Thursday, January 8, 2004

Visions of sugar plums? Not exactly

Peter Bronson

As we stumbled into work this week with bleary bowl-game eyes, teetering on the cliff-edge of our credit-card limits, hung over from one too many Christmas cookies, we asked each other on the elevator, "So, did you survive the holidays?''

What we meant is, "Did you survive the spiked eggnog, the office party, the crowds in the malls, the kids ripping open presents at 6 a.m., the Rose Bowl guacamole, turkey gravy, too much champagne and too much spending?''

Yes, we say, patting ourselves on the back with both hands. We survived.

Here's something else we survived that nobody talks about.

We survived the shoe-bombers, the tower-shooters, the bioterrorists with test tubes of germs, the dirty nuke in a suitcase, the al-Qaida fanatics with box cutters and plane tickets and terror plots we can't imagine.

None of that made headlines because it didn't happen.

There were no explosions, no blizzards of shattered glass, no billowing clouds of churning smoke, no sinking feeling of disbelief, then panic, then that gnawing fear and insecurity we have almost managed to forget since 9-11.

It didn't happen because there is an army of American sons and daughters stationed far from home, taking the war to the terrorists, keeping them running like rats in a fumigated barn.

And it didn't happen because there was a silent army of Americans here at home, working right through Christmas while the rest of us were snug and safe with our families.

Airport police Sgt. Mareka Scott at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport worked Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, checking cars when she would rather have been at home with her family in Bracken County.

"They understand,'' she said. "It's just part of our job. We knew what we were doing when we took the job.''

Scott said travelers were mostly friendly. There were a few mild complaints. But most people understand that an orange alert is storm-warning serious.

A few people don't get it. When F-16s were scrambled to intercept a Delta jet Tuesday, because of a security alert triggered by a heated motorcycle jacket with suspicious wiring, some jokers mocked the "overreaction.'' When new rules took effect this week to photograph and fingerprint foreign visitors, there were protests about the infringement on civil liberties. For some people, the slightest inconvenience is too much to stop a terrorist.

And if something terrible happens again, they will be among the first in line to tell us how they could have done it better.

During the orange alert through the holidays, airport security police put in 860 hours of overtime, said Lt. Kevin Murphy.

On Jan. 20, school officials in our region will gather for a seminar on terrorism, to deal with an imaginary chemical attack on a school. "Unfortunately, we live in a world where we must address this with students and administrators, and hope that an attack never occurs - but if it does, I want to know my children are safe,'' said Eric Hall of the Ohio Resource Network for Safe and Drug Free Schools and Communities at the University of Cincinnati.

There are thousands in the invisible army of Homeland Security - who realize that if they do their jobs right, they will get no attention and no thanks.

"People just need to be patient and do what we ask,'' Scott said.

"We make it as painless as possible. We all made it home safely, and that's what counts.''


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