From November 1997 to February 1998, I was detailed to the White House Office of the Federal Environmental Executive, where I helped write several Executive Orders related to Greening of the Government. The only travel I did was for my boss. She got sick, and with 24 hours notice I had to fly to Lawton, Oklahoma to give a speech at the Oklahoma Environmental Educators Conference. I was in good company; following my speech Senator Inhofe gave his speech.
In March 1998, I was brought back to NAVFAC as Program Manager with the Arctic Military Environmental Cooperation (AMEC) program between the U.S., Norway, and Russia. I took several business trips including to Moscow, Russia in June for a technical meeting.
My trip to Russia was supposed to be for two weeks. The first week was technical meetings in Moscow and the second week was to be a Steering Committee meeting aboard a nuclear icebreaker in Murmansk on the Kola Peninsula. I made sure I took iodine tablets before I flew to Moscow.
Upon arrival at Moscow, my interpretor picked me up at the airport and delivered me to a very nice hotel in the middle of the city
where I met the others on the U.S. technical team; mostly contractors working for the national labs.
Each morning we would eat breakfast at a Western (i.e., Cowboy) themed restaurant near the hotel before proceeding to the meetings. In the evenings we would walk around town and stopped by the U.S. Embassy to pay our regards. This turned out to be a mistake. Although our contact at the embassy knew we were coming, we had failed to send a message requesting country clearance. We had been so busy arranging clearances and visas with the Russians, that we forgot that minor detail. Oh well.
Anyway, we finished our meetings at noon on Thursday, so our Russian hosts took us to the War Memorial on the edge of town for the rest of the afternoon. We had dinner at a typical Russian restaurant that evening, with the food accompanied by music and dancing...the squating kind with kicking legs. Fortunately they didn't ask for audience participation.
On Friday I met with a Russian colleague and his wife to tour the Kremlin (we paid the Russian rate for the entry ticket) and Red Square. I treated them to lunch at Sabbaros
in a mall next to the Kremlin. I paid U.S. prices for the pizza, which turned out to be several days wages for a Russian. A nuclear scientist made $4800/year. A teacher made $1200/year. I soon learned about their two tiered economy.
Later that afternoon I joined the others on the team as they went souvenier shopping. I decided to window shop to see where I would get the best prices when I planned to return on Saturday. I was going to fly to Murmansk in Sunday.
However, on Friday evening I received a call from Washington stating that the Norwegians were not going to be able to attend the meeting due to an airline strike. There would be no Steering Committee meeting. I was told to return to the States on Saturday. Hence, no souveniers.
I soon received a phone call from my Russian colleagues who were furious about the cancellation. They didn't believe that the Norwegians couldn't find a way to attend the meeting. A month earlier Norway had expelled a number of spies from the Russian Embassy in Oslo, and they believed the events were linked.
I agreed to meet them Saturday morning
before my flight to see if we could patch up this situation. We met, and it seemed that their main concern was the up front cost for the conference that they wouldn't get back. I asked how much this was...$4800. I told them that they would get reimbursed as soon as I got back to Washington. They were happy. This is just one small story of the difficulties I encountered with the AMEC program.
In early July I flew to Oslo and then to Stord, Norway, and island in the western fjords, for a Strategic Planning Meeting. We completed the Strategic Plan that week. On the way back through Oslo, I encountered former colleagues from NATO who invited me to their homes for dinners. It was great to see Erling and Vigdis again.
Upon my return to Washington, I was reassigned to the newly created Base Development Directorate. My next task was to generate and provide information for the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) Commission...out of the frying pan and into the fire.
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