It had been more than two months since we had heard from Ethan. When we last we spoke to him in early September, he had just arrived at the army base in Korea where he will spend the next year of his military duty. He was so fresh off the plane that he hadn’t had a chance to figure out the one thing that he considers absolutely essential for survival: a high speed internet connection.
As the weeks passed and our emails to him went unanswered, Steve and I wondered if Kim Jong Un’s broken ankles and the talk of a coup followed by the release of the two captives from North Korea had caused the army base to suspend communication. We pictured Ethan working in an environment where high ranking officers met behind closed doors, the atmosphere was hushed and tense, and people rushed through corridors carrying folders stamped “Top Secret.” Yes, we’ve probably been watching too many “Black List” episodes.
So when the phone rang at 8:00 on Saturday morning and the caller ID showed a string of 13 numbers, we were excited to answer the phone and hear his voice – sounding very perky considering that it was 1:00 am Korean time. We couldn’t wait to ask him, “How’s life in Military Intelligence? If your answer is that you could tell us, but then you’d have to kill us, you can just say ‘fine’ and we’ll leave it at that.”
It turns out that the reason we hadn’t heard from Ethan had absolutely nothing to do with a communications lockdown due to North Korea’s political instability. It was purely that there is a 15 hour time difference and he’s been busy…but not with the kind of clandestine activity that we imagined. Ethan works in operations which as he describes it, is “show up every day and put out whatever fire is waiting.”
Recently, there was a “big” fire that needed to be extinguished. As he explained it, there was an email from a high ranking officer that was overlooked requesting representation of some soldiers from his battalion at a fancy Thanksgiving dinner at a five star hotel in Seoul. Many, many apologies had to be sent up the chain of command and there was much scrambling to decide who would attend the dinner. Ethan happened to be standing in the right place with the right answer when his commanding officer asked if he had his ASUs (dress uniform) with him in Korea. “Son, you’re going to a party.”
He called us just after getting home and told us that he had had a great time; bottles of wine, pitchers of beer, gift bags with swag, and a buffet overflowing with smoked salmon – one of his most favorite foods.
There have been occasions when Ethan said he wished he was in the Middle East where the action is. As his parents, we’re just fine that the “fires” in his world are of the email variety.