I turned 47 yesterday. It was not a big deal. My wife made me a cake, spice cake with Cream Cheese frosting, it was excellent. Earlier in the day my youngest son wished me special "Happy Birthday" which was the result of a lot practice and hard work on his part. My oldest son, who is possibly the nicest and sweetest ten year old on the planet, goofed around with me and told me he likes my bad jokes. He also told me he loves me.
I was reminded of other birthdays of note. My 35th, 2008 was spent in Kirkuk, Iraq. I think we paid former terrorists to build a shitty soccer pitch. Both my 30th and 31st were spent at Ft. Bragg in Splinter Estates at either end of a deployment. Splinter Estates were in the Old Division area of the post. A collection of World War II wooden barracks that were supposed to last for a few years and the Army had kept using decades after the war. They had improved considerably since I first stayed in them when I was in ROTC Advanced Camp in 1994. In 2003 we had the height of luxury, wooden stalls that had been added since I had been there last. Though there is an element of "Team Building", when there are no stalls in the latrines that was missing in 2003-4.
My 27th birthday will always stand out. I was on my first deployment, to a place called Kosovo. I had some growing up to do and the first couple months of the deployment had facilitated that. And I had taken a few much needed lumps and was reminded to get over myself.
I worked for a Major who the local SF team had nicknamed Colonel Kurtz. Kurtz loved the moniker. He was a tough officer who did things his way. He was also a pain in the ass and didn't suffer fools at all, let alone gladly. His personality was often as abrasive as his temper was short. But he was a good officer and I learned a lot from him when I wasn't getting my ass chewed.
Our Civil Affairs team worked in the Russian sector, in Kamenica, Opstina (county). We had a large population of Serbs who lived in isolated pockets in the town and in the Opstina. We worked with them and the local Albanians trying to find a road to normalcy. There was Colonel Kurtz's team, a group of MP's and the SF guys. We were part of a Multinational Alphabet soup, NATO, The UN, UNHCR, USAID and a host of others. There was a multi-national UN Police force that was responsible for law and order and the Russian Army was responsible for security. You haven't lived until you have ridden on top of a Russian BTR Armored Personnel Carrier (APC) on the way to a Civil Disturbance.
We worked out of the UN appropriated Cultural building, which the UN had renamed the Kamenica Information Center. A giant hunk of Communist era architecture. Calling it ugly would be giving it too much credit. It was however, a neat and funky place. UN Offices, a small MP station, UN Police offices, a radio station and a cafe. The cafe was a gathering place and it was not uncommon to have coffee with Russian Army Intel (GRU) guys, U.S. Army Special Forces NCO's, French, British and/or German cops. All of this while being observed by Serbs and Albanians who would report back to their respective intelligence people.
That birthday was unique. Colonel Kurtz and the rest of the team threw me a party. We had locally made pizza and beer (either Effes or Kronenberg). There was a bottle of Serbian Rakia (homemade Slivovitz) and I am sure we all got a little drunk.
Later a Captain we'll call "Snack" and I ended up in the broadcast booth of the radio station. They had Jenny 8675309 and we played it over and over again. Snack had learned enough Albanian that he could say the phone number in Albanian. We thought it was a hoot to kill the music and have him say it into the microphone while broadcasting.
There were translators from the U.N. and beautiful Daniella who worked at the radio station was there too. I learned how to say "two green beautiful eyes". Dve lepa zelena ocha, if you are curious. I reaffirmed the fact that I was a zero with ladies on two continents. I was also an international peacemaker when the pretty translators, Albanian and Serbian sang "happy birthday" to me. Eventually I was packed off to the base to go sleep it off. It was a pretty good birthday.
Yesterday was pretty good too. There won't be any funny stories about my bad signing or inability to impress women on two continents. There was no pizza, I haven't had an Effes in twelve years and Kronenberg in even longer, mercifully. But I was with my family. We were practicing Social Distancing which for us could also be called Saturday. As a family are particularly well suited to it by being homebodies.
Right now people are tense or angry because of the virus. People are scared and there is a lot of near hysteria and plenty of ignorance on display too. In the midst of people hoarding toilet paper and cleaning out super markets, claiming the situation is being blown out of proportion or blaming the President for his response time, I was able to spend a quiet evening with people whom I love and who love me. It was a great birthday.
1LT Colt and SPC Ron Labrecque enjoying a nice cup of local coffee somewhere in Kamenica. Photo: SPC Kathryn Doyle.