People are people, no matter where you are

  • Published
  • By Maj. Sabrina Jones
  • 341st Force Support Squadron
During my 19 years of military service I have lived in six different states and the Netherlands for at least one year. I've also deployed to four different countries where I worked in a joint environment and supervised or mentored local nationals. The people I lived and worked with ranged in age from 18 to 60, and were of various ethnic and cultural backgrounds and held a myriad of religious beliefs. The one thing I discovered is, at the basic level, people are people and by and large they are good.

Amongst the numerous good people I met were the Dutch. I was stationed in the Netherlands on a Dutch Air Base when the planes hit the Twin Towers on Sept. 11, 2001. Like the rest of the Air Force, we increased our FPCON level, implemented 24/7 guarding of our buildings for several days, and it was several hours before anyone went home. Our 150 or so Airmen and their families lived in approximately 30 towns in the vicinity of the base as there was no base housing. Dutch neighbors of many of the families checked in on them to ensure they were okay and provided their condolences for such a horrible act. The Dutch had always made us feel welcome by inviting us to be a part of their communities.

I played on a local fast pitch softball team and some of the guys played on baseball teams. We were invited to special events like Christmas parties. The generosity of the Dutch, especially on 9/11, made a lasting impression because they reached out, just as I know people in the United States do all the time when tragedy strikes.

Fast forward a few years to 2009 when I was deployed to Afghanistan in the role of mentor to leaders in an Afghan Army Brigade. There I was in an Islamic country where one hears of the strict adherence to Islam, a religion many of us are unfamiliar with but know is different than what many Americans follow, and where the culture is quite different than American culture. I was a bit nervous, especially being a female. However, I had little to worry about from the friendly Afghan interpreters and officers with whom I worked.

The interpreters were mostly in their late teens or early twenties and reminded me in many ways of our Airmen in the same age range. They liked music, movies, sleep and were willing to risk their lives for their country. Some might say their goal was to get visas to the U.S., but when I asked what they would do in the U.S., besides getting an education, many said they would go back to Afghanistan as interpreters for the U.S. so they could continue to help their country. They were always very generous and ready to share their culture with us, especially food.

Speaking of culture, one misunderstanding I developed while in Afghanistan concerned dogs. Upon my arrival to the brigade there was a dog Airmen had befriended on the Afghan part of the Forward Operating Base where we worked. However, he had not been trained and was causing some problems. One day when the Afghan commander was addressing his troops about a serious issue in an outdoor venue, the dog walked across the stage three times. My boss had enough and wanted the dog gone by the end of the day. I was under the impression Afghans did not like dogs and so was quite upset since I thought the dog would have to be killed. When I approached the Afghan operations officer about the problem, he immediately asked around and found a home for the dog. It turned out Afghans don't mind dogs, and his willingness to help with this problem on the spot obviously left a positive impression. I still stay in touch with some of the interpreters via Facebook.

These are just a couple of examples of the many people I have encountered in my travels. Often the benefits we receive in the military and the job and leadership experience we acquire is what we tout to others. But, I think the experience we get by living and working with others from across the U.S and around the world is amongst our greatest rewards.