Something I didn’t notice as I was settling into my new home in one of the embassy staff houses in Karachi, Pakistan, was that no one assigned to the embassy had less than four stripes.
I didn’t notice it because we weren’t allowed to wear uniforms. The exception was the Marine security guards. They wore uniforms. I suppose they would have looked silly wearing a T-shirt, shorts, and sneakers, and packing a .45 automatic.
I soon discovered that the people I was going to work with were a wee bit different from those I was used to. During my orientation briefing at the embassy, I was rather pointedly told that we had been selected for “maturity and good judgment.” As I got acquainted I soon saw what that briefer was talking about.
The officers, right to a man, were so conservative they looked and acted like characters out of some 1918 war movie. And as far as I ever found out, every one of them was a colonel.
The NCOs weren’t much different. They put me through a tough screening process before they approved me for embassy duty, and obviously everyone else had gone through one too. We all had top secret clearances, which they don’t give out in cereal boxes, and I quickly learned that it was taboo to talk about your job, or to ask one of the guys where he had disappeared to for a day or two.
Such things were, I was informed, “Neither here nor there.”
I began to wonder if I should have bought a cloak and dagger to go with the six hand-tailored raw silk suits the Air Force had kindly supplied me with to help relieve my uniform anxiety.
A big part of my job was to get palettes of cardboard boxes with their labels painted out unloaded from aircraft coming in from Saudi Arabia, and immediately reloaded onto other aircraft headed for Peshawar up north in Pakistan.
“Do it,” I was told, “as quickly and quietly as possible. And do nothing to arouse the curiosity of Pakistani Customs.”
I can’t tell you what was in the boxes, but the story was that it was for aircraft which, (a) did not exist, (b) did not fly out of northern Pakistan, (c) did not overfly the Soviet Union, and (d) definitely took no pictures with the stuff in the boxes.
I believed that. Do U believe it 2? ;-)
Anyway, that was one tight-lipped, very well-aged, and serious-minded bunch of NCOs.
Then one day matters went a bit awry.
One fine Sunday afternoon, I met the Embassy Run aircraft at Mauripur Airbase. Having greeted the incoming passengers, I led them to our little passenger lounge — a renovated fire station of all things — to await transportation to points unknown.
Among the passengers I noticed a young man who in earlier centuries would have been described as a “beardless youth.” I figured he was on his way to our semi-secret Security Service base up north in Peshawar, where we had a large array of electronic listening devices tuned in to the Chinese and Russians.
“You can wait right here in the passenger lounge,” I told him. “Someone will come and pick you up and get you on the next supply plane headed for Peshawar.”
“I’m not going to Peshawar,” he told me. “I’m assigned to the embassy mail room.”
It was a comment that was to be repeated a large number of times over the next few days as people met our teenage warrior.
To make a long story short, somebody back in the states had screwed up and sent us an Army corporal. And despite the best efforts of the Army attache and the ambassador, the Army decided to let him stay where he was.
As it happened, he was assigned to the same staff house where I was living, and I got to watch Mike Flanagan, our house mother, an Air Force master sergeant, do a double take when he first saw him. Mike promptly dubbed him Chota Sahib — Little Sahib — laid down the law to him, and winked at the rest of us, looking supremely confident that the kid would take one look around at his elders and decide he had better watch his p’s and q’s.
What fools these mortals be.
I won’t go into detail about the string of dumb stunts that Chota Sahib pulled over the next couple of years. There isn’t enough space in this edition of the Roundup to hold them all.
I’ll just mention two things.
The first one was minor. All Chota Sahib did was knock out our power for a couple of hours and almost electrocute himself. He managed that by hanging a towel over the 220 volt water heater mounted on the wall over his bathtub, getting into said bathtub, slipping, grabbing said towel, and pulling said electrical device into the water with him.
I saw him about an hour after he pulled that one. His eyes were still the size of sewer covers. And he couldn’t blink.
Then came something I wish I could have seen. Chota Sahib did the craziest thing I have ever known a GI to do, bar none.
He was driving the mail truck, a big old Army six-by-six. He spotted the Russian ambassador in his limousine and decided to ram him. And he did it! Big time!
The reason he gave for doing it?
“He’s the enemy, isn’t he?”
In accordance with sacred State Department tradition, the incident was quietly hushed up, though I will say the Russians had a lot to say about it — and for quite a while too.
My! My! Were they ever hostile. Their staff house was right across the street from ours. I was worried about snipers.
What happened to Chota Sahib as a result of his sudden surge of teenage patriotism?
They took away his driver’s license. When you’re sweeping things under the rug, you see, you have to make the punishment mild for fear the punishee may blow the whistle on you.
Anyway, as Confucius say, “Not send boy to do man’s job.”
Confucius one smart man!