After graduating from college last spring, Lawrence native Casey Wasson thought she was going to spend a relaxing summer here and in Washington, D.C., searching for a nice, peaceful 9-to-5 government job.
By October, Wasson, fresh out of Patrick Henry College in Virginia, found herself in Baghdad, working for the Office of Management and Budget with the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority.
"It wasn't quite what I was expecting," the 24-year-old said in a telephone interview last week from Baghdad.
She was hired after an interview at the Pentagon. The job offer was surprising.
"They said, 'Can you go to Baghdad next week?,'" Wasson recalled. "I knew that if I said no, I'd be giving up a great opportunity."
Her parents, Doug and Barbara Wasson, were stunned when their daughter called them late one night at their Lawrence home and told them about her new job.
"We didn't know what to think," Doug Wasson said. "Probably the thing that hit me the hardest was that she was going to be leaving so quickly."
'All in a day's work'
In Iraq, Wasson said she has worked closely with Iraqis in their Ministry of Finance, assisting them with budgeting, taxes and other financial matters. And she has been involved with Kurds on issues affecting them in northern Iraq.
Much of her work has kept her in an office in the American security compound known as the Green Zone. But she has traveled with 20 Iraqis to a financial conference in Jordan, and some of her duties require her to take civil service payments to various Iraqi provinces.
Wasson wouldn't say how much money she has carried, but said it had been "considerable." And she declined to be specific about how she travels.
"I can't go into details, but I've tried pretty much all sorts of transportation that you can do here," she said. "I would prefer to go by air just because road travel is so dangerous right now."
The inherent danger doesn't make her nervous about doing her job.
"You just take all the precautions you can," Wasson said. "It may sound odd, but it's all in a day's work. That's the kind of day it is around here."
Wasson has grown accustomed to the alerts that go out about rocket or possible ground attacks.
"Speaking as a Kansan to a Kansan, it's sort of like the tornado warnings that come out in the spring," Wasson said. "You just get used to them."
Still, she admitted to concern about the recent insurgent attacks and Shiite and Sunni uprisings that last week led to heavy fighting and casualties.
"It's very discouraging because we had hoped to be further along by now," Wasson said.
The uprising led to questions about how ready the Iraqis will be come June 30, when coalition forces are scheduled to relinquish governmental control. Wasson compared it to a child learning to walk.
"Every once in a while I see a sort of fear from some of the people I work with in the Finance Ministry, because running a government after so many years in the dark -- it can be very daunting and very scary," she said. "I really have great faith that they are going to make it a success."
To her, it appears a majority of Iraqis don't want the American-led forces to leave too soon. Wasson recalled a social conversation she had with an Australian colleague and a Kurdish minister. The Australian was joking about "crazy Americans" running around the world doing "crazy things."
The Kurdish minister became very serious, and, speaking through a translator, said he was grateful Americans were crazy, Wasson said.
"Apparently that is the underlying sentiment here, which I think is very optimistic and very helpful, and I hope we don't let him down," she said.
Wasson's parents watch the news now with more apprehension because of the renewed fighting and growing number of ambushes on American civilians, her father said.
Ready to help
"When I wake up in the morning I turn on CNN or Fox," Doug Wasson said. "Casey usually calls to let us know she's safe after something happens, like what is going on in Fallujah."
Casey Wasson said she didn't know what the future would hold after she left Iraq, but she hoped to spend some time relaxing in the United States after several months of 12-hour work days and virtually no free weekends.
"My colleagues and I have been stewing about that for a little bit now," she said. "None of us are in the mood to go back and sit in a cramped office in a corporate building."
Instead, Wasson thinks she might seek similar work in other world trouble spots, such as the Balkans or Afghanistan.
"If there is something I can do to help, why not?" she said.