EDITOR'S NOTE: This article appears in the 2022 issue of Achiever Magazine.
The Overseas Marylanders Association (OMA) is an independent organization comprising current and former faculty and staff of UMGC’s overseas operations and civilian international programs. The organization launched a Memoirs Project following the 2018 airing of a documentary on Maryland Public Television—sponsored and produced by UMGC—entitled Over There: The Adventures of Maryland’s Traveling Faculty.
Four members of the organization were honored in 2019 for their “longstanding meritorious service and leadership in support of the public mission of the University of Maryland Global Campus” and conferred the honorary title of vice president emerita, Overseas Programs: Joe Arden, John Golembe, Julian Jones, and Paula Harbecke.
Today, OMA’s Memoirs Project includes more than 150 entries, many of which underscore consistent themes that have united and guided the institution for 75 years—a willingness to innovate and think outside the box; flexibility and openness to change; a can-do spirit; and a commitment to students and meeting them where they are.
The following are excerpts from some of the most memorable entries.
JOE ARDEN (FACULTY, ADMINISTRATOR, 1967–2007): Upon arrival [at Long Binh, in Vietnam, then the largest Army base in the world] in 1968, the “housing” officer escorted me to my BOQ room which was in a large tent with 10–15 cots lined up/down both sides of the enclosure. There was literally no space to prepare my classes. So, I contacted the Education Service Officer (ESO), a woman named Maud Burris who had arrived in Japan in 1946 with McArthur's Occupying Forces. . . . I was hoping, of course, that she might make some suggestion for how/where I could prepare my classes.
She came, viewed the arrangement, and said, “Please come with me, young man.” So, off we went to her Education Center in a nearby Quonset hut. [H]er office was in a small space at the rear of the hut. She asked whether I would like to live in her office, and I quickly replied, “Yes, Ms. Burris, with pleasure.” So, she moved her papers to the outer general area and requisitioned a cot from somewhere. For the ensuing eight-week term, I lived in her office. Worked out fine.
MICHAEL DENISON (FACULTY, 1986–97): I flew into Cairo from Frankfurt and was told that I would have to take a bus cross country to get to my teaching site, the North Sinai camp. Fortunately, there was a small cargo plane heading that way.
The site itself was manned by the MFO, the Multi-National Force & Observers, a consortium of UN peacekeepers, including some from France, Scotland, and the Fiji Islands, among other countries. The Scots hosted a “Bobby Burns Night” party with haggis for all who wanted to try it, and the French celebrated their Bastille Day with a contest featuring a bottle of champagne as the prize. . . . The soldiers from the Fiji Islands were housed in a separate area and started early each day with beautiful choral singing that was loud enough to be heard throughout the camp.
One of my students was a helicopter pilot and she said she would be absent from class one day, but if we looked out the window at exactly a certain time, she would be in the air and would “waggle” her helicopter at us, which she did. Another student, giving a demonstration speech, took the whole class inside a nearby Chinook helicopter and showed us where everything was stored. [It was] definitely the largest audio-visual aid ever used in one of my classes.
PAULINE FRY (FACULTY, STAFF 1974–2014): After an eight-week term teaching in Tehran (January–early March 1977), I was offered an unusual assignment: meet a submarine, then teach its sailors English 102: Introduction to Literature.
The submarine was due to surface in early April, out of sync with the regularly scheduled Maryland classes, so I’d be teaching a condensed six-week course, twice a week for three hours, plus two Saturdays.
La Maddalena, one of seven islands in the archipelago off Sardinia, was home to the American Naval Support Activity (NSA). . . . I would meet the submarine sailors who would be my students. Once again, University of Maryland was—literally—fulfilling its mission of going to the troops to offer them education, its initial goal when University of Maryland’s European Division was founded in 1949.
Those days of travel! If we weren’t booked on a military transport, flights were not cheap, unless one booked an inconvenient hour. On a Saturday, I flew from Paris to Rome, then took a night flight from Rome to Olbia, arriving after 9 p.m. From Olbia, I’d take a ferry to La Maddalena, find a hotel, and show up at the Education Center on Monday morning. That was my youthful plan.
On the plane to Olbia, I learned otherwise. A well-dressed Italian gentleman was in the seat next to me. Politely, he asked if I were on vacation.
“Oh no,” I replied, “I am coming to Sardinia to teach.”
He spoke careful English. “At the University of Cagliari?”
I had no idea where Cagliari was. “No, La Maddalena.”
Then it dawned on him. “You are teaching Americans at the base there? But it is very small. Perhaps you mean San Stefano?” He looked at his watch, then at me. “You can’t get to either island tonight. The ferries have stopped running. Have you booked a hotel near the airport?”
Of course I hadn’t booked a hotel. I was teaching for Maryland and had gotten used to hopping on trains—once after one had already pulled out of the station—arriving in unknown places, and usually, finally, figuring things out.
I started to be a little suspicious. Was this well-dressed Italian a travel agent? Or trying to make a move? Yet he seemed genuinely concerned.
“No, I haven’t booked a hotel yet,” I responded. Silence. What was he thinking?
“The best way,” he finally replied, “is you come home with me.”
The lights dimmed as the plane was about to land. I couldn’t speak.
“My wife and daughters will be happy to meet you,” he added.
That is how I ended up on the Costa Smeralda—The Emerald Coast—at the stunning estate of the Aga Khan. The estate manager, I’ll call him Signore Osti, lived on the same property as the Aga Khan’s Le Cerbiatte (The Fawns), a huge villa set on a wide lawn rolling down to the sea and dotted with perfectly manicured gardens.
The Ostis’ house shared the same view, which I’d appreciate the next day. It was dark when his driver left us at the front door and a lovely woman opened it as two young girls rushed out.
“Papa!” We were home.
What an introduction to Sardinia! I was shown into the luxurious guest suite, then asked to come back to the kitchen for an informal supper. Over a seafood pasta and white wine, the Ostis explained to me the Costa Smeralda. Karim Aga Khan made an initial investment in the early ʼ60s to develop the northern part of the island. He made laws on what building materials could be used for new villas; ensured that power lines were buried underground; and set up the area’s own fire brigade, rubbish collection, and security guards. He attracted established (read: rich) Italian families and developed Porto Cervo, Costa Smeralda’s central town and port.
I woke up at dawn, opened the French doors on to a private terrace and a sweeping view of green lawns and emerald water, studded by banks of flowers. . . .
Fourteen sailors, underwater for longer than I cared to think about, were now on land, and about to embark on a new voyage: Introduction to Literature. As they came into the classroom on a Tuesday afternoon (class was held from 5:30–8 p.m. Tues./Thurs.), the textbooks hadn’t yet arrived. Cleverly, I’d xeroxed copies of a poem, which would give students an introduction to our class.
“This is a poem written by Frances Darwin Cornford,” I began. “The Guitarist Tunes Up.”
As I hoped, a lively discussion ensued. Which words stand out? We worked up to simile, “over his instrument . . . / as a man with a loved woman might /”
This was too much for Randy, the first of the students’ names I’d remember forever.
“Ma’am, excuse me, but this isn’t right! A guitar is a guitar. A woman is a woman, but he’s playing his guitar.” Randy didn’t go for the simile. He added, “I play the guitar; it ain’t like no woman!”
NANCY DERR (FACULTY, 1971–77): The most intense assignment I had in the early ’70s was teaching aboard the USS Canopus, a ship that was moored off the west coast of Scotland. It was the mother ship for the Polaris submarine fleet which patrolled the North Atlantic and North Sea. Nuclear-powered submarines could enter Holy Loch at ocean depth and surface alongside the Canopus for repair and for R & R for the crews.
The long pier to catch the boat to get to the ship was set into a tiny community called Sandbank, where I lived. The weather in Sandbank changed dozens of times a day because of the way that the loch fit in between the mountain ranges. Winds rushed down two valleys to meet over the loch in wild confusion. It rained up your nose or in your ears, hardly ever down. . . .
Heavy fogs of deep winter meant that sailors couldn’t get shore leave, since only a boat with radar could make it to the ship, and that was the officers’ motorboat, the OMB. Sometimes I was the only passenger, and in those cases the OMB pilot helped me over to the base of the ramp.
That transit to the ship was a liminal space, a rite of passage. Hierarchies got simplified. It was beautiful in good weather, and I bought stationery with the picture of the ship, calm on a blue loch—but how rare were those quiet skies! Usually the approach was so challenging that the classes I met on the ship—escorted to them by a Marine, down many a ladder—were far more meaningful than classes on land.
NANCY DERR: In late August of 1971 I arrived in Izmir, a new employee of the University of Maryland [Global Campus], to teach enlisted personnel at the NATO installation there.
One of my students in that first class had a severe disability. A corpsman and the student’s father brought him in lying flat on a gurney and tried to position him so that he could see me. He was 19. The year before, in Texas, he had dived off a cliff into a river that turned out to be shallow: he broke his neck and damaged his spinal cord. He could not move, but he could whisper. His father listened to him and repeated what he wanted to say. His father was a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force who had brought his wife and son with him to his assignment in Izmir.
I began going to this family’s quarters, in order to give my student quizzes and to include him in three-way discussions with his father and me. I learned that his father was stationed in Vietnam in ’69–70. He was bemused by President Nixon’s denial of the bombing of Cambodia, which, he said, he had personally done. To whom was he lying? He was the first of many people I would meet who had fought in Vietnam, and I was grateful for his candor. His son listened to us avidly, propped up so that he could be fed and could see us better.
The son did well in the class, yet his chances for the future were starkly limited. His airway had to be cleared often, and he suffered from contact sores. Yet the father was determined that his son know the gratification of a challenge, of studying American history in college. I’m grateful I was his teacher.
STEVEN HOLOWENZAK was the first overseas faculty member to be honored as professor emeritus by UMGC. His 32 years overseas with the university included 25 years of classroom teaching on 125 military bases in 25 countries. He called it a “marvelous experience . . . and a wonderful life journey.”
ALEXANDER BOERINGA (FACULTY, 2001–09): Before moving to Europe, I had taught graduate, undergraduate, and medical school students, but hands down, the politest and most fun students I have encountered were those I met through [UMGC]. Whenever I congratulated a student on a good grade or paper, one of the most common responses I received was, “Well, why wouldn’t I do my best? This is my one chance to obtain an education and move ahead in life.”
AARON GEWIRTZ (FACULTY, 1985–2013): Classes at Yongsan were fairly large and were made up of a mix of American military members and dependents, civilian employees, and some Korean local nationals. In Korea, local nationals could take Maryland classes. Many of the Korean students at Yongsan were extremely sharp and usually wound up at the top of the class. Some already had an undergraduate degree from a Korean university and were taking Maryland business courses as prerequisites for MBA degrees they would be pursuing in the U.S.
While the Korean students could speak English quite well, it was not uncommon for instructors to allow them to have a Korean/English dictionary when taking exams. During a marketing exam, I noticed the Korean students were busy thumbing through their dictionaries. I stopped the exam and asked what the problem was; did they need a word translated that was not in their dictionary? One student raised her hand and asked, “What does ‘Chevrolet Camaroʼ mean?” None of them knew what that was, and it was not listed in their dictionaries.
Also at Yongsan, I had told the students in one of my classes that I was engaged to marry a Korean woman. One of the young Korean women took me aside after class and asked if she could meet this woman I was planning to marry, perhaps for lunch. She would not tell me why, and I thought it was a rather strange request.
I asked my wife-to-be what she thought. She was very curious and agreed to meet with her. We met for lunch and the student asked me to leave while she and Soonja talked for a while. She later explained to both of us that she wanted to be sure that I was not being taken in by one of the Korean bar girls who just wanted to marry an American to obtain U.S. citizenship. She gave me her seal of approval!
DAVID GLASER (FACULTY, ADMINISTRATOR, 1968–2006): When the director of the Asian program came to Misawa, Japan, and told me of my next teaching assignment in the fall of 1977, it was only mildly surprising. We would begin a program in Australia.
Getting there involved one of the more memorable Maryland commutes. I would first travel by train from Misawa to Tokyo. Then I would board a plane at Yokota airbase and fly to Hawaii. In Hawaii, I would transfer to a military aircraft flying to the Samoan Islands. There an Australian military plane would fly me to Sydney. In Sydney, one boarded the Indian Pacific express for a four-day journey across Nullarbor Plain and the Australian continent to Perth. In Perth, a military C-12 would fly me 789 miles north to the Harold E. Holt. I was just another academic carpet-bagger with notes for American Government 170 and American History 156 in hand.
LISA HENKEL (STAFF, ADMINISTRATOR, 1999–2022): The boardwalk was the center of off-duty life in Kandahar. Essentially it was a giant dirt field ringed with a dozen kiosks including the barber shop, a coffee stand, ATM machines, a cyber café, and a hockey rink. Off-duty Canadian forces built the rink and, while it didn’t have ice, ball hockey games were the highlight of the night.
The boardwalk had no cover, so when the ceremony started we were sitting in the blistering hot sun. The base commander, Brigadier General [Kristin] French, gave the keynote address, and Dr. Berg handed out diplomas and shook hands with the soldiers as they crossed the stage, dusty combat boots beneath their caps and gowns, M4 rifles slung across their backs, smiling from ear to ear.
After the ceremony, as people were congratulating the graduates and filling their paper plates with sandwiches, chicken wings, and potato salad, the unmistakable sound of an alarm shrilled through the compound. People dove into bunkers, graduates holding onto their mortarboards with one hand and their lunch trays with the other.
Dr. Berg and I ended up in a bunker with about 15 others, including General French and several members of her staff. Captain Patrick Hopple, a guardsman from Miami who sang the national anthem just 40 minutes earlier, was there. It turns out he sang in an a cappella group that opened for my nephew's group six years ago in Boston. We took a picture together on my Blackberry. I met Staff Sergeant Dan Deiler in that bunker. Being from Wisconsin I had spotted his distinctive green and gold Packer themed helmet, and in the bunker that helmet was resting at his feet.
Some guys had casually resumed eating their lunch like it was just another in a cafeteria. Mine was covered with a layer of bunker dirt, but I wouldn’t have been able to eat it anyway since my stomach was in knots. Every 90 seconds or so the chatter would be briefly drowned out by the sound of incoming rockets. When the all-clear finally sounded, we grabbed our plates and caps and gowns and filed back out into the heat.
Within 30 minutes everything was back to normal, or as normal as anything ever really is in a combat zone. I will always consider it a blessing that I was in Kandahar on that May afternoon to bear witness to such a uniquely [UMGC] graduation, one where in the blink of an eye graduates turn back into soldiers, and guest speakers turn back into commanders. It was a ceremony where you don't just hear a speaker talk about heroes, but one where they surround you.
JULIAN JONES (FACULTY, ADMINISTRATOR, 1969–97): Vladimir Saunin outlined the program we developed in last night’s riotous banquet. He was careful to describe it in tentative terms, always asking me if he had understood correctly. Irkutsk and Maryland would field a dual degree program.
The question of the program’s cost came up, and I could only explain what courses cost in the military program and note that travel and administrative expenses would increase these figures. The Soviet side seemed taken aback by the dollar figure I suggested. The next day, my final full day in Irkutsk, they responded with some ideas: Would we accept iron ore and timber products to cover some of the costs? And could rubles rather than dollars be used for others?
The Russian programs survived the end of the Soviet Union, a change from face-to-face to online classes and the vicissitudes of Russian-U.S. relations. Irkutsk State University built a noted Russian-American Management Institute. I felt privileged returning to Vladivostok in 2017 to award degrees and celebrate the program’s 25th anniversary.
Two years later, University of Maryland University College changed its name to University of Maryland Global Campus. The new name encompassed both its worldwide military programs and the new international connections Joe Arden and I imagined so many years earlier.
JANE McHAN (FACULTY, ADMINISTRATOR, 1986–2021): Teaching and administrative work with [UMGC] for 25 years was an important part of my life. . . . Without a doubt, the best part was working with and getting to know faculty. . . .
We had a new art professor at Heidelberg, and she wanted permission to have a nude model for one evening class. No one was aware that this had ever been done. She agreed to permit any students who might be opposed to it to have an assignment at home that evening. To be sure, I dreaded any complaints.
The morning after, I arrived at my office and the first thing said to me was, “You have an urgent call from a student about last night’s nude model in the art class.”
I took a deep breath, called the number, and the student said, “There was a nude model in the art class in Heidelberg High School last night.”
“Yes,” I said.
He said, “Well, ma’am, we are in the math class across the hall, and we want one in our class.”
HUGO KEESING (FACULTY, ADMINISTRATOR, 1970–1991): After being deposited at Marmara Hall and leaving my luggage in my BOQ room, I went to meet the base Education Services Officer, Bill Berlin. Bill had a reputation for liking Maryland instructors and filling classes. He wasted no time explaining his methods. All incoming personnel were subject to his mandatory briefing on the values of a college education. Bill used charts and numbers to extoll promotion rates, post-military employment, and the like. Without being explicit, he also made clear to me that he expected all of “his” students to get at least passing grades.
When I met the first of my three psychology classes a day later to go over the syllabus, course requirements, etc., I encountered an unexpected problem. With the military working in the base’s “elephant cage” assigned to duty “flights,” they would miss significant class time when their work shift overlapped my teaching hours. My solution was to require that those affected would take the course as a “learning pair.” An Able flight student could pair with either a Baker or Charlie so that one of the two was always in attendance. They were expected to work out how to divide readings, share notes, and complete assignments. They would take the open-book mid-term and final exam together, with only one answer permitted from the two of them. I briefed Bill on my unorthodox solution, explaining that as a psychologist I knew what I was doing [not really]. He had no objection, especially after I told him this would be the best way to ensure that all students could complete my classes.
Term IV went smoothly. After the midterm, students quickly concluded that two heads were not necessarily better than one. Agreeing on a single answer to a question involved trust, compromise, communication skills, and other traits required in small group work. In some ways this “fix” to a scheduling problem presaged a learning environment that would become commonplace 30 years later. This hoped for [for me] but unexpected [for them] outcome of the psychology courses was possibly the most important learning students took away. The term ended with no student incompletes or drops. I think everyone passed and student feedback was good. Bill Berlin was happy and asked to have me back Term IV, 1972–73. Therefore it was a pleasure to return to my favorite installation a year later.
BARBARA DOW NUCCI (FACULTY, 1978–2007): I was teaching for the University of Maryland in Europe, Naples Program, and my students were primarily active-duty American military. Most of them had never been abroad before and an assignment to Naples seemed exciting, but perhaps not to all, as the city had an extremely negative reputation as being dirty and unsafe. The schools, the hospital, the church, the PX and Commissary, and some of the office buildings were all located on a support site at Gricignano, a small town located 20 miles from the center of the city of Naples. Everything they needed was inside this walled town. The orientation class was full of warnings, such as avoid eating gelato or mozzarella as both are made with unpasteurized milk.
The first-level Italian course these students had enrolled in consisted of 16 three-hour evening classes over a period of eight weeks, not an ideal schedule for learning a language.
In-class time was important but, following my belief that language is a vehicle of culture, I knew that my students would greatly benefit by direct experience of Neapolitan life. I modified the class schedule to allow for two all-day Saturday field trips during which they could practice their growing language skills and observe Italian culture firsthand.
I handed out the itinerary and a map of the area we would be exploring. The walk from the Montesanto Station to the historic center of the city was a lively slice of Neapolitan life: narrow alleyways with cars pressing shoppers onto the already crowded sidewalks; horns honking; shops of every kind spilling their merchandise almost into the street; harried housewives yanking along large carts full of the day’s food shopping; tables of dripping whole fish; coffee bars exuding aromas of steamy espresso and freshly baked pastries; pajamas and tablecloths hanging from the doorways; shoeboxes stacked against the wall, a sample shoe on top; peddlers wheeling carts strung with socks and underwear; rainbows of fruits and vegetables piled precariously high on sidewalk tables. The cries of the vendors, the loud voices of the crowd, the frequent bursts of song were deafening!
We then made our way through the crowds to the Decumanus Maior, the main avenue of three primary streets of the ancient Greek grid plan, whose original streets, I reminded them, lie but 20 feet below the modern cobblestones. I wanted my students to FEEL the layers of history of this amazing city. Naples was founded in the 6th century B.C. to become a huge commercial port and remained Greek in language and culture long after the Romans took control. There followed a series of dynasties, each adding its own styles and traditions.
Next on the itinerary were the excavations of the Roman market of the 1st century A.D., once the Greek agora, discovered in the 1970s under the lovely 13th-century Gothic church of San Lorenzo. Down flights of steel stairways, we came upon narrow streets lined with brick-walled shops—a bakery, a dye shop, a tax office. I asked my students to imagine these underground alleys and stores just as full of vendors, shoppers, and excitement as we had found on the streets now above us.
We next visited Napoli Sotterranea, or Underground Naples. By narrow stone steps, we descended 15 stories into the earth, and came upon a tufo quarry (in English, tuff, a yellow volcanic stone) where marks of the chisels used to cut out the building blocks for the original Greek city are still evident. These huge underground quarries eventually became water cisterns and later part of the vast system of Roman aqueducts bringing fresh water into the city from the mountains to the east. This water supply was used by the city until the late 19th century, when a cholera epidemic caused its shutdown, and the cisterns were not utilized again until they became air raid shelters during the heavy bombardments by the Allied Forces in 1943.
At our next class, two students could hardly wait to tell me that they had taken their families plus some neighbors to Greco-Roman Naples on Sunday and had retraced our itinerary all the way. They had had new experiences, practiced Italian phrases, and observed Italian etiquette! I smiled to myself and thought, Mission accomplished.
MARIAGRAZIA WALKER (FACULTY, 1978–94): In January 1990, I received my new assignment from Julian Jones: Marine Biology at Kwajalein that coming summer! I was so excited!! I was going to the largest atoll in the world!
Kwajalein Atoll is located in the Marshall Islands, approximately halfway between Honolulu and Manila. On the reef enclosing the lagoon are about 100 small islands. Kwajalein is one of the three largest islands in the atoll and the home of a large U.S. Army base.
Dr. Jones added that most of my students were working for Lincoln Lab, the prestigious lab from MIT.
My marine biology friends asked me to keep my eyes open for signs of deformity in marine animals, since Kwajalein is close to Enewetak and Bikini islands, sites of atomic bombs tests. I was happy to report that we did not see any sign of body deformity.
I flew from Kadena to Kwajalein on an Air Force 141, a big military cargo plane with seats facing the rear of the aircraft.
Madelain Westermann, UMAD representative on site, met me at the airport and took me to a trailer, my home on “Kawj.” The place was simple but had everything I needed. The most interesting feature was the toilet’s water tank. Water pumped from the ocean was used to flush the toilet since fresh water was a precious commodity brought in by ship. I taught in the evening, and I used the morning to prepare the lesson, walk the beach, and pick up ocean life to bring to class. To keep the animals alive, I placed them in the toilet tank. After class I took them back to the ocean. Often we started class with a lecture in the classroom and continued on the reef.
Kwajalein was the site of a battle during WWII. The U.S. Army won the battle and in 1944 captured the island from the Japanese. The bombing left big holes on the reef. Over the years, life settled there, and they became tidepools, teaming with life, our gorgeous aquaria!
I taught marine biology on other tropical islands, but none had such a great lab!
LUCIA WORTHINGTON (FACULTY, 1991–2014): The First Gulf War started during our orientation in Japan. Some faculty old timers had somber looks—they heard it in the engines of planes leaving. Soon there would be no C-141s as cargo planes left the airbase for the Middle East. They would return only when the war was over the following February. Months later at another meeting at Yokota AB, Julian Jones listened and then announced to us all, “The war must be over; the planes are coming back.” He was correct.
One of the highlights of the Tokyo orientation was the grand welcome celebration at the Black Tea House—a converted grist mill outside of Tokyo. . . . One of the foods presented with great ceremony were tiny bite size crabs in their shell. Julian said they tasted crunchy like popcorn and encouraged us to try them. At the end of the evening, he asked who had eaten them whole. Some of us, including me, raised our hands. Julian smiled and told us that those who tried eating them whole had the adventurous spirt to meet the challenges of teaching in the Asian Division. I passed the test. It was true for me.
NICK ZOA (FACULTY, 1980–2015): Before flying to Afghanistan, I spent a week on a U.S. Army base in Germany where I was trained on important survival skills, such as: How to put on IBA (Interceptor Body Armor), how to treat punctured lungs and arterial bleeding, what to do when one encounters an IED (Improvised Explosive Device), and how to extract oneself from an overturned MRAP (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected) vehicle. I also learned a lot of military acronyms.
I participated in workshops and simulated exercises about what to do if captured by a hostile force. Depending on who my captors were, I was instructed to wait patiently for my rescue, work covertly with other prisoners to attempt escape, or pray for a nonviolent death that didn’t involve torture. I was also issued a bag of potent earplugs and told that I would need them.
Military Airlift Command (MAC) was how I travelled from base to base within Afghanistan. To prevent planes from being shot at while departing or arriving on base, there was no schedule. To go from Kabul to Sharana, I went to the airfield and put my name on a list. Then, on a day when there might be a flight to Sharana, I donned my helmet and IBA, reported to the terminal and settled in for what I was told would be a wait of between 15 minutes and 15 hours.
After several hours, my flight was ready to depart. Thankfully, I was awake enough to hear the announcement. The soldiers and I grabbed our gear and marched across the tarmac into a plane whose giant propellers were already spinning. Boarding 100 passengers took about five minutes. There were no boarding passes, seat assignments, or metal detectors. I was the only unarmed passenger. The plane started rolling as the door closed. Once in the air, I was glad to be wearing my IBA. It kept me warm in the unheated C-5.
I heard seasoned troops tell new arrivals that the best way to get through a 14-month deployment was to sleep 12 hours a day. That way, 14 months in Afghanistan would feel like seven. . . . More than one of my students told me that their classes with Maryland were the only thing keeping them sane.
I taught astronomy at FOB Sharana, elevation 2,237 meters. One of the benefits of being stationed on a U.S. military base in a war zone is that every light source is blacked out at night to prevent the enemy from being able to target weapons at the base. On cloudless nights, the combination of Sharana’s altitude; the cold, dry air; and no light pollution enabled fabulous star gazing. I asked my students to bring to class any telescopes or binoculars that they might have. The night-vision military hardware that showed up that evening was powerful enough to see Titan orbiting Saturn and the Andromeda Galaxy. Thanks to some good timing, we started class one evening with a stunning lunar eclipse rising over the snow-capped Hindu Kush.