Standing in line awaiting the delivery of my credentials to enter SHAPE was, to say the least, intimidating. Listening to multi-lingual conversations echoing throughout the room with my boss, a former marine, towering over my 5’1 stature made me realize how small my life had become both literally and figuratively. I was beginning my internship with NATO, an organization I learned about in my elementary school history class; an organization that has shaped the world we live in; an organization that continues to adapt and evolve to face the contemporary challenges that arise.
As I walked through SHAPE for the first time, I saw the countless measures taken to ensure a secure environment for all SHAPE employees. Every perimeter is separated by barbed wire, every gate is manned with security staff prompting IDs or credentials, and every building is equipped with its own unique security measures, turnstiles and/or keys.
Outside of the secured work environment is the outer laying “campus.” A place so oddly reminiscent of the TV-set for LOST I could not help but expect John Locke to emerge from the Hatch repeating “4 8 15 16 23 42.” Despite the base’s outward austerity, SHAPE’s employees, both military and civilian, are warm and welcoming. Regardless of nationality or rank, these women and men are always willing to extend a greeting and a smile.
This week marks my first month working for NATO here in Mons, Belgium. It is hard to believe but among the constant rotation of staff, I am hard to distinguish from a real SHAPE veteran. Now that I have significantly learned the ropes, I try to find new ways to further familiarize myself with my surroundings. Sometimes I test my knowledge of flags that are embroidered on the sleeves of my fellow “Shapians”, other times I try to guess the rank and post based on the uniforms’ adorned insignia — maybe someday I will even be able to match the skills of the more veteran SHAPE staff who claim they can determine the country by the pattern and color of camouflage. (UPDATE: I successfully distinguished the US Naval fatigues today.)
My assimilation to life at SHAPE and in Mons has been aided by the amazing support team in the ACT SEE LEGAD Office, as well as, the droves of people of all creeds and nations who are willing to share their experiences to help me adjust. I cannot seem to find the words to express my gratitude to St. John’s and ACT SEE for creating this remarkable opportunity, nor my pleasure in joining the ranks of students who have paved the way and secured the longevity of this program through their hard work and notable performances. Although I may have big shoes to fill (with my size six foot), I am genuinely ecstatic to be a part of the NATO Practicum and cannot wait to see what adventures are in store for me.
Until next time,
 Allied Command Transformation Staff Element Europe Office of the Legal Adviser