This is outside the realm of opinion. It’s just a story. In keeping with my sense of privacy (I value it) I am often faced with sharing more information than usual, and that is always something I avoid outside my very immediate family unless the need arises. While it’s certainly not my first personal story, it’s the first such tale of 2017, and probably not all old news to anyone, should anyone continue reading.
Everybody remembers 2001 for their own reasons, but few recall much of the year prior to September 11th. I remember much more before that tragic day. Even some of the few who have heard parts of this story haven’t really put all the pieces together…not fully. I remember 2000/2001 as one of the most tumultuous periods of my life, even considering this was after 10 ½ years of service in the United States Marine Corps (USMC).
The year that rocked the Nation on 9/11 had already taken quite a personal toll on me. I’d been dealing with the aftermath of a long battle with the Department of Defense (DoD) and Department of the Navy (DoN) over pay equity for DoD/DoN Civilian Air Traffic Control Specialists’ specifically, but the decision would open up the issue of equitable pay for all Federal Civilian Employees…think Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the MANY Contractor’s under their jurisdiction…all of them, and I knew that.
I knew there would be push back. I knew some of that effort would be personal, whether in preparation for or after the final decision. As expected and predicted I won the case on appeal despite the other side’s obstruction, determination, silent slander AND support. The initial decision; a dismissive denial in hopes of my dropping the issue; was as expected but not as was hoped. My naiveté regarding the proud, unashamed intransigence of Our Federal Government had been largely limited to the darker side of Service, but still the same, one of Duty and of Conscience and of the Greater Good, I thought. We were all equal, right, especially in the Civilian World? Ummm…no. Anyway, after I won, a ton of Positions were downgraded in pay. Yes it happened and no, I did not mean to appear to say hurray, though I can see that point of view. Last but not least… …my, oh my, how popular was I!
As you may have guessed, I soon began ‘working on’ my resume. I’ve been tweaking it ever since.
So, I have no particular love for how the 2nd Clinton Administration allowed such a serious situation to reach the point of appeal, but President Clinton wasn’t running. Al Gore was. And so was George W. Bush. An unpopular win in both the Nation and the Supreme Court of the United States (US) put President George W. Bush in the White House and in charge of the U.S. Government and I’d been for the other guy.
Great…a gazillion Federal Jobs out there…lucky me, right!?
Except it really was great. Well I was lucky at least. My spring and summer were going to be a bit longer and hotter that year. Why requires an acknowledgement of my 1st wife (dec) Kathleen Rita Darby Stiff and a smidgen of personal history.
She and I met in Scotland. Having successfully joined the USMC in December 1988 and having suffered the first of two ‘take this ASSHOLE!’ lessons of Military Decorum, I joined Marine Corps Security Forces. I served nearly 3 years straight on Sea Duty (as bad and not as bad as you may think) ‘aboard’ the USS Simon Lake, (AS-33), in Holy Loch, Scotland. The nickname for the place was ‘Site One’ and that’s plenty of info to Google the place and its Associations all over Social Media. Part of the reason for my extended stay in Scotland was my wife’s fear of leaving the safety she’d built for herself. Kathleen was already a Resident Alien of both the UK and US, with several years as a Resident Alien in Australia, as part of an encouraged migration policy of the 1970’s between the UK and Australia, in-between. We married 18 months after meeting, halfway through my eventual tour at Site One. Leaving our home on Holy Loch; literally on the shores of the loch overlooking the site, in the small village of Sandbank; we found the process of leaving was difficult for us, but more so for Kathleen. Truthfully, she never felt at home again until we arrived and settled in Yuma, AZ. We lived there for years. We died there for years. We ended there, her and me, which ended a journey that began with a walk up to Harvester Cottage years before.
Kathleen Rita Darby passed away not far from Yuma in 2011. She still owned the house there in The Villas at Yuma East. Her heart was in Yuma when she went ahead of us writers and readers. Her heart never left. She was a proud Immigrant Citizen of the US from the moment she swore the Oath of Allegiance to the US. She waited her turn and had no real need to ‘become a Citizen’ other than it was a dream that she felt she had to earn the right to fulfill. She was privileged and she knew it.
Back now, to the longer, hotter desert spring and summer. Kathleen and our youngest daughter would be absent from the house while attending her friend’s wedding in the United Kingdom (UK). Some time prior to their departure, during spring if memory serves, I’d applied to a position in Europe. Shortly after my wife and daughter departed for the UK I was notified that I’d been selected for the Position of Director of Operations and Air Traffic Control, under the NATO Commanders at/controlling Taszar Air Base in south-central Hungary. I knew it would be difficult to communicate with my wife about the offer and as we had already discussed the matter when I submitted my application, I accepted the Position and began the necessary paperwork nightmare to fill a Sensitive Post.
The paperwork process continued uninterrupted as did my wife’s concerns about my/our relocation and no hurdle had stopped my progress…until one did. A high-hurdle, one that in the end I chose not to try to clear. Though the issue had nothing to do with me on a personal or professional level, it certainly would have made a huge, mostly detrimental impact crater in the already peppered landscape of my life. After very careful consultation with my wife, I officially and regrettably declined to accept the Position. We decided that the likelihood of holding our family together would be slim if I accepted. That decision still troubles me to this day and always will.
Fast forward a few long months to September, to the early hours of that eleventh September morning, to that horrifically stained and Memorialized day. What was your job on 9/11? I was an Air Traffic Control Supervisor then. I was sitting on my couch in my living room watching along with Matt Lauer and Katie Couric as the World Trade scene started to unfold before our eyes. I wasn’t wondering along with them as they posited guesses about what had happened. I had tears streaming down my face because I feared I knew what had happened, at least in part. When the second aircraft hit the towers it may as well have entered my chest. I was in utter disbelief that somebody successfully pulled off the attacks. I’d not thought it possible to cry more profusely, yet I did, and for some time.
I’d been gutted. My wife could see it. She recognized the frustration in me pleading for relief. At first no relief came. A few miserable days of trying to pretend my world and the World around weren’t wobbling. Then Chris Thomas, a buddy at work told me about a new job posting. The Federal Air Marshal Program, then under the FAA, was hiring additional Agents for one of the most sought after Positions in the Anti-Terror World at that time. Nothing could have ever prepared me for the complexity of these momentous intersections, interactions and coincidences that were piling up around me. For me it was a complete no-brain-er…all heart and gut. As luck would have it, I’d just had a microscope up my business which greatly expedited my selection. I had applied immediately upon hearing of the announcement and was almost as immediately offered a Position as Federal Air Marshal. I accepted. I am now retired. My first retirement home was near Dallas, TX.
There was to be another weird intersection in my life. In 2006 I met, and in 2007 married my 2nd wife Silvana, then a Bosnian Refugee of the Balkan War/Conflict in which the US was involved to a great extent, a war that was waged from a relatively unknown NATO Air Base in Hungary…imagine my surprise. She immigrated to the US and the Dallas, TX area in October 1997, nearly 4 years before I declined the Position that was involved in scarring her homeland.
She has immigrated, assimilated, dreamed and excelled in the US since her arrival. Now she’s a proud Immigrant Citizen of the United States (she was when we married) with deep ties to a European and US Community who have suffered grievous injury by Our Nation’s sense of the Greater Good. Some of my conversations with that Community are heated, and some of them won’t happen or just haven’t happened yet. Silvana is; via education and personal experience; a Subject Matter Expert on the Refugee Community and the many aspects of the harsh, uncertain life of a War or Religious Refugee. Still, she and all my new family and friends share one great attribute…they ALL love this Country. They ALL love America, just like me, ever since they swore that Oath of Allegiance to the US…their home.
She and I recently visited the World Trade and 9/11 Memorials and Museums in New York City. I simply cannot describe how deeply I was affected by everything I saw, from Katie and Matt on a loop, searching for the insight that far too few were able to conjure. Twisted beams so reflective they cast a shadow over all who see them. And the people. The people who’d still haunt me in my dreams if I dared allow it. The people were staring back through the glass at me but no words could soften the lump in my throat. Silvana knew when I needed space…she knows more of me than anyone alive…she gave me space to breathe away and brush away my grief and she found her own. She was there with me and for me and because of me and still would have been without me. She’s an American…that’s what we do.
There have been several other weird connections and missed connections in the time since I retired; since I remarried. I’ll try and write some of it down…since I have time.