Claire Bannerman lived overseas throughout the 1970s and 1980s during turbulent times, much like we are seeing on the nightly news now.
Bannerman worked as liaison staff in the Foreign Service. Her late husband was a Foreign Service Officer whose specialty was security. The couple and their two young children lived in government housing close to the embassy in whatever country they were in. During the 1970s, it was Tehran, Iran, and during the 1980s, it was Nairobi, Kenya.
So, Bannerman knows something about foreign countries, embassies, the American government and the way it works in life lived overseas.
"We lived in Nairobi in 1985 and we had to have security assigned to us 24/7. We had bars on the windows and an iron grill gate to protect our bedrooms where we had to lock ourselves in at night," she said.
The main problem in Nairobi was bandits. Yet, the Nairobi embassy was eventually blown up.
However, in Tehran, before the fall of the Shah, the problem was the mob in the streets.
"In Tehran, we had Iranian guards riding shotgun whenever we went out or to work," she remembers. "It was difficult. The most difficult was the mob and gangs in the street that were going to attack you. Mobs stoned my 5-year-old daughter's school bus in Tehran, and she was told to get down under the seat and cover her head. Her school eventually had to close in December of that year because of mobs terrorizing it. I remember them shouting 'death to America, death to America' and they are doing that now."
Bannerman said she really aches for the people at the embassies who are trying to do good things in a foreign land.
"I can connect to it. The mission of the embassies is to protect Americans and connect with the local population. I have been shot at and had to leave countries for my own personal safety due to violence towards American," she said.
In her opinion, the State Department needs to provide better security at embassies and consulates.
"The physical space of the embassies and consulates is very important. There are usually 16-foot walls, but those who want to can figure out a way to go over it. Marine guards are assigned to protect the physical space, but they only carry rubber bullets, and when an embassy is attacked the Marines protect all the data and try to protect American lives. All they have, though, is the rubber bullets, tear gas and night sticks. They usually try to raise the alarm by connecting with local police. But sometimes the host country doesn't have the power or strength to protect the embassies. We need to rethink how to better protect the embassies as the embassy structure is so vulnerable," she said.
Bannerman feels there should be higher walls around the compounds and bullet-proof glass installed, along with better use of technology in that realm.
"Congress will not give enough money to protect them fully. Congress argues over budget and they don't get it done," she said.
On returning to the States, Bannerman worked in Washington D.C., during the 1990s.
"My times abroad were true adventures and we wanted success for our country," she says today from her home in Rosemary Beach.