American Consulate General Karachi | Late October 1977
The two weekend warriors arrived at the Con Gen a little after eight a.m. on Friday, the first day of Am Consul Karachi’s weekend.
The MSG Corporal escorted us up to the RCO office. With no one around the RCO tech offices loomed eerily quiet. Al fired up the coffee machine. My servant Basher had made lunch sandwiches. I put them and Al’s Singha beers in the refrigerator.
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The radio shop overhead florescent lights flickered. No wonder it was so dark. Half the lights were out. I found spare light tubes hidden in a corner.
A few minutes later the extra light exaggerated the mess. At least I could see what I was up against.
Al looked at the debacle and said, “I need a beer.”
I laughed. “Let’s get to work.”
We removed the radio equipment scattered on the floor and piled on large shelves, stowing it temporarily in the adjacent radio office. While I cleared the long repair bench I found the initials “CA” burnt into the wood. No doubt Charles A. had left his mark at RCO Karachi.
I was greatly relieved. Two new IFR test sets on the bench underneath plastic shipping material were operable. The top of the line test sets would allow me to repair the equipment that surrounded me. Al had stocked the radio parts cabinets well (I had no excuses).
RCO Radio | Problem Posts
Another surprise: behind a wall of equipment I found a white board. I cleaned off the outdated entries and grabbed a black marker. After my security violation snafu RCO Roberson had shown more interest in the radio programs. Bob commended us on the “fine report” outlining the current status of each post in our radio programs. But he wanted to go deeper. He came up with the same idea I had pitched to Al. We were to define our area by priority. I wrote down what Bob called the Top 5 problem posts
Bob had directed me to visit these Top 5 posts by the end of November. When the door had shut in the RCO’s wake Al muttered, “OC/PE must have stuck a burr in R.P.R.’s ass.
After Al saw my Top 5 on the white board he got talkative at lunch. During a lull I said, “You’ve been to Beirut.”
My cohort shook his head. “Man, you can’t appreciate the Middle East until you’ve have some raghead point an AK-47 at you and smile.”
Al’s Arab smear wasn’t a slip of his tongue. Racial slurs were pretty high on the list of a Foreign Service Officer’s behavioral no-no’s. My boss in Northern Virginia Norm Bates’ had said, “If you travel to fifty countries, you gotta figure how to get along in each one. Religion, skin color, and language shouldn’t be stumbling blocks.”
I said, “Tell me more about Beirut.”
“Beirut is a bitch,” Al said. “Nobody knows what’s going to happen one day to the next. You have to go through two armed checkpoints to get to the embassy in the Christian sector from the airport. The CRO there, Blake, is a little crazy. He has no regard for his personal safety. He tools around the streets of Beirut at midnight in his old Saab like he’s in Palm Springs. The guy is Cracker Jacks.”
Al shook his head. “You’ll see… Watch yourself over there, huh?”
We spent the rest of lunch discussing the technical needs of the Top 5. Beirut and Cairo took up most of the conversation. I had to admit that on paper Al had a good handle on what was going on in his region. We needed to implement radio repairs. Post visits were essential as radio nets design and installation of mobile radio packages in armored embassy vehicles (i.e. the ambassador’s vehicle) had to be accomplished by us on site. My mentor at OC/PE Norm Bates’ had told me that a radio tech on the road wore many hats: a technician, an engineer, an instructor, a lay psychologist (someone who has no degree), a CRO’s go-to guy, and even a TV repairman.
After lunch the Cairo repair stack loomed the highest. When I lifted the last MT-76 mobile radio for repair I found a journal beneath it. I quickly laid the radio on the bench and opened the journal.
On the first page my predecessor’s name—CHARLES A. stood out in bold capital letters.
Al had gone to the restroom. I mulled over whether I should show the journal to him. Not until I got a chance to look it over. I placed it in my briefcase.
We spent the entire day cleaning and organizing the radio shop room. Some of the equipment on the shelves was either unsalvageable or too old for use. I staged it in the corner for return to OC/PE at SECSTATE.
At around 4:30 p.m. we gazed around the shop. It was beginning to take shape. Al uncapped the Singha beers and handed me one.
I said, “It looks a hell of a lot better all ready. One more day and it’ll be ready for operation.”
Al acted surprised. “You want to come in tomorrow?”
“I’d rather get it finished so I can begin the repair work.”
We tipped our bottles together.
Al said, “Tomorrow morning, 0800 hours.”
I couldn’t wait to get back to my apartment and peruse Charles A.’s journal that had been buried beneath the remnants of the Am Embassy Cairo radio program for who knows how long…