It was funny every time I said it. In the two weeks prior to the visit from our British counterparts, I used the term freely, enjoying the smiles and laughs that it brought.
Our British counterparts, the Theater Logistics Group (TLG) do more than just take equipment and ship it back to the UK. They also provide the logistics support for British forces in Afghanistan. Their visit to our retrograde lot at this particular time was part of the larger turnover process of forces in theater. New people and units come into Afghanistan to relieve those who have been here anywhere from six months to a year. The Commodore (1 star general) wanted to see our process, since the British had modeled their organization off much of what we were doing. In true international affairs fashion, the introductory tour was only supposed to take twenty minutes. The real focus was the senior officer socialization afterwards, to build those relationships that enable us to work together better. I felt like I was back in my element – setting up a tour and meeting with our UK counterparts. We even had tea and pastries set up in our Supply Receiving Tent, so that they could drink, eat and mingle afterwards. I could just as easily have been back in Brussels or the Pentagon, working as the NATO/Europe Desk Officer. The only difference was the camouflage utility uniform that everyone was wearing!
I even got a gift at the end of my tour, a coin from the Commodore. I admit it; I was thrilled that he (more than likely his staff) thought of it. It’s one of the best mementos of this deployment. But back to the visit.
The Commodore came with an entourage of ten to fifteen people from the TLG. My Commanding Officer gave them a quick overview of our mission before turning over the tour. As the Retrograde Operations Company Commander, the lot belonged to me, and I walked them around the lot (rather quickly) discussing some of the key facets of our organization. It felt great to be doing my international affairs job again. I reveled in the discussion with the Commodore, with the questions from his staff and with the chance to show off all the hard work that my Marines do.
My direct British counterpart found me immediately following the tour, and commented on my enthusiasm and his appreciation of the tour. I suppose I’m still an open book – can’t hid my excitement for the mission, and my love of logistics! I enjoyed speaking with him further, and we planned for a follow up visit to so he can show me how the British are conducting retrograde.
Conversation continued for almost an hour. Eventually, they all had to get back to their jobs. I was happy, and relieved. As much as I love international affairs, I am an introvert by nature. The requirements to engage with a variety of new people in that extroverted fashion definitely takes its toll, and I was tired.
Later that day, one of my fellow U.S. officers retold a conversation he had with one of the British. He said that after I had introduced myself to the group and begun the tour, one of the British came up to him and said, “Sir, I’m sorry but I didn’t know that you could have women in your Marines.” The U.S. officer said, yes, and he began to explain what women did in the Marine Corps, what requirements they had to meet (mostly in terms of physical fitness, leadership) and how they were integrated. As he was explaining all the things that we have to go through, training with the men, he said that the British officer commented, “So these are exceptional women”.
Yes, yes we are.
That statement made me smile from ear to ear. What a shock it must have been to this gentleman, not even knowing that there were women in the U.S. Marine Corps – and then this female company commander gets up in front of them to give the brief!
Another great day in Afghanistan.