Monday, May 26, 2014

Memorial Day

There are veterans in my family, but as far as I know, there are no fallen soldiers. Probably if I went back farther, I would be related to some, because the Civil War stopped short the lives of so many, but more recently, I don't know of any.

Two of Jeff's brothers came to our house last week, and we had a fun visit. We went to the Kidwell Farm at Frying Pan Farm Park for the kids, the men watched the Cincinnati Reds play the Washington Nationals, the adults went on a tour of the U.S. Capitol Building, and everyone meandered through the National Museum of Natural History and walked around Arlington National Cemetery.

I had never before realized the vastness of Arlington National Cemetery. We had three kids with us (and no stroller), so we didn't get to explore the whole place and pay respects to the different memorials, but we did walk through and up to the Kennedy graves. I hadn't realized the Kennedys were buried there, but now I know the cemetery is for presidents as well as members of the military. I was also surprised by the number of children and wives buried there with their husbands/fathers. I don't have a problem with it; I thought it was neat that they were allowed to be buried together.

And what really struck me was the size. So many tombstones. So many people have died for our American way of life, for the oppressed in other countries, for democracy and freedom. As I walked around that cemetery with three healthy adult males, thinking of times in our country's history when we have had a mandatory draft, I couldn't help but think of the sacrifice that mothers, sisters, and wives have had to make. It was a weighty visit. And inspiring.

 Jill with her uncles Kyle and Kevin at Arlington National Cemetery

The U.S. Capitol Building also stirred up a lot of emotions for me. One of Jeff's friends is a staff member in a Senator's office, so he was able to lead us on a tour with just us and to take us into areas that large public tours could not enter.

I love history. I didn't in school, because I'm horrible at memorizing dates, but now that I'm older and there are no tests on dates, and I can just read to learn, I love it. And walking around the Capitol building was amazing. Seeing the craftsmanship of the building and the skill the workers poured into it. Viewing the artwork that portrayed different significant events in our lives. Recognizing that the freedoms I enjoy were thought up, argued over, fought over, and hard won by people—real people like me. Realizing how desperately the forefathers of our country wanted the life that I am able to lead. Wondering whether they ever could have foreseen how our country has transformed. Wondering how different the world would be if the states had not united. If after gaining independence from Great Britain, they became simply a continent and not a country, the States all becoming Countries. I think we would have had a lot more wars. It is kind of amazing that such a huge landmass is a country, that such different people work so hard to find compromise and get along together. I love it. I wish we were better at it, but at least we're trying.

And as impressive as the accomplishments are, they are all dragged down by slavery. How could men have debated what fraction of a person someone was? And following that line of thought, what issues will make my descendants wonder the same thing about my lifetime?

The star marks the center of Washington, D.C., 
so one might argue it also marks the center of democracy and freedom for the whole country.
Being my husband and his brothers always makes me feel shorter than usual.

Also on my mind recently is the training my husband completed a few weeks ago before we knew whether he had been accepted into the Foreign Service and his TDY in Chad was still looming. Chad is a more dangerous location than any of the other places he has gone on a TDY (Zambia, Equatorial Guinea, Laos, and Brazil). In light of that, he was required to go through some extra training—training that is informally called "The Crash and Bang Course." I don't know how much can be said about the course, but a brief summary is driving skills (like ramming vehicles out of your way, backwards driving (I can't help but think of Mater!), slamming on your brakes when going 60 mph, etc.), emergency medical procedures, hostile negotiations, explosions, weapons, self-defense, etc.

I got to pick Jeff up from the facility, and he was so animated on the car ride home talking about everything he had just learned and experienced. Throughout the conversation, I just kept thinking over and over again that they wouldn't teach him these things if no one had ever needed it. It is just one more reminder that the Foreign Service is not all fun and games, not all per diems and nice homes and private schools and foreign travel. 

Jeff's boss in Brazil had been in Egypt when it became volatile a while back. His family was evacuated, but the husband remained. In the event of some sort of emergency like that, the kids and I would be sent home, but Jeff would stay. His position as facility manager is one of the vital positions who stays at the embassy/consulate to ride out an emergency. Jeff has a friend who was in the Ukraine when its turmoil began, and she was evacuated. I had another friend who was assigned to a post in Tunisia a few years ago and was all set to go, but then the attacks around the same time as Benghazi happened, and her husband was reassigned to Canada.

That said, I'm not afraid to be a Foreign Service spouse (or EFM (Eligible Family Member) as all of the paperwork calls me). I am really looking forward to it, and I don't really think my husband's job is dangerous. And it would be hypocritical to think that shootings and tragedies don't happen in the United States either, because they do. Sadly, strangers kill, kidnap, and hurt each other all over the world, including home.

His training was just a sobering reminder of the danger element of his job. There are some posts in the Foreign Service where children are not allowed to go, and some where even spouses can't go. We are never going to intentionally get an unaccompanied post, so ideally, Jeff will never end up in one of the most dangerous places, but you never know. And some places become dangerous overnight.

Also, I don't mean to equate his Foreign Service job with military service, because I know it is very different to be a facility manager at an embassy as it is to be a marine in Afghanistan. With Memorial Day, visiting Arlington National Cemetery, and Jeff's extra training, all these thoughts have just been swirling around in my head.

I am really excited about being in the Foreign Service though. About learning more about what life is like for other people. Learning what they eat and wear and how they live. What is valuable to them. What their traditions are. What words they have in their languages. Seeing what the world looks like. Discovering how I can help others. I know I just said it isn't all fun and games, but I do think it is going to be a lot of fun. An adventure! And I am looking forward to its beginning.

Jill, Daniel, and Alice on a large rock outside of the National Museum of Natural History.

For those who are curious, we do not know where we will be assigned. Orientation begins for Jeff on June 2. It lasts for three weeks, and then training begins, which lasts for twenty-six weeks. At the beginning of orientation, we will receive a list of post openings, which we will rank. Then at the end of orientation, we will be told where we are going! If we don't get a post where they teach you the language before you go, then we will most likely move in January. So right now the world seems wide open! London, England? Paramaribo, Suriname? Addis Ababa, Ethiopia? Where?? :)


  1. I vote Addis Ababa, because that is extremely fun to say. And I love this post, and am so excited for you as well! I love the pictures, and hope someday I can see more of Washington DC, even if it won't be quite as easy with you not living there anymore!

  2. London! I would want to be around Jeff and his brothers all the time; I never feel short, small, or petite.


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