Letters to the Editor

It happened again | Remembering a friend lost in Libya

Editor’s note: The following was sent in by a graduate of Conway High School and Horry-Georgetown Technical College, now based at the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv, Ukraine. The views here are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the foreign policy of the U.S. Department of State.

I have worked for the Foreign Service for the U.S. Department of State for 10 years. I have seen a lot of good things and bad things happen during that time. The recent events in Libya hit very close to home for me.

Wednesday night on Sept. 11, 2012, we received the seldom used NIACT message. NIACT is short for Night Action. It is a message that usually goes out to all embassies and consulates worldwide warning of impending danger or a dangerous event that has already occurred. Until actually coming to the embassy and reading the message, I had no idea what it was. After reading the message, I knew that it was something that I would always remember.

That night in Benghazi, Libya, four Americans lost their lives. Of the four who were killed, Sean Smith is the one I knew. Like me, Sean started working for the State Department 10 years ago. Sean spent some time in Baghdad. I was in Baghdad as well. Sean and I received the same Information Technology training and our daily work was similar. I had the occasion to talk on the phone about technical issues in our embassies. He was also a regular contributor to an Information Technology blog that serves all State Department computer geeks like me. In this forum, people ask questions about technical problems and those online respond back with possible fixes. Sean was one of those guys that always tried to help out, no matter how crazy the question was. Until the end, he was helping people.

A few hours before the terrorists attacked the consulate in Benghazi, Sean had one more thing to say online. On another online forum he used often, he sent this message to his friends; “Assuming we don’t die tonight,” the message continued, “We saw one of our ‘police’ that guard the compound taking pictures.” A few hours later he was killed.

At most all consulates worldwide, the perimeter security is manned by local guards or the local country or city police force. While Marines are at most embassies, they are usually not at the smaller consulates. The Americans and locals that work there have to rely on that local police force and possibly a few diplomatic security agents that may be assigned there.

There were no U.S. Marines protecting the consulate in Benghazi. This is what is hard for me to deal with. Some news outlets quoted some sources indicating that the Department of State did not want a U.S. military presence there because it could start a problem with the locals or may be offensive to them. It has already been 11 years since 9/11 and it is sad that we don’t realize yet that our way of life offends them, our religion offends them, our freedom of expression offends them and our presence in their country offends them. We should have provided more protection to our people. We offended a lot of Iraqis when I was in Baghdad but we had adequate protection.

It is not often that consulates have Marines guarding the compound but I would love to see it. Marines are willing and very able to protect American citizens. I really hope that security can be increased in consulates in war torn areas and regions that are fervent with terrorist activity and militant anti-American movements.

The focus of this sad story has been centered on the great ambassador who died there. Ambassador Chris Stevens was a good guy. He wanted to help the people of Libya. He was separated from his family to carry out his mission. Secretary Clinton addressed the nation after the deaths were confirmed. I applaud her choice of words in her speech. While almost all news sources were focused on the death of the ambassador, she specifically mentioned Sean and the great work he had done and the sacrifice he had made.

Sadly, we have lost four more Americans. Sean Smith left behind his wife and children when he went to Baghdad and Libya. Now he will never return. But we will always remember him. Never forget that the front line of the war on terror is everywhere. Please remember the people, both military and civilian, that are putting themselves in harm’s way.

The writer is an information systems officer at the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv, Ukraine.