When Cubs fans celebrated outside her home during last Fall’s playoff season, Rebecca experienced a rush of memories created from her time working as a CIA analyst in the Middle East. She was on edge more than a couple times when, out of nowhere, loud bursts of firecrackers exploded outside her Chicago home. The cacophony of explosives reminded her of working in Afghanistan starting in the late 1990’s.
So how did a newly married woman from the Midwest suddenly find herself working overseas in the Middle East as an analyst for the federal government?
One day, while finishing her degree at Georgetown University, and wanting to put her study of the Russian language to good use, Rebecca took a walk down to the college career center.
There she came across a dusty binder from the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency and was intrigued by (or felt sorry for) its ignored position on the shelves. Rebecca’s curiosity grew when she learned more about the CIA from her in-laws’ neighbor, who lived in the D.C. area, and who was able to fill her in on more specific details about the job itself.
After numerous interviews along with polygraph and psychological testing, Rebecca was cleared for employment as a CIA analyst. With a new Master of Arts degree in her right hand and a brand-new wedding ring on the left, Rebecca decided it was time to take off and see the world while working on diplomatic missions.
Initially, she and co-workers traveled to Pakistan for few weeks, first arriving at the American Embassy. It was when they entered commissary to stock up on supplies that they heard their first earsplitting “Boom!” The Pakistani Nationals warned Rebecca and the others to immediately return to main embassy due to a rocket attack. Eerily, the local workers stayed in their places at the commissary – unfazed by the commotion as it was commonplace for them.
After 9/11 Rebecca traveled to Afghanistan and experienced rocket attacks and shootings on a daily basis. Naturally, the first explosion they experienced was awful. But their work was fast paced and they rapidly lost their inclination to worry about the volatile background. Instead, the CIA staff became conditioned to flying and landing in danger zones. When the pilots used defensive measures to land so they wouldn’t get hit by a missile, Rebecca and her cohort learned to ignore the hazards and focus on their written assignments -- while reassuring the accompanying American journalists that they needn’t worry.
Meanwhile, Rebecca’s new husband put up a brave front back in the States, spending his time comforting Rebecca’s parents that she would return home safely. He had his own life upended by having his new wife gone for weeks at a time. Even small details were frustrating such as when a secure phone was installed in their bedroom at home and he had to leave the room at all hours of night in order to let Rebecca have confidential communications from CIA superiors.
Although back in the U.S. for years now, Rebecca has a tendency to assume the worst when she hears abrupt outbursts. Headlong and piercing noises will bring back memories of being in Afghanistan and Iran. Thankfully, she has a different mindset these days, though Rebecca still gets a bit jumpy when others are reveling. When the Blue Angels practice in August for the annual Air and Water Show, she’s more mindful of a sudden loud burst of sound as they shoot through the air past her downtown office building.
Except this year she’ll be well prepared for the Cubbies fans’ celebrations – last season gave her tremendous practice. Bring on the revelry.