April 16, 2014 --
It’s a cold morning in Virginia and Marianne Lumsden’s house is absolutely spotless.
The retired Air Force major and current Marine Corps Systems Command employee has everything in its place. Blankets are folded and stowed away perfectly. The floors shine and, save an open laptop and a few papers strewn about her glass-top coffee table—polished to perfection—nothing is out of place.
Lumsden is excited, but tense. Today is the day she’s leaving, but she’ll be happy to get back to such a clean home.
When she returns from Afghanistan.
The last few months have been exceptionally hectic for Lumsden, who works for Information Systems and Infrastructure. She spent a month in Indiana training to live and work in Afghanistan as part of the Ministry of Defense Advisors program, MODA for short.
She had to train again on the M9 pistol. She had to train on how to interact with her Afghan counterparts and other things, like how to calm hostile personnel at vehicle checkpoints.
“One of the things they taught us was to bring candy along and offer it to them,” Lumsden said. “I’m going to make sure I don’t leave without it.”
What Lumsden will spend a majority of her time doing in Afghanistan, she has years of training for. She will help ease the transition from the U.S. forces in country to the Afghan government by helping government officials use communications equipment and systems.
She has even deployed in a similar role with the Air Force to Iraq, as the Communications Advisor to the Iraqi Air Staff from 2006-2007.
“We got along great,” Lumsden said of her Iraqi counterparts. “The general I was working with spoke good English and got along great with women, so it was good.”
Afghanistan will almost certainly be different. There are tensions between the Afghans and U.S. forces in country over the bilateral security agreement, which keeps U.S. forces in country and helps Afghans keep the peace. The agreement calls for decreasing numbers of U.S. personnel through 2014.
“They haven’t re-signed that, and it doesn’t look like they’re going to soon,” Lumsden said. “There’s a tension there because we’ve given them all this technology and equipment, and they know we’re going to be leaving them with it shortly. It doesn’t sit well with some of the Afghans.
“A lot of what I’m going to be doing is reviewing statuses and progress, and making sure that they know they have to think ahead and have a plan for what they’re going to do with these systems and our vision,” she said.
It’s a tall task, but Lumsden said she is excited for the opportunity.
A new destination and a new challenge have always been tough for her to turn down.
Lumsden was born, raised and went to college in Cape Girardeau, Mo., nestled on the bank of the Mississippi about two hours south of St. Louis. She said a “nice” scholarship drew her into the Air Force’s ROTC program at Southeast Missouri State University. “The scholarship could help me through college. Then I could go get those four years of experience and that IBM job I really wanted,” Lumsden said. “But by the time I finished college, I knew I’d stay in the Air Force for my whole career.” New places and new experiences have always interested Lumsden, who in 1997 was a young captain at Ramstein Air Base, Germany. There, she worked as the intelligence systems support branch chief at headquarters U.S. Air Forces in Europe. “We made sure that we had communications throughout Germany and throughout Europe,” Lumsden said. “I was tracking communications in Europe and made sure things were all up and running.” During her time in Germany, Lumsden traveled as much as she could. For her, there was always a new destination; always new things to see and learn about. And, based in the heart of Western Europe, traveling was easy. “Whenever we had a Federal Holiday, we’d get a four-day weekend, and we’d go on bus tours all over the place,” Lumsden said. “Paris, Brugges, Belgium—almost anywhere you’d want to go that was accessible by bus was an option.” Lumsden continued to see the rest of the world while serving with the military. She deployed to Aviano Air Base, Italy, north of Venice, during the air war over Serbia and then was assigned to Incirlik Air Base, Turkey, in 2000. After a brief stint in the Reserve, Lumsden returned to active duty and deployed to Iraq, Kuwait and Bahrain before retiring in 2010.
Eventually, Lumsden would again return to serve the government, this time as a civilian. In 2010, Lumsden came to MCSC, the Department of the Navy's systems command for Marine Corps ground weapon and information technology systems, as well as Marine Corps commandant's agent for acquisition and sustainment of warfighting systems and equipment. Jeff Lee, product manager for Marine Corps Network and Infrastructure Services, has worked with Lumsden since she first arrived at MCSC. He remembered when she spoke to him about the MODA program. “If you know her, this was no surprise,” Lee said. “I know her character and that she has volunteered to deploy several times.” Above all else, he has faith that the Afghans are gaining an invaluable communications and IT resource in Lumsden. “We will miss her here,” Lee said. “We will miss her personality and [having her] as a part of our team. With her background, she fits in well with everyone around here. But if you know her, you know this is her calling.”
The deployments aren’t getting any easier for Lumsden. The hardest part about this deployment might be her clothes. “When I went with the Air Force, I always got told what to bring,” she said. “Now I get to choose what I want. It’s harder than you’d think.” Neither the destination nor the challenge she faces once on the ground in Afghanistan worry her. “Something new is out there,” she said. “I’ve got to go see it.”