07FEB2011. Since I’m chronicling my training and deployment experiences, it makes sense (at least to me) to start from the beginning. The following is the dialogue between me and the recruiter, followed by some introspective analysis about what I’d just gotten myself into.
Recruiter: Yes, hi. How are you today Ma’am? May I speak to Dr. Farzana Nabi?
Me: Hi…speaking.Who’s calling, please?
Recruiter: My name is Tomas and I’m a recruiter with XYZ Defense. I got your cover letter and resume for the senior Social Scientist position we posted. You’re very qualified…a great candidate. I want to tell you more about the position…answer some questions…especially because it’s a term position in Afghanistan.
Me: Wait, what? I thought the position was located in Washington, DC. That’s what the job description indicated, which is why I applied. Afghanistan?
Recruiter: Sorry Ma’am, it’s not. It’s in Afghanistan. Well, the training is state-side…six months of it, then you deploy to Afghanistan for a year…or longer…depending on how long you want to stay. It’s with the U.S. Army.
Me: Um, okay. Wow. That’s a long time. So wait…why would you advertise it as being state-side when it’s not? Makes no sense…and where in Afghanistan?
Recruiter: Yeah, sorry…probably should’ve been more clear. But it’s a great opportunity and you’re so qualified! And the pay is great too! Are you interested?
Me: No, I’m not interested. I just moved to the DC area a few months ago and recently got married, and I have no intention of leaving and moving again. Especially to Afghanistan. And with the military? Like with Soldiers? Is this a translator position?
Recruiter: I understand. And no it’s not for a translator position. Can you at least hear me out? Then you can decide whether you’re a good fit. And yes, with the U.S. Army as a senior researcher. I don’t know which province…those are things that are decided later on in the program.
Me: Well, I’m curious enough to hear about it even though I wouldn’t take the position.
[Two hours into the phone call…]
Me: Wow, that’s a lot of information and lots to jump through before you deploy. I’m still not sure I’d take the position. It sounds like a great opportunity and I do want to return to Afghanistan to do some work, but I don’t know if this is the right opportunity for me. I’m still teaching at the university I’ve been teaching at for a while, and the Chair was generous enough to let me finish up my last year online. Since, you know, I’m no longer in California.
Recruiter: Are you sure? How about I give you a couple of days to think about it? You can discuss it with your family and I’ll circle back with you. You’re just such a great fit…with your background, language skills, and Ph.D. You’re one of the best candidates we’ve ever come across!
Me: Thanks for trying to butter me up, but it’s not going to change my stance. It’s a lot to take in. My head’s spinning. But I’ll think about it…and let you know.
Recruiter: Okay. Sounds great! Thank you for your time. I’ll call you in a couple of days. But if you decide to take it before then, just call me directly.
[Two days later…phone rings…]
Recruiter: Hi Farzana, it’s Tomas. How are you? I’m circling back to see what you’ve decided. How about it? What did your family say? Will you take the position?
Me: Hi Tomas. Well, I spoke with my family and they think it’s an interesting opportunity…my parents don’t and are shocked I’d even consider it…I’m still on the fence. But my husband (now former husband) says it’s a great opportunity and could open lots of doors once I’m back in DC.
Recruiter: So is that a “yes”? If so, there’s paperwork to fill out…an online application link I can send you, and a packet with lots of details about the program.
Me: I don’t know. It’s a huge decision and all I keep thinking is that I don’t want to die in the country I was born in, you know?
Recruiter: Die? Who said anything about dying? You won’t die. Yes, it’s a big decision. I understand. But it’s not that dangerous. Sure, you’ll be in a war zone, but you’ll be on a military base, where it’s safe.
Me: Safe?!?!? Really?!?!? Do you not watch or read the news? People are being blown up left and right. Especially the U.S. military…they’re not exactly being greeted with open arms.
Recruiter: I can’t guarantee your safety, but you’re free to come back any time, especially if you don’t feel safe. I just think you’re an excellent fit and will do very well. With your background…think about how much good you’d be doing for us…for the Afghan people.
Me: That’s rich, thanks. You’re good. Look, I went back to Afghanistan in May 2002…on a humanitarian trip…it was only for a month, and it was probably the safest time to be there because we’d just carpet-bombed the country to get rid of al-Qaeda operatives, and in the process, freed the people from Taliban rule. The military presence was hard to miss…Allied Forces everywhere…a curfew for all. I felt very safe walking around the streets and riding around in civilian vehicles. But things have changed…gotten worse!
Recruiter: I can’t make you take the job…I can just keep asking and calling you periodically to see if you’ve changed your mind. It’s ultimately your decision, but you’d be so great! Didn’t you say that you talked to your husband and he was supportive?
Me: Yeah, he’s on board, and I was actually surprised how supportive he’s being. I didn’t expect that. So yeah, the decision is all mine…a very tough one.
Recruiter: So what do you say, Farzana? Do you just want to give it a try? At least fill out the application online? See what we offer in terms of salary and benefits? If you change your mind after, that’s fine.
Me: You don’t give up easily, do you? Fine! Just send me the link. I’ll take a look and let you know. Can you give me a day or two?
Recruiter: Great! Sure. I’ll send the link shortly. If you have any questions, please call me directly. If I don’t hear from you, I’ll call you.
Me: Will do, thank you for the info. You’re relentless! You make a commission from every person you hire, right? Shit…I hope I don’t regret this.
Recruiter: Yes, I do. That’s the nature of recruiting but if you weren’t so qualified, I wouldn’t have hounded you…I’m usually not this persistent.
[The next day…]
After reading all the material Tomas sent, and doing multiple internet searches about the program (which turned up mixed results), I did it. I took the job and requested to join in March 2011, or be a part of the March Cycle. I needed more than a few weeks to prepare to move, yet again! I had to relocate to Kansas because the schoolhouse training was happening in Fort Leavenworth.
As I packed my stuff for the first leg of the journey, I wondered if I needed to pack more than clothes. Did they have CVS stores in Kansas? Did I need to bring a 3-month supply of toiletries? I wasn’t sure, so I packed a month supply and figured I could purchase the rest on Amazon.
Had I overcome my ignorance and did a search online, I would’ve known that Kansas was not a 3rd-world country and that they indeed had CVSs, Targets, and other places to shop (they even had paved roads!). But I was in such a haze and so consumed with the “what ifs” that all rationality seemed lost.
Sometimes I’d find myself standing on the balcony of my apartment, leaning over the rail watching people rush around, and wondered if any of them would do anything as crazy, brave, and/or stupid. Or if some already had (why can’t I have a “normal” life? Career?).
In these moments, I felt even more conflicted – at times I was excited and viewed this as my next BIG adventure; at other times, I wasn’t ready to pick up and move again. So I kept my focus on the present…checking things off my daily to-do list (fill out paperwork, book a flight, bring my passport, buy suggested books, pack enough shoes…). And regardless of how reluctant I was about leaving the comfort of my apartment in Arlington, there was an inevitable pull to take this on. Was it the money? The opportunity to help? The excitement? Probably a combination.
I’m always up for a challenge and this one seemed as arduous as my Ph.D. program at Berkeley.
The inevitable pull was followed by thoughts of doom and fearful negotiating with God (please God, don’t let me die in Afghanistan! If I’m supposed to die, then please let something happen during training that prevents me from deploying. If I do deploy and end up dying, then maybe I wasn’t meant to live ’til old age. But if I’m meant to die young and I don’t die in Afghanistan, please don’t let my life end in some crazy, ironic twist of fate wherein I die a few weeks/months after returning to the States.)
Regardless of the fears that plagued me, I’m always up for a challenge and this one seemed as arduous as my Ph.D. program at Berkeley. I was moving to Kansas to see this through. And the rest was up to God.