Even before John Bolton was confirmed as Secretary of State, the February 2018 attack on the American embassy in Kabul was a destabilizing note on this family.
James, a Foreign Service officer based in Washington, was on his first day in Kabul, Afghanistan, to start his career. He had flown home to Virginia that night with his parents to join his wife, Lauren, and infant son.
It is difficult to quantify the pain of any family member who serves overseas in a chaotic city. She understands the difficulty of her Afghan husband, who has gone through five deployments as a military officer and has no memories of leaving home. She understands what it’s like to go through a long deployment, whether she’s away from her children and mother or not. There’s been the day in Kabul that no one will ever forget.
The wedding in Afghanistan in March 2018. Lauren, who was married to her husband for seven years, was at a friend’s wedding in Uzbekistan when she learned her father had died. She rushed to Kabul, which she’d never been to before, and joined an FSO at a new embassy. They were married. Lauren’s parents went with her, accompanied by an FSO and his wife. Lauren’s parents were in Afghanistan with a host of other members of her family.
On her wedding day, she asked Lauren’s father if he remembered coming back to Tazmania from World War II to visit her mother. “He said that it was better than going to a wedding.” Her father followed up later: “I think you’re going to have a good husband.” It didn’t seem like a joke.
The marriage didn’t last, because the former was a working FSO. James had another deployment to Afghanistan, when he joined Lauren. After that she joined him, so the two have been together for a full military career. They weren’t married until January 2016.
In July 2018, Lauren’s parents were injured while going on a soccer trip in Georgia. They came home for a few weeks, then went back to the United States for a longer trip. They were working in Bagram, the Afghan capital.
James and Lauren went to their fathers in Georgia and talked about making their families close again. They were in Afghanistan when it happened. They immediately started thinking about what would happen if it happened again and how to help the children.
James had been a bouncer, working at a fraternity party, before joining the Foreign Service. He is the firstborn. He is new to the club. He is someone they have never heard of. Their parents worry about the pressures.
“The normal worries,” says Lauren, “of what’s going to happen tomorrow, how are we going to pay our bills, what are we going to feed our children.” Lauren wonders what goodbyes she’ll say. What goodbyes she’ll take a day later. It’s the familiar strains that weigh heavily on all of their minds.
This story has been in development for several months. James and Lauren felt it was their duty to share their story with others who serve their country overseas.
This story is part of American Stories. This is an original feature produced by the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.
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