While assigned to Springfield, Virginia awaiting our first assignment overseas, the most engaging task for the OC Bandits involved the support of the Office of Security or S.Y. protective details when the Secretary of State traveled on official business.
Cyrus Vance took over for Henry Kissinger in 1977. During his tenure as Secretary of State under President Jimmy Carter, Vance spent much time in the Middle East in support of the Peace Talks. During the period of 1977 to 1980 Vance made over one hundred international trips, many of them to the Middle East. I was involved in several S.Y. details in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Cairo, Riyadh and my first detail in Paris…
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Am Embassy Paris—May 1977
Secretary of State Cyrus Vance had ostensibly flown to Paris to attend the Conference on International Economic Development. Everyone on the protective detail knew that things could turn on a dime given the dynamics of the Peace Talks ongoing in Israel and Egypt.
Ed F., my contact at Am Embassy Paris was a veteran Foreign Service Officer. OC’s bon vivant in Paris, Ed’s ongoing assignment at Paris for several years had been the pinnacle of his career with OC. The devilish-looking New Yorker looked to be in his mid to late forties (I never asked FSO’s their age—it was classified). Ed worked on special radio programs here in Paris. I had no idea what that meant. I assumed Ed didn’t normally get involved with protective details (else why was I there?). Since this was my first international trip I suspected Norm Bates requested Ed to take me under his wings.
My first night in Paris, Ed had invited me to dinner at his girlfriend’s apartment (she was French). My bad luck; I found out that I was allergic to mussels. I broke out with a skin rash. Fortunately, Ed’s girlfriend had some ointment that seemed to work on the rash. Ed chuckled at my discomfort.
The next day I was feeling better, but extra key pieces of my radio equipment hadn’t arrived through the diplomatic pouch yet. That night Ed took me out to an exclusive French restaurant. Since the menu was in French he ordered for both of us. Before the food arrived he started laughing and said, “What happened?”
I peered down. An ink pen had leaked in my white oxford shirt pocket. The waiters saw it and began chatting. I heard Américain uttered several times accompanied by “snot-nosed” looks. “What are they saying, Ed?”
The guy would not stop laughing. Was I that raw of a recruit?
The following morning my electronics gear arrived in the diplomatic pouch. Ed helped me install a radio repeater on the roof of the American embassy. Less than five hundred meters from where French President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing presided over the Élysée Palace, this secure installation would be a slam-dunk. The S.Y. agents who protected Secretary Vance would experience excellent radio commo with their RCA handheld radios. We only needed to perform a drive test to verify the radio coverage.
“But, Of Course!”
Ed enlisted the help of the French dispatcher at the embassy. All the guy had to do was reply, “I hear you,” when we called over the radio. The Frenchman resembled the French actor Maurice Chevalier from the movie, Gigi. He gazed with amusement while Ed explained the test. I added some tips.
We made a quick test with the dispatcher before Ed turned the Renault right, onto the Ave. de Champs-Élysées a few minutes later.
“Dispatch, this is Test One, over,” I said.
“Hello, dispatch, this is Test One, over,” I repeated.
I looked at Ed. Something wasn’t right.
We returned to the embassy. The dispatcher sat in his chair eating a baguette sandwich. Ed, peering at the radio controller, noticed something was awry. “The microphone switch is off,” he said incredulously.
The graying-haired, red-faced, Frenchman lifted his arms with the sandwich still in his grasp and said, “But of course!”
Ed’s humor-drowned smirk gleaned from over twenty years in the Foreign Service dropped off his face. He said to the red-faced dispatcher, “Why did you turn it off?”
Welcome to the Foreign Service
The Frenchman pointed the sandwich at me and said to Ed, “The Américain [as if Ed were French] told me to stop the microphone after I spoke on the radio.”
I moved over and lifted the large microphone. I pointed to the push-to-talk button and said, “I told you to remove your finger from the button after you reply, not turn off the microphone switch.”
Ed spoke French to the dispatcher. When he finished he chuckled before he said to me, “Let’s go grab a baguette at the embassy café. Our dispatcher said they’re almost out. We’d better hurry up.”
“But, of course!” I said, and laughed.
Ed gave me devilish grin that said, “Welcome to the Foreign Service, Américain.”