(Tribune News Service) — Happy Valentine's Day, Gale Williams.
Your cowboy, Gary, sends his love and says 39 years of marriage and the past six years spent half a world apart haven't cooled his love for you.
"She's the most precious thing that ever came in my life," he said during a phone call from Kabul, where he works on telecommunications in what remains a war-torn country.
The ex-Marine says he misses you and his Calhan ranch but loves what he has been doing since 2009. He has come to understand his Afghan counterparts who are struggling to build a nation amid Taliban insurgency.
"They want to make their lives better," he said.
Gary Williams gets a lot of notice in Kabul on the compound near the American Embassy. Seems his black Western wear, boots and black cowboy hat stick out.
"Everybody asks me about it," he said, noting that the Afghans love trying on his cowboy hat.
Williams said he didn't set out to look like an Afghan version of Johnny Cash; he's just trying to comply with the corporate dress code, which allows black, but not blue jeans.
"My jeans hold up better than cargo pants," he said.
The cowboy hat, though, is something he picked up during his youth outside Lander, Wyo.
"Everybody here calls me cowboy," he said.
On a visit home last fall, Williams burnished his Western image by picking up belt buckles to hand to his Afghan comrades.
"Once a cowboy, always a cowboy," he said.
A 23-year resident of the Pikes Peak region, Williams settled in Calhan after two decades in the Marine Corps.
Life was fine until the economy took a dive and his job with Lockheed Martin went away, he said. So Williams took his skills overseas, joining tens of thousands of American civilians who have worked as contractors in the combat zone.
He spends much of his time in the countryside, where battles still rage.
"We wear our armor, and we travel in groups," Williams said. "The places I have to go, I go in a military convoy."
No six-gun for Williams, though. He packs an automatic rather than a cowboy heater.
Williams said he's gotten used to living on an American base in a war zone. The place takes frequent rocket and mortar fire. It has also been a target for Taliban attacks.
"It's no different than any other war; you learn to adjust to it," he said.
But one day, he plans to come home for good.
Gale has been threatening him, after all.
"She said, 'Cowboy, I'm going to unsaddle your horse,'" he said.
(c)2016 The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.)
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