A voice from the Green Zone reminisces about Carson City
The connection was so clear that at first I didn’t believe that Micki Larson-Olsen was speaking to me from inside the Green Zone in Baghdad.
It was 7:10 p.m. there (9:10 a.m. here), and she’d just finished up her 12-hour work day. But the Air Force Master Sergeant was ready to reminisce about growing up in Carson City and to talk about her perspective of what it’s like to serve in Iraq.
It was an interview set up by the military as a way to give “a hometown perspective of everything that is going on in regards to the war in Iraq.” That’s a tall order for a short interview, but I just liked the novelty of catching up with someone who’d grown up here and was now more than 7,000 miles away in a war zone (not to mention the fact that I wouldn’t have to pay the long distance bill).
The distance hasn’t dulled her memories of Northern Nevada. She grew up on Molly Drive, played softball with the Bobby Sox and worked at the A&W then owned by Pete Livermore, where she earned the nickname “Helen Keller.” She remembers it coming after dropping a tray with eight mugs, “because I am a klutz.”
She knew at age 7 she was going to join the Air Force, the branch her grandfather had served with (“I didn’t know there was any other branch when I was a kid.”) She joined at age 19 and, now 38, she’s seen the world. It’s her seventh deployment (her sixth to the Middle East) but her first time in Iraq, where she’s been for five months. This deployment is scheduled to end sometime next month.
She’s been married for 11 years and has a 13-year-old son and 7-year-old daughter. Her family calls Abilene, Texas, home now.
“I miss A & W burgers, I miss my family, obviously. I have a lot of family out there in Carson and Dayton.”
Among them are her parents, Larry Larson and Doreen Wacker. Both say they worry about her constantly but support her completely.
In Iraq, her job is helping to supply the Iraqi police force from six different warehouses. The gear is then delivered by contractors to any of about 200 locations. She’s not out there with a rifle on patrol, and seldom leaves the secure Green Zone, so she feels safe.
But safety is not something the Iraqi people enjoy, she said. Insurgents, who hide among the civilian population, routinely leave threatening notes on the doors of Iraqis who help or support the Americans.
“Insurgents don’t have rules … they don’t care who they kill, they don’t care if it’s a 3-year-old baby girl,” she said.
She’s held one of those notes and says she knows the threat is real. She talked to a general in the Iraqi military whose two sons had been murdered. Three other Iraqis she knows have had friends killed. One of them was a 21-year-old interpreter who was the sole provider for his family of five brothers and sisters.
“They were terrorized constantly,” she said.
“Somehow Iraqi people find the bravery,” she said. “I don’t know where they get it from.”
The tactics of insurgents have also made it a tough fight for U.S. troops, but one that, from her perspective, is going well.
She compared it to a boxing match where one person can kick and hit below the belt.
That doesn’t mean that’s the way we should fight, she said. It is our responsibility to fight by rules of engagement, she said, and to preserve innocent life.
“They get to fight dirty, but we have a responsibility to our country to come out the better and bring about peace in the best possible way.”
As the clock ticked down on our conversation, she began to talk about her views on the presidential candidates, or at least one of them, when I heard a strong “ahem” in the background. There are some subjects off limits to active military, at least when they’re talking to the editor of their hometown newspaper.
But maybe you can ask her for yourself.
She hasn’t been home to Carson for the holidays since 1992, but this year she intends to make the trip. She wants to take her kids to the same sledding hills where she had so much fun growing up.
• Barry Ginter is editor of the Appeal. You can reach him at 881-1221 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org