Why did the tiny woman get out of the bulletproof vehicle on the streets of Kabul the day after Bin Laden was killed? Because she was not going to make her sisters in uniform look bad. I knew the men were just as afraid as I was of the possibility of never stepping foot back into the vehicles in one piece. The few locals wandering around the dirt sidewalks seemed just as shocked as I was to see the general and his security personnel walking around with bags of candy. The vehicle commander of our SUV opened my door, and I felt a rush of air, not fresh air, but warm, stale, manure-tainted air, in my face. Taking quick measure of my options, I looked at my fellow military members mingling with the few locals present. With the exception of the security detail, who were expected to throw themselves in the line of fire to protect the general, everyone else was naked: no Kevlar vest, no helmet. Then there was me, suited up in the back seat, unmoving. But I was the only female in the group. And I was the only Airman in the group. It was not an option to stay in the vehicle. But I could have kept my clothes on. No one would have thought any less of me if I had stayed shielded in vest and headdress. I don’t know why I took them off. I think there was a moment of dare to the danger that could await. I dared myself to be brave. I dared myself to trust in my Lord; He would not lead me here to die on the side of the road. He had not tamed the scariest parts of my mind that wanted me to harm myself only to let death touch me in this dirt. I felt a great peace settle over my mind and heart. My boys would not lose their mother on this day. With a weightlessness born of shedding thirty pounds of plastic, I stepped into the street.
Like tiny moles sniffing the air for danger before fully uprooting from their holes, the children poked their heads out all along the storefronts. Candy was an unrelenting Siren. Soon, I was swarmed in a colony of tiny, dirtyhands buzzing around my face and hair. I handed out tootsie rolls, pencils, erasers, suckers and licorice. The children were not satisfied until they had everything, and just as quickly as I handed it out, it disappeared into their pockets: magic.
There were so many tiny people surrounding me that I became very aware of the M-9, with a full clip, loaded and strapped to my hip. What if they grabbed at it? Not this day. I would not die the day after Bin Laden. I turned my attention back to the children, protecting my right hip with its precious cargo, but focused on their curiosity and smallness. They were serious, diminutive versions of their adult counterparts in their long dresses, same-colored pants, and dourexpressions. Some wore the traditional takiyah, a small, brimless hat decorated with elaborate embroidery, and some were bareheaded now that the Taliban was banished. I ruffled the hair on one little boy’s head, and my hand came away with such a skin-penetrating grittiness that it made me both smile and want to sanitize. I was not going to die amongst the children of Afghanistan, these boys who looked like my boys playing dress up back home. Not this day.