratching for deadline information, has called not to question, but to express concern and sympathy. My hands are shaking from all the coffee I’ve been drinking; it’s going to be a long night. Martin called me at the office, asking if I’m all right. It was reassuring to hear his voice. Now, more than ever, the reality of life is more vivid, and the importance of love, strength and pride is clear. But this makes me wonder, what kind of world lays ahead of us? Just the other day, Martin and I were talking about our future, of one day actually settling down and raising a family. But how, in a world like this? I asked one of my co-workers, how is she going to explain this to her children. She didn’t know. None of us know how to explain this. It’s just so tragic and so terrible. I want everyone to know that I’m thinking of them. There are Americans in every corner of the world, watching, working hard to protect our country amid this turmoil. I hate to think this happened in my home, on the land that I always felt was safe. They say this is America’s darkest hour, but be sure there’ll come many shining moments from this. I wish I could hug all my loved ones, but I am glad I am here in Germany, doing what I can to serve this country. Just please, say a prayer for everyone involved in this, from the citizen offering his medical knowledge in New York, to the 19-year old kid standing outside my window, guarding this base’s flight line. We need all the support we can get.
I went home at 8 a.m. the next morning. The base was eerily quiet – a ghost town from the lock-down. Yet as I was leaving the gate, I gasped at the sight. There’s a single road leading onto the base that runs alongside the perimeter. It’s a good three miles from the entrance to the highway. As I headed east, the westbound lane was packed with cars. All military people. All in uniform. All waiting to get through the extensive military checkpoints now set up.
And that’s when it hit me.
The world had changed. I had to pull over and cry – just heaving over the images I’d seen, at the lonlieness of me returning to my off-base apartment, feeling painfully exposed and foreign in a country that I had grown to love.
At the time, I lived in a studio apartment above my landlord, who was about 70 years old and spoke no English. She was an early riser, and heard me pull up. She met me at the door. We didn’t speak, but she just opened her arms to me and whispered, “Es tut mehr sehr, sehr leid.” (I’m so, so sorry.) It was exactly what I needed.
The following weeks went by in a blur. There were many things I couldn’t write about then for the safety and security of the aircraft, people and mission. Within days, Ramstein started sending cargo aircraft over Afghanistan, filled with humanitarian goods and special forces. Within weeks, they were returning with those killed in those initial fights there. My days were spent escorting media, which included local German stations to Associated Press to MTV to the Today show, onto the base to cover the operations.
It was constant activity and it’s never stopped – not even five years later. It being the war on terrorism and the gut-wrenching moments we military folks have experienced ever since.
For example, on Dec. 6, 2001, we had our first post-9/11 fallen soldier ceremony on the flightline in Germany. All of us military people stood on the side of the flightline in the icy rain to pay respects to a stranger killed in combat as his body was carried off the plane. It was the first of several.
In late 2002, this time in Aviano, Italy, I watched as my coworker embraced her toddler daughter one more time before boarding a plane to fly to the desert for seven months, just in time for the Iraqi invastion in the spring of 2003. Try listening to a child who doesn’t understand things like duty, patriotism and sacrifice cry out for her mother and not feel like your chest is being shredded.
In 2004, I stood at attention as I listened to the mother of a fellow Airman plead with us to continue taking care of each other as we had taken care of her son, who was killed by a mortar in Iraq. She said she didn’t care what others thought about the war. She just cared that her son had been loved by us, and wanted to tell us how much he loved the Air Force in return.
And now, here in 2006, one of my best friends and her husband are dealing with his post-traumatic stress after his spending a year in Iraq. Listening to her question how she’s suppose to sustain a family like that breaks my heart, very much like the way my heart was broken on that drive home five years ago. We were the pair of teenagers who dreamed big and never imagined drama like that in our lives.
So, why do I do it? Why do any of us in the military keep doing it when it comes with all of these gut-wrenching moments?
It’s because we don’t forget what led up to that terrible day in September 2001, and all that followed. That day was about more than hijacked aircraft and the loss of innocent lives. Those terrorists who killed thousands that day would have done anything they could to have killed thousands more. It’s a threat that is out there, that’s BEEN out there and while I’m not sure it’ll be my generation that figures out how to eradicate it, it’s going to be my job – and that of my peers in uniform – to try.
September 10, 2002 – It is about 10 p.m. Martin is already asleep. I stayed up later, totally intent on working on the newspaper. However, I grew bored/restless/distracted and I spent the last twenty minutes playing computer solitaire and freecell. Gizmo is stretched out on the floor next to my chair. Of our cats, he’s the most faithful. He’s more like a dog in that way. He anwers to his name, and always seems to be right around the corner, checking up on us. Earlier this evening, I made chocolate chip cookies with both dark and white chocolate chips.
At around the same time, Ashcroft came on television and announced the U.S. government has upped the ‘security level’ to orange, which means they have indication to possible terrorist attacks to mark the one-year anniversary of the New York and Pentagon attacks. Up until then, I didn’t really think about the anniversary, and considered it another work day. I’ll remember, of course, but life has moved on for me. Now, I’m anxious. A few days ago, German officials found two Germans conspiring to plant a bomb on Heidelberg barracks. The one German actually worked on base. It is not the Islamic fundamentalists I’m worried about … it’s about the nameless pukes who only want the noteriety who would do anything to get it. Mail hate letters. Bring guns to school. Plant bombs on military installations. The paranoia is nuts, but I guess each generation has it’s own.
Exactly one year ago, my biggest grief (after work of course) was the wedding. I was painting champagne glasses and ordering bridesmaids dresses. The day of the attack was beautiful in
Germany. The day was great. I took a long lunch and spent a good two hours at the gym, totally obsessed with the idea of having a killer body for my wedding dress. I was even finishing up the newspaper, and at around 3:15 p.m., a coworker (Taisha) ran in and said, “The towers have been hit!” And of course, we rushed around the television and watched the devastation. I immediately called my father at Wright Patterson and just as quickly, I had to go as soon
as the Pentagon was struck. I was ordered to rush over to a security meeting to get information to release to the public. And I didn’t sleep again for three days.
One year goes by quickly. I really hope tomorrow lasts without incident. I hope all the freaks stay low and stumble in their own devices. And leave me peacefully to my work and life.
The news organization NBC was here, because the ‘Today’ show decided to do some live broadcasts from the base. Of course, that meant more work for me, but I didn’t mind. Ann Curry was the anchor who came over, and it was really very interesting to work with her, and to see all the behind-the-scenes activities that must take place for a live broadcast.
My office did everything from making sure the crew had all the resources needed, we set up interviews for the show, advertised the heck out of it so troops and their families would come down to wave the homemade signs in the background, and much, much more.
Like I said, Ann Curry was very nice and personable, although she was tiny, tiny, tiny and made the rest of us look like cows. (Proof is the photo left.) But, she really did go out of her way to talk with the families, shake their hands and get photos taken with as many folks as possible.
Our office was sort of “home base” for her the few days she was here, so it was incredibly surreal to look over my desk as I worked, and see her using the telephone across from me. She also talked with us about journalism, her brother (who was in the Air Force), and her professional advice. She also granted us an interview for our newspaper and AFN television station, too, which was awesome. We also got a bunch of Today Show items from the producers. That was cool.
It was a very neat experience, and my Mom did report that she DID see me on television.
That weekend, I jumped on a train to Berlin to visit my friend, Pamela. THAT was a much-needed break, and I was finally able to give her the bridesmaid dress. (Now, all the females, including myself, have their dresses for the wedding!) I’ve been to Berlin before, but this time, I made it to Checkpoint Charlie, which is really nothing more than a wooden building surrounded by sandbags in the middle of the road now. I also did got in some shopping and visited a really ‘happenin’ bar.
It was a blast, and I hated to leave. But alas, here I am, back at work, writing articles, doing interviews and other Public Affairs duties.