I used to date a guy who was in the Air Force and had the job title of "meterologist"; I use that term very loosely, since his job mainly consisted of going outside on his cigarette break, looking at the sky and then going back in to send out the "weather report" to the masses. At the time, he was stationed at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland and we were living in Alexandria, Virginia.
Due to its proximity to Washington, DC, this base was home to Air Force One and often experienced a lot of activity and buzz whenever anything "presidential" happened. We were living there just before the war in Iraq was started and because of possible retaliation, my boyfriend was required to carry his government issued gas mask in his duffle bag at all times.
The people on the base were always talking about the security levels: Alpha, Bravo, Charlie and Delta; Delta being the highest, where the base went into lockdown. No one in, no one out. Since I was living in a hotel suite at the time, I would just wait to hear the news about what happened that day, but didn't give much thought as to what I would be doing should the security level go to Delta.
That wasn't the case for one of my boyfriends co-workers. She was G.I. Jane, with a boyfriend who was a Green Beret and several years of her own Navy service behind her. After leaving the ship she had been on, she wanted to continue her service on land so she enlisted in the Air Force.
She was entrenched in all things military. She couldn't have a conversation without including something about her being in the military. Her sentences always contained something like, "...when I was at sea," or "On the ship, we did it this way..." She wore no makeup and had cheekbones that could cut glass. Not in the chisled beauty sort of way, but in the short haired, plain faced,I-could-be-a-very-skinny-man-if-you-looked-too-quickly-at-me kind of way.
She grated on my nerves. I tried to befriend her because she was a co-worker of my boyfriend, but I couldn't bear the sound of her voice. Because several people working in the same unit were staying at our hotel, she'd often wind up sitting with our group at dinner.
She spoke in acronyms and told time using the twenty-four hour clock. I'd have to listen to conversations over dinner with her saying things like, "Well, since we're TDY, the DOD wants us to be prepared for an ADE and you know what happens if we have to go to the PX and have AAFES prepare provisions for us to take on base just in case we're in lockdown." or, when I would agree to meet her for lunch or a movie, she'd tell me to be there between "nineteen hundred hours and nineteen-thirty since the movie started at twenty-ten."
I wanted to shoot her in the head ASAP with a three fifty seven. She drove me nuts.
I'm writing about this because every time I pass this one particular town in Virginia, I'm reminded of a conversation we had just prior to the war being started. Seems they all knew that the President was going to announce us going to war before it was reported on television, so they were making plans for "what if". One of those plans included me and what I would be doing should something happen while they were on the base and I was happily snacking and watching TV in my hotel room.
She told me that in the event of a chemical attack on Washington, I should head South, not North; something stupid about the way the wind blows. I'm thinking, chemical attack? I thought the government said duct tape was good for that...
OK, kidding. Who ever thought the duct tape solution made any sense??
Anyway, I listened with feigned interest because I really couldn't care one iota about what came out of her mouth, but she continued on about what I should do just in case my boyfriend was locked down on base and couldn't get to me; which would be useless anyway, since he didn't have an extra gas mask, right?
She knew he was the only one I knew in town and that my family was in New York and Arizona, so as she continued her instructions, she offered me the shelter of her family. If the time came for me to head South, she said, I was to meet her family in the parking lot of the Wal-Mart in Wytheville, Virginia. Wytheville? I had no idea where the hell that was. I do now, since I drive all over the country, but then? No clue.
"If for some reason," she said, "in the midst of the chaos you may be faced with while trying to get out of the area, you forget the name of the town where the Wal-Mart is, just remember...We'll Be With You In Wytheville."
Unfortunately, I have never forgotten those words. They ring in my ears every single time I pass the sign on the interstate or stop in that town for fuel.
I am haunted by G.I. Jane.