- [Clara] In Kosovo, meeting with a woman who came from a world so very different than mine, she gave me a vial of lip gloss.
This small token and gesture has just stuck with me forever.
Then in Afghanistan, the abaya, it's a reminder of a time in my life that I'm proud of and a reminder today to keep perspective in my life.
- Hi, I'm Shain Brenden.
As a veteran, I understand how objects we brought back from service can be so meaningful.
They can remind us why we served and what we did or help us transition back to civilian life.
Today, I talk with a veteran whose objects remind her how people can connect with one another, despite coming from different backgrounds and circumstances.
(inspirational music) - My name is Clara Driscoll.
I retired from the Army as a lieutenant colonel.
I had always had a lot of respect for people in the military, so I joined the Army after college.
- [Shain] Did you have any expectations of what your service would be like?
- I probably had a romanticized view of it.
I thought I would develop this bearing that I didn't really have.
I guess I thought maybe I would become a more focused and serious person, a braver person.
And I was very interested in just the adventures that I imagined would come with it.
Pretty soon out of the gate, I deployed to Kosovo.
I was at a small combat outpost overlooking the Presevo Valley.
And that was the site at the time of still kind of an active insurgency.
So it was important to just to kind of be in the vicinity.
I was fortunate enough to meet this woman.
She was not fluent in English, and I think I know one word in Albanian, which is "thank you."
But, so it was a little broken conversation, lots of hand gestures.
In the course of this conversation, she gave me a vial of lip gloss.
- Why do you think she gave you the lip gloss in the first place?
- I think she probably had only really interacted with mostly male soldiers, but here was a female soldier.
Maybe she was trying to also make a connection with me.
It was just a very touching thing.
I so appreciated it, and obviously, I'm still thinking about it 21 years later.
- [Shain] How many years later were you deployed to Afghanistan?
- Kosovo was in 2001, and Afghanistan was 2011, so 10 years.
When I went to Afghanistan in 2011, my sole focus was the civil population in Afghanistan, recognizing and working within the boundaries of culture.
- Let's talk a little bit about the abaya.
Can you describe it a little bit, what it looks like?
- I bought it in Qatar but with the intent of wearing it when I deployed to the Middle East.
The abaya I have has two components.
One is a headscarf, and then the other is just a loose-fitting overcoat.
It was kind of appropriate for the occasion of what I was doing.
I thought it was a lovely garment as well.
- How did it make you feel wearing it?
- When you go over there, and you're just encased in all this body armor, and you've got sunglasses on, there's no real opportunity for human connection on your part or theirs, but when you intelligently peel a few of these layers away and are wearing a piece of clothing that's recognized, I think that that facilitates more just interaction, understanding, and maybe to some degree, you know, candor with the person you're talking to.
It kind of infuses me maybe with a bit of humility, reminds me that you cannot go over there and superimpose a western solution to an Afghan problem.
So, wearing it would remind me that you had to work within the culture and the lens of the Afghans to be effective.
- [Shain] The lip gloss and the abaya, how do those two things play into the way you view the world now?
- I think those two items serve as a daily reminder that the world is so much bigger than the little lens that we have.
They remind me to keep my perspective on how fortunate I am and my family is.
It grounds me, and you know, not only then but in most things that I encounter in life when I'm interacting with someone who's very different than I am.
They remind me to stay humble, to have some humility, and the importance of empathy when dealing with others, especially other cultures.