“17 beheaded in Afghanistan for dancing”

I woke up in a fairly good mood this morning, but when I turned on my computer to check the weather, I saw the above headline.

When I think of Afghanistan, I have a heavy heart. Not just for the American and coalition lives lost in that country, but for the people that live there. All those children. Afghanistan has the highest infant mortality rate in the world. Their maternal mortality rate is one of the highest in the world as well, and Afghanistan was recently determined to be the most dangerous country in the world for women.

I read news articles regularly about U.S. deaths in Afghanistan, and they anger me. Yes, I loathe hearing about U.S. troops being killed, especially when they’re murdered by those working with them on a daily basis.

It’s so easy to say “drop a bomb on them” or “wipe them out” or “leave them to kill each other off.”

But then I think of what I saw:

I remember this little boy who lost his left leg when he stepped on an anti-personnel mine. The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979, and when the last Russian soldier left a decade later, Afghanistan was one of the most heavily-mined countries in the world. In 2008, more than 62,000 anti-personnel mines were destroyed. As of 2010, there are still at least 6,000 land mine or unexploded ordnance (UXO) sites, let alone individual mines. His father brought him to the local base for treatment. He came running up to the gates, carrying his bleeding little boy.

If you click on this, you can read a story I wrote in 2009 about a young Afghan woman I remember. She finally discovered she was pregnant after several years of marriage. That woman was so happy that day, that she let me photograph her without her veil. I’ve never uploaded that photo to the Internet, for fear that someone might recognize her, and punish her for “exposing” herself. (Highly unlikely, I know, but some of my writing -completely twisted- was featured on a pro-insurgency site, so they have looked at my work before).

I remember this little girl, living on the side of the rugged Hindu Kush mountains. Her father brought her in to have her burned leg treated at a small American-run forward operating base. Most villagers in the area are afraid to come here for treatment (there’s a lot of insurgent activity). I remember this father held his little girl close when she was frightened and in pain, and he looked at her with love and gentleness in his eyes.

I remember the young female English teacher, probably around 23 or 24 years old. Her dream was to move to American one day. She told me, proudly, that she never intended to marry. Very feminist words indeed for an Afghan woman!

I remember these girls and many like them. Forbidden during the Taliban reign, these girls now attend school.

I know the media rarely shows it (everyone has a boss, and everyone has an agenda), but there are good things happening there with our presence. These are just a few snapshots of many wonderful things I witnessed, especially for the women.

But I also remember the young Soldier, barely a legal adult, with a bullet hole in the front of the vest that saved his life.

I remember the wiggly, black body bags carried on stretchers to the helicopter.

I remember the silent ranks of infantry Soldiers staring at the just-unveiled memorial.

There will always be countries in dire need of saving. But can we really?

As a continent, Africa really burdens me. The Congo is a horrific place for women and girls to live, because rape is commonplace. In Somalia, about 95% of girls between the ages of 4 and 11 experience female genital mutilation (FGM). Many of you have probably heard of the Invisible Children in Uganda. The recent riots and killings in South Africa tell us of the country’s deep-rooted troubles.

It’s been estimated that more than 20 million people at one time are victims of human trafficking…most of them women and girls.

I’m not saying that it’s worth it for us to be the world’s policeman. I’m not saying that it’s worth the 2,000+ American lives that Operation Enduring Freedom has cost us (so far). But I am saying that to me, there are faces in this equation. Afghanistan is not just an evil country somewhere far away.

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How my mother, my brother, a congressman, and a helicopter saved my wedding

I decided to share my wedding story with you all. Why? Because it’s the best wedding story EVER. I’m biased, of course. Some of you already know this story, so you can tune me out and move to the next post.

My husband was due to deploy in September of 2011. Up to that point, his ship was taking many mini-cruises in preparation. Some of these were weeks long. He checked with his command and was told that the end of August was the best time for him to schedule our wedding. So we did. August 27.

Well, all the military wives know this one: when it comes to the military, you need to expect the unexpected and be flexible. Added to this…as high-tech and modern as we’ve become in the U.S., we still can’t control the weather.

Our wedding was scheduled for Saturday, and my husband’s ship was supposed to come back into port on Thursday. It’s cutting it close, I know, but there was really no other option. Those of you on the Eastern side of the country may remember a little thing called Hurricane Irene. It was probably Tuesday of that week, when Jay told me that the storm might be affecting his ship. On Wednesday he confirmed that, telling me that all the ships in Norfolk might be ordered out to sea the next day. Which meant that his ship definitely wouldn’t be coming into port, even though it was close to shore. At this point, I was in Buffalo where our wedding was being held. The location was booked. The food was ordered. The flowers were ordered. etc. etc. If you’ve never planned a wedding, you may not know this: there’s no refund for all of that. You can’t just cancel your wedding and “try again.” I prayed all day Wednesday. There have been a few other times in my life where things seemed dire, and I prayed, even when there seemed to be no hope, and God answered my prayers in the way I’d asked. So I had faith. When I went to bed Wednesday night, I was calm. I was certain that between Wednesday night and Thursday morning, that God was going to move that hurricane’s path out to sea.

When I woke up Thursday morning, the first thing I did was check the weather report. There was no change. Hurricane Irene was still heading directly for Norfolk. I thought, “Okay, Lord, what are you doing?” I really couldn’t believe it. I really thought God was going to change the weather. Soon after that, I got a call from Jay’s ship.

“I have some bad news, I’m not going to be able to make it,” Jay said. His ship was being ordered further out to sea. What made this news especially bitter is that a helicopter had picked up several officers and took them to shore just a few hours earlier. The military can deny special treatment until they’re blue in the face, but all service members know that officers get special treatment.

At this point, we had friends and relatives already in the air on their way. My parents and I had driven from Florida to Buffalo. Everything was paid for and planned. Although I was devastated, I determined that I was going to hold my head up and be strong. We decided to hold a family reunion instead. I started calling friends and relatives and letting them know what had happened, and many said they were going to come anyway. I or my mom called the florist, I forget which, but I do remember talking to her myself at some point. The florist offered to make the bouquets into table centerpieces for the reunion, so that was neat.

While all this was happening, my older brother was not settling for the reunion. I have to say this about him. We fight. We fight every time we’re together. He’s soooooooo irritating. 🙂 But I can pinpoint many times throughout my life where he stood up for me. It’s what family does, right? He suggested to my mom that she call her congressman, Bill Young, back in Florida. His Web site indicated he was pro military. So the phone calls started. I also called my congressman. I’m not sure all of who was called, but I come from a family of attorneys, and they know judges, politicians, lobbyists…all those types. I spoke to someone from Fleet and Family Service or some other Navy types: and they were completely useless, of course. You’re not supposed to skip the chain of command in the military, but if you really want to make waves, you have to.

Bill Young’s office called back and said they had contacted the Navy, and that the Navy had said my husband’s ship was too far out to sea for a helicopter. I told them this was false, since I’d just been in email contact with Jay. He told me they were still within range of the shore. The numbers he gave me was a far, far shorter distance than what the Navy had told the congressman’s office.

Long story, short… a helicopter was eventually sent to my husband’s ship. They picked up my husband, another sailor who was also getting married that weekend, and several civilian workers who were supposed to have been off the ship at that point. I didn’t believe it was really going to happen, until Jay sent me a phone picture of him in the helo.

I heard later that Jay’s ship was contacted by several admirals, telling his CO to get him off that ship.

When Jay got back to Norfolk, there were no flights leaving for Buffalo, because of the weather, so he drove his car through the night all the way up North. He arrived Friday morning. I think he was a zombie through most of our wedding, hahah!

After this happened, somehow, the local news in Buffalo, and the newspaper back in Florida, got wind of it. I think my brother contacted one source, Bill Young’s office another, and I think there was a third person who told a news organization, but I’m not sure who. We were interviewed on TV and by newspaper.

The moral of this story is that God does answer prayer…just not always in the way we expect.

You can watch clips here (Meghan is my middle name, and Jay is short for Jeremiah):

Hurricane Irene Won’t Stop Sailor’s Wedding

Irene Can’t Keep Groom from Wedding

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