Duty Calls: Chapter 1 of Dead Cow Road - Life on the Front Lines of an International Crisis.

Author:Wentling, Mark
Position:Diplomats Who Are Writers - Excerpt

March/April 2017

The famine had already killed tens of thousands. The Somali landscape was littered with ragged lumps of human scraps. Death by hunger had reduced once robust human beings to bare bones and flakes of flesh. Thousands more slipped silently into death's final embrace before dissolving into a dusty nothingness. For the first time in history, this wretched spectacle was televised live, shocking people in the comfort of their living rooms with never imagined scenes of the worst kind of human misery. The public outcry engendered by these horrific images insisted on swift action to rid the Earth of this nightmare. The world was weary of witnessing the heart-sickening scenes unfolding in Somalia.

On the other side of the world, Ray Read was enjoying his second cup of coffee and another glazed donut in the basement snack bar of the State Department. This middle-aged American was dressed in his favorite pin-striped suit and tie as he tried his best to fit into the glamorous world of U.S. diplomacy. Over his twenty-five years in the U.S. Foreign Service he had worked hard to blend in and learn to do the walk and talk of a high performing officer. He wanted to do all he could to obscure his humble Midwest beginnings on a hard-scrabble farm and cover up his introverted nature. Deep down, he knew himself as an introverted loner and a self-made man who had had the good fortune to transcend his natural grain so he could enjoy a successful career in the U.S. Foreign Service.

As he munched his donut, Ray paid no attention to the horrid TV images because he was focused on his own predicament. His U.S. Foreign Service career was in limbo. His assignment to Angola had been voided by the renewal of civil war following the 1992 Halloween Massacre. This unexpected turn of events rendered null his year of preparations, including an intensive course in Portuguese. On an interim basis, the bureaucracy tossed him into the curious bowels of the seventh floor of the State Department's main building in Washington, D.C. He was given a lead role in a task force managing the U.S. response to the "Drought of the Century' in Southern Africa. He was settling into his demanding job of sourcing food for nine countries in this hungry part of Africa when a lame duck U.S. President ordered marines into Somalia on December 9, 1992, to help save the starving. This dramatic event resulted in his re-assignment to another seventh floor task force that dealt with fast moving events in this long-suffering country.

He did not know anything about Somalia or the northeast part of Africa where it was located. He had never been to any country in what was referred to as the Horn of Africa. As he sat around the task force table with other colleagues to follow rapidly happening events in Somalia, he posed questions to those sitting on either side of him. He was surprised to find that they were as ignorant as he was about this war-torn country. When his six hours of task force duty came to an end, he headed to State's reference library to find maps and information on Somalia. He was intent on being a quick study, doing as much homework as he could before his next tour of task force duty began the following day.

Ray found little relevant information in the library, but he did obtain CIA maps of Somalia and the Horn of Africa that were helpful. He read the little that was available on Somalia, including what the Encyclopedia Britannica contained. He studied the maps from top to bottom, noting all key data in his steno pad. He underlined one entry about the importance of clans. He found this factor intriguing. He knew intuitively that he would need to delve more deeply into the matter of clan structures and alliances. This thought was reinforced by reading that the attractive capital city of Mogadishu was mostly destroyed in the early 1990s by small arms fire of opposing militias led by the heads of two sub-clans who were distant cousins, General Mohamed Aidid and Ali Madhi Mohammed. The former controlled southern Mogadishu and the latter the northern part of this city. Something called the "green line' separated the urban fiefdoms of these two venerable warlords. It was obvious that any attempts to cross this line by one side or the other resulted in fierce fighting.

In one of his readings, he found a reference to Richard Burton, one of the most famous of nineteenth...

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