More from my unpublished memoirs.
After we left Russia, I was assigned to the Cooperative Threat Reduction group out of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency. I first worked nuclear materials tracking, but that wasn’t going to work out as I would have to travel back to Russia. The Russians had made it clear, no returns in the near term. I moved over to projects out of the Ukraine. Ukraine readily granted me a visa and I went to work.
On one of my trips, the first day the weather was great! It was in the mid 60’s and sunny. The next day, we were continuing our evaluations of a site, but temperatures had plummeted. I only had my leather flight jacket and it was probably in the 20’s with a stiff breeze driving the wind chill much lower.
I had a job to do and as a Marine, I was not going to turn in a partial report because I was cold and didn’t collect the data. We were measuring buildings and evaluating building materials in order to make a better estimate of the cost to destroy these facilities left over from the Cold War, and abandoned by Russia on their withdrawal from Ukraine. My partner, a civilian with a PhD in Civil Engineering, and I went about our business. Our Ukrainian escorts, some four or five members of the Ukrainian Air Force and one odd bird (a very large, young man dressed in civilian clothes, but we’ll talk about him later), mentioned the weather and offered to provide us the data later, if we wanted to retire to the headquarters building. “We’re here – we’ll collect the data now.” They seemed fine with it.
We were out on a runway, well away from things. The van could not get closer than a couple hundred yards from an out-building. We walked to it and went through it. It looked like an easy structure to bring down, if it didn’t fall down first. It was brick, without reinforcement on a concrete slab. It had a flat roof. We pulled out the tape measure to get some dimensions. I looked around and all of a sudden, my partner and I were alone. It was really cold – our faces stiff and we were both shivering.
The Ukrainians were nowhere to be seen. I came out from behind the building and saw them. They had returned to the van and were sitting calmly in there, deliberately not looking at us. They knew where we were and they also knew we weren’t going to steal any secrets on this day and in this place. Discretion, it seems, is the better part of valor – we also returned to the van so that the Ukrainians could save some face. No one would think less of them for packing it in before a U.S. Marine.
Boy was I happy to get back in that van…