Thank You Baghdad

NO MIDDLE GROUND

One dark night in 2006, I was sitting at a long table at the Los Angeles Times house in the Green Zone. Across from me sat, Borzou Daragahi, one of the most personable and accomplished reporters of the Baghdad bureaus. Looking at him you would think that he taught political science at some university. When he spoke to you, he was your best friend. He had just finished asking me how I found myself back in Baghdad, when something occurred to him:

“Sylvia, do you know any couples who met in Baghdad, and later got married?”

“Ah… well, no,”

“If you hear of anyone, you let me know, okaay. I want to do a story on them.”

Several members of the Embassy public affairs office joined in the conversation talking about different couples that they knew and their chances for relationship survival.

Borzou, it has taken me a long time, but in way of a belated-Valentine’s Day greeting, I think I might have something for you. I met my husband in Baghdad.

Air Force Colonel, Doctor Jon C. Bowersox entered my life one afternoon in 2005, while I was speed walking down the hallway of the Presidential palace. Jon is my wonderful loving husband now, but when I first met him, I found him rather annoying. I saw him as just another new guy who didn’t know anything, but came to Iraq full of ideas about how to fix everything and win the war. He would drive us all crazy while he attempted to make his mark before realizing that everything he wanted to fix was as fixed as it ever could be.

I simply didn’t have the patience to deal with him.

The fake crystal chandeliers that hung from the impossibly tall ceilings of what always looked to me like a Las Vegas bathroom provided the yellow-tinged mood lighting. Think Amy Adams from the movie Enchanted crossed with Rizzo from Grease, and you’ve got me. Jon, a dashing forty-something guy about four inches taller than me, is not so easy to cast. He is a gentle military man with a steel spine, who lives in his head and saves lives for a living. What Hollywood actor could possibly handle that job description?

Dr. Frank Mahoney, the out-going Embassy Health Attaché, introduced us.

Once we completed the obligatory nice to meet you, he presented me with his business card, and bade me to call him Jon, even though he was a colonel. I was not in a military capacity at the time, and judging from his dark grey suit, it didn’t look like he was either, but I knew that I had to show a colonel respect, whether he wanted it or not.

As the incoming Embassy Health Attaché, Jon was part of the Ambassador’s crew. Which is why he always wore a suit and not a stylish Desert Camouflage Uniform (DCU). He did have a Beretta and the right to use it though.

I noticed that even though he seemed to be an extremely laid back character he was rather nervous, and was shifting his weight from one foot to the other. Concentrating on me, yet looking around, like he was getting ready to take off running.

This wasn’t his first deployment in Iraq.

After a series of false starts and misunderstandings we became buddies. I was assigned to his office as a public affairs advisor; it was my job to ensure that he never got himself into trouble when talking to the press. Working with him was a challenge since he had his own way of doing things. It seemed like I was always mad at him. He would go off with reporters and tell them things he had no business telling them. No matter what he did though, he was always good at justifying it. It drove me mad. But he was kind and kind people were in short supply in Baghdad. After he went home, we stayed in touch. When I got back to the states, he was always there to listen. He understood how difficult it was to fit in back home. All through my struggles with PTSD, he was always there for me, and I was always there for him. We got married in 2009.

Thank you Baghdad.

Sylvia Bowersox first went to Iraq in 2003 as a US Army broadcast journalist. She was stationed in Mosul and Baghdad, but reported from Coalition outposts around the country. A year in Iraq wasn’t enough, so she returned to Baghdad as a civilian, spending almost two years working in the US Embassy as a State Department press officer. Bowersox received her BA in English literature from San Francisco State University, and is currently completing her MA in creative writing at California State University, Chico. She was recently honored by a Pushcart nomination for her nonfiction essay, “This War Can’t be All Bad.” Her nonfiction essay, “The Importance of a Dollar Bill,” has been submitted to the National Associate Writing Program Awards competition. She lives in Chico with her husband Jon, her son Holden, and her service dog Timothy.