“The Day After” 15

Osama Bin Laden was killed on May 2, 2011. I had been in Afghanistan for nearly four months and was settling into my duties. It turned out, there was quite a bit more to my job than stocking the mini-fridge with sodas. Once the Chief trusted that I wasn’t incompetent even though I didn’t graduate from West Point, I was given the responsibility of his daily schedule, which put me directly in the way of anyone who wanted to talk to him. Everybody had to go through the red-haired Captain with a bit of an attitude in order to see the Chief. While some assistants let this sort of “power” go to their heads, in my mind, it was just one more thing that prevented me from going to the bathroom when I wanted. I was at my beck-and-call-position outside the Chief’s office when the Provost Marshall (something like the Chief of Police) came to inform the Chief that Bin Laden had been killed. The news was delivered to me like a gift slid across the table at a dimly lit restaurant. I was supposed to unwrap the dainty package of this so simple statement. Perhaps, I was to clap my hands excitedly when I realized what was inside. In fact, it was difficult to stop the initial curl of the corners of my lips, but just as soon as the instinct began it stopped. Although Bin Laden was an enemy of the United States, and his death brought celebration and relief to the Americans cheering on the television screen, we weren’t in the United States. We were in Afghanistan, and I didn’t hear any celebration in the streets.

The day after Bin Laden was killed, the General had a meeting somewhere in Kabul, outside of the safety of the compound, and the Chief went along with him. Wherever the Chief went, I was sure to follow. The streets were still in depression and very nearly empty, with the exception of a man or two riding a bicycle or crossing a street. But there were no children anywhere. Children were sentinels against danger, like canaries in a coalmine. If children were present on the streets, a planned attack was less likely. If children were not around, we shouldn’t be either. I sat still in the back of the SUV with my hands clenched in my lap, my senses overly stimulated. The Chief snored next to me, catching a catnap on the ride back to the compound. The general’s SUV was in front of us and began to slow, then stopped. Our driver followed suit. There we sat, plump, sluggish game sitting in the streets of Kabul where there were no children anywhere. Craning my neck to see around the front seats and out the windshield, my eyes widened and my jaw went slack as the general’s personal security detail exited the vehicle. They were covered in their Kevlar vests and helmets, weapons cradled in their arms and strapped to their legs. Then, still in disbelief that this was happening the day after Bin Laden was killed, I watched the General step from the back seat without any armor or weapons, his Marine aide right behind him. As I turned towards the Chief to detect the proper reaction to this current situation, he lifted his head to take it in. “Looks like we’re handing out candy. There should be some in the back,” he said. Then, our driver opened the door for my boss to exit, leaving me alone in the vehicle.

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