Kathryn Vernon’s “regular” job is Seattle district manager with the FAA’s air traffic organization. But the past several months she’s been working in Baghdad as deputy transportation counselor to the U.S. Embassy and as deputy senior consultant for aviation to the Iraq Reconstruction Management Office.
Her two daughters graduated from Wilson High School and one lives here in Tacoma after a stint in Togo with the Peace Corps. The other is in the Army, in flight training at Fort Rucker, Ala. Her parents live in Tacoma, as do two of her sisters and their families.
In short, she’s one of ours.
She served in the Air Force before embarking on her 24-year career with the FAA. She wanted to do something to help in Iraq. “My parents raised us to serve – that is what I tried to do with my daughters, and what I’ve tried to do as well,” she told me. “I don’t believe we should expect our children to be over here if we aren’t willing to come ourselves – that is why I am here.
“I also believe that, no matter the reason this war was started, we have an obligation to help this country – they were oppressed by Sadaam and have been devastated by violence. They need help to get back on their feet. That is also why I am here.”
She periodically writes home about her experiences, and I asked her to share those notes here. Click below to read her latest.
It is difficult getting out of Baghdad – a helicopter or armored vehicle
ride from the IZ to the airport – a night spent in a trailer – an
instruction to show up at 6:30 a.m. at the passenger counter to find out
what time your flight will be leaving – usually 10:30 or later – then,
hopefully, or en-sha’allah (God willing), an uneventful flight out to Amman
or Kuwait in a C-130 – no one usually schedules their flights out of those
ports of call until the next day, in the event the flight breaks down or is
late – consequently, it takes at least two days to get from the IZ to Jordan
or Kuwait, then another day to catch a flight to one’s ultimate destination
in probably another time zone. Exhausting – and then when you return, you
do it all over again!
All that being said, the folks working in the IZ and our soldiers in the
military look forward with great anticipation to the convoluted routine of
leaving – because we know that a change of pace, a complete change of
scenery, and a feast for our senses await us on the other side.
When I left Baghdad, I was happy to go – two and a half months of work
without a day off was enough to make me long for a chance to sleep in
without the sound of a helicopter overhead and the knowledge that I wouldn’t
miss breakfast – because room service was at hand – ahh, the simple things
we take for granted. At the same time, there is a sense of guilt over the
fact that I can go out, I can get away from the noise of the explosions and
the machine gun fire and the knowledge that someone has been killed when I
hear those things, and the average Iraqi citizen cannot.
Jordan, a country of many wonders, is quite beautiful in its starkness.
Rolling hills, rough mountain peaks, hillside villages, deep wadis, desert
flora, mountain goats and sheep, camels and donkeys, and hot desert sun,
even in February, are found here. Mt. Nebo is the site believed to be where
Moses died – the Franciscans have established a monastery and monument there
– Madaba is an ancient, yet bustling, town with churches filled with mosaic
tile artwork, much of it still being restored – Petra, where the Nebateans
carved their city out of the sandstone hills, is a marvel to behold. It is
called the Rose City because of the color of the rock and if you’ve seen the
Indiana Jones movie, Temple of Doom, you’ll have seen some of the ancient
city of Petra. The Dead Sea, which separates Israel from Jordan, is almost
colorless with no boats or watercraft sailing upon it. It is so filled with
salt that nothing lives in it and if you walk in, you will float. And then
there is the Dead Sea mud – to which is ascribed amazing restorative powers.
Its a booming tourist industry for the Jordanians, this Dead Sea mud – it
is marketed and sold all over the world – travelers come from far and wide
to experience it.
Also found in Jordan, is the River Jordan – which runs into the Dead Sea
(which happens to be almost 400 metres below sea level). This is the river
in which Christ was baptised in the area of Bethany by John the Baptist.
Until 1996, this area was not open to tourists, but now, it is – with not
too much commercialization – if you are a Jordanian, it costs two jordanian
dinars (JD) to enter – if you are from another Arab country, three JD – from
anywhere else, seven JD – the JD is about $1.30 – so, it is not cheap – but
it was worth the visit – to know that somewhere near there, approximately
two thousand years ago, history was being made – and Israel was just across
the river – only a stone’s throw away – it is calling to me to make a visit
there – there is more of a pull to visit Israel than there was to visit the
Vatican last year when I was in Italy – before I leave this region for good,
I will go – to walk the same roads, to look on the rolling hills, to know He
walked this way – at Mt. Nebo, one could look across the hills and see
Jeruselem – only 46 kilometres away – so close one could imagine touching
Israel and Palestine have been so much in the news – I pray that a peace
agreement will be worked out, so those children will learn what it is to
live in safety and surety. Much the same that we pray for Iraq – as it is
much in the news with the bombings and the killings – sometimes I wonder if
there is a solution.
Sorry for not staying in touch more – those weeks before leaving were hectic
– some minor miracles were accomplished in aviation – we were able to get
visas for an Iraqi delegation for a conference in Bangkok and follow-on trip
to Singapore – I went Sulaimaniyah and Mosul to see the operation – to Al
Uedid Air Base in Doha, Qatar to meet with our military leadership in charge
of airspace in Iraq – discussions ensued on how best to proceed on airspace
management – the radar is turning at Baghdad International because we were
able to get the batteries for the UPS equipment – and with the radar
turning, the displays in the tower cab are working allowing the controllers
to see aircraft as they come into the airport – this is a first here. We
were also able to get badges for Iraqi technicians to work on navigational
and communication equipment at Mosul Airport, the first step in accepting
the new facility there.
When I count up these minor miracles, things we would take for granted in
our country, I realize things are progressing – sometimes it is hard to see
it – but I think we are making a difference, offering hope for a better
future – en sha’allah. Keep Iraq in your prayers, won’t you?