During an online chat, a federal budget analyst asked Amy Joyce, "Life at Work" columnist at The Washington Post, whether a tiny diamond nose stud would hurt her marketability. Joyce's response: Go for it.
After that, came the deluge.
Joyce's answer loosed what she calls her "chat hounds," readers commenting vehemently in opposition. Consequently, Joyce wrote her Feb. 25 column, "Fashion Leads by a Nose," about piercings and the December cover of Government Executive.
That cover featured Kendra Kozak, then a contract analyst at the Interior Department's GovWorks. She personified "Generation Passion," a story about what motivates young people to enter federal procurement professions. She also has several piercings, one a tiny nose stud. It prompted a two-month back-and-forth in our "Letters" column and apparently much conversation elsewhere. So much so, that it came up in Joyce's chat-Washington is a company town, after all. A participant pointed Joyce to the Kozak cover, having written about it herself on the YoungFeds.org blog.
The column hardly put the matter to rest. Joyce came in the day after it appeared to find a dozen or so e-mails, a tad more than usual. "The difference was how many were angry," she says. "Piercing shows an obvious lack of intelligence," read one. Another cited Christian and Jewish teachings against marring the body. Another called piercing "a clear statement of 'screw you.' " Joyce's online chat the next day threatened to be swallowed up by the subject again.
"People are so set in their traditional ways, and they see people coming in from a little bit of a different background and say, 'No, you should be like me,' " she says.
Kozak is out of the line of fire, having moved to Illinois after becoming engaged. She's now a contract analyst with the Veterans Affairs Department's National Acquisition Center in Hines. "The comments I have received from family, friends, co-workers, and supervisors have been supportive and positive," she writes in an e-mail. "Most people are surprised by negative reactions to the photo . . . disappointed that the negative comments focus on the nose stud, with no consideration to my credentials."
Regrets? "This experience has not been uncomfortable for me," she writes. "I have been fortunate enough to be an exchange student twice (Japan and Russia) and, as a result, understand that perception and opinion vary greatly. I am honored to be considered a representative of my professional community and generation."
OK, well, one regret: "I must admit that I would have preferred a happier picture." It was the least we could do.
In November 2004, 15,000 U.S. Marines fought street by street, house by house to retake the Iraqi city of Fallujah from insurgents. For days preceding the offensive, U.S. planes and artillery pounded the city; civilians had been warned to leave. More than 60 Marines and thousands of insurgents died as a result of the battle; the number of civilian casualties is unknown.
During the first week of fighting, members of the 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment-known as the Lava Dogs for the rugged pumice they trained on at home in Hawaii-discovered one survivor of the onslaught. They almost shot him.
It wasn't the last time the scruffy youngster almost died at the hands of the U.S. military. But he made it out and now lives in La Jolla, Calif., with his family. His odyssey to safety involved a Marine lieutenant colonel, a famous war correspondent for National Public Radio, a bomb-detection dog training company, a dog food company, Seabees, a brave Iraqi called Sam, and the Lava Dogs. Only fitting, since the war refugee is a dog named Lava.
Now retired, Lt. Col. Jay Kopelman met Lava when he was a mere growling ball of fluff chasing boot laces and chowing down on MREs at the Lava Dogs' command post in Fallujah. Like the Lava Dogs, Kopelman nearly fired on the mutt: "When this unexpected thing, this puppy, comes barreling toward me in this unexpected place, I reach for my gun . . . the puppy looks up at me, raises his tail, and starts growling this baby-dog version of I am going to kick your ass."
Kopelman, with writer Melinda Roth, relates Lava's perilous journey from Iraq to California in From Baghdad With Love (The Lyons Press, 2006). Along the way, he also gives a grueling and sometimes gruesome Marine's-eye view of the war: "After a couple days walking around the bodies in Fallujah, you got good at telling which ones the dogs had gotten to-the skin was shredded off the fattiest parts."
The book is as tough, tense and tender as the Marines who befriended Lava: "The best part is how these Marines, these elite, well-oiled machines of war who in theory can kill another human being in a hundred unique ways, become mere mortals in the presence of a tiny mammal." So much for General Order 1-A, which prohibits service members from adopting, caring for or feeding any type of domestic animals.