Today, I decided to write on several topics, including, the lessons learned at my off-site meetings (e.g., pick your seat where you aren’t facing the sun first thing in the morning, plan your coffee consumption to coincide with your breaks, etc.), when it is appropriate to make comparisons with Hitler and the Nazis (e.g., unless you are talking about genocide on par with Lenin and Stalin, then never), and why days off are awesome (they just are…). None of these seemed to really inspire me, though, and, truth be told, I really haven’t been in an inspiring mood. That’s when it hit me. The purpose of this blog was not to inspire you every day, but rather to share some of the thoughts, experiences, history and life lessons we have learned over the years. So, with that as my goal, I’d like to tell you a little bit about myself and my fellow authors. Admittedly, I was thinking about saving this for a later date, but I believe it is important to say things while you are thinking them and while you can, so…
I had the great honor of meeting my co-authors through a glitch in the US Air Force, which put us all together as Russian Interpreters at the On-Site Inspection Agency. Unlike other special duty assignments or organizations, every USAF interpreter after the initial group had to be interviewed, pass language proficiency tests, pass a background review and then pass the Russian Language course at the Defense Language Institute at the highest levels in order to make the cut. While we had our share of guys who weren’t as competitive, it should go without saying that most of us, including the three of us were very competitive and driven to succeed. Honestly, it was the first time in my life I had been forced to confront several concepts at once…and it was daunting. First, for the first time, I was surrounded by people as good or better than I was. Second, I was competing in an arena that I was not sure I could compete in. Third, they didn’t seem to have weaknesses, whereas I knew what mine were. It was the first time in my life I had to face a major challenge that I could not run from and hide underneath the table. 🙂
This turned out to be one of the greatest blessings I could ever have hoped for, because it introduced me to two men who have both challenged and inspired me. We did great things and you guys should know about them, because many of you were too young to remember and you should be proud of your dads and moms and the sacrifices they made for you. Our job was to be interpreters for inspection and escort missions taking place between the Former Soviet Union and the United States under the nuclear weapons, chemical weapons and other treaties signed between the nations. By the time we got to OSIA the Soviet Union had dissolved into its current state, however, the threat was very real. For the duration of our lives we had grown up in fear of the USA and the USSR unleashing a nuclear apocalypse that would destroy the world. If you go back and watch movies like Failsafe, War Games and Red Dawn, you get a little, somewhat kitschy, glimpse into the national mindset, but truthfully, we all thought there was a real chance that we would end up in a shooting war with the Soviets and there was a good chance we’d be mutually destroyed. No less a genius than Einstein predicted such a thing, when he said, “about the next war, I cannot say, but the war after that will be fought with rocks.”
When the US and the USSR, under Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev sat down and negotiated both the treaties and a verification process to reduce the number of nuclear weapons and walk us back from the edge, we saw the first light at the end of the “mutually assured destruction” tunnel. The first agreements led to accords on nuclear testing, chemical weapons, and other weaponry and set the stage for US-Soviet relations to finally warm. The pointy end of the spear was to be the inspection and escort teams and the people responsible for ensuring these teams communicated and worked together properly were the interpreters. Sure, we had additional duties on the teams, but our primary role was to express not just the words, but the intent of the teams and to do so between individuals who had been raised to believe the other side was evil. It was into this arena we stepped.
I still remember my first trip. The mission was going okay, but there was a Russian Colonel on the other side who drank heavily and was visibly offended that he had to treat these enemies as equals. On the last day of the inspection, the Colonel, drunk as normal, declared that his people and command were what stood between the glory of Russia and the evil of the US, who “was the only nation to use nuclear weapons against its enemies”. At this point, when emotions were high, our team chief said something impolitic, however the lead interpreter, with grace and diplomacy, defused the situation and backed both teams back from the edge. This was one of many, many war stories that I encourage you to ask your parents about. They probably don’t talk about them very often because they are pretty humble people (yes, your parents…) and yet their actions, whether at home or abroad, made the world a safer place for you today. While I don’t want to nor would ever neglect how your moms made everything we do possible and were stronger in many ways than we were, I want to let you in on a couple of secrets about your dads.
Without breaking Chatham House Rules (look it up, I can’t force feed you everything and that’s why we have Google anyway), let me list just a few things your dads did. They were involved in the actual destruction of former Soviet nuclear launch silos that were pointed at the US. They inspected nuclear and chemical weapons production and storage facilities, exposing themselves to hazardous conditions to ensure that every potential weapon or weapon component was accounted for. They assisted in the delivery of food and medical supplies to war-ravaged areas of the former Soviet Republics, like Georgia, Azerbaijan, and others. They served as official representatives of the US government at NATO and other conferences. They advised ambassadors, political appointees, and many other governmental organizations, and they did it for low pay and little to no recognition. They served with distinction, but most importantly, they served. They put others before themselves, they sacrificed time with family and friends and career opportunities, and they did it without complaint, without fanfare, and without pause. They did this because they believed and still believe that their actions made the world better. It didn’t fix the problems, but it made at least a small difference, and that difference would be better for everyone, particularly you.
Now, while all of that sounds inspiring, trust me, your dads were also idiots at times and made their fair share of mistakes. I am sure those stories will come out too, however, I thought it was important for you all to know that your dads are some of the finest men to walk this earth. They may not be perfect, but they are honorable and good. They are some of the strongest advocates you will ever have in your corner and they are always, always, on your side. For all of the things they gave in service to our nation, they will do all that and more for you, because they love you. So, whenever times get tough…and they will, and whenever things look bleak…and they will, remember this. You have a Heavenly Father, who is perfect and always on your side, and He has blessed you with earthly fathers, who, while human and prone to mistakes, love you and are always there for you, regardless of the challenge or likelihood of success.
Finally, to my fellow authors. Gentlemen, I have never been very good at expressing my feelings for people. I have always been reserved and guarded in what I say. However, it has been an honor and a blessing knowing you both and working with you. You have inspired me, pushed me and made me better. My only regret is that we didn’t meet earlier in life. So, my friends, my brothers, thank you, and know that I stand with you, proudly, and without reservation.