Sunday, November 23, 2008

I Made The Paper

MARIETTA: At GI’s side, she was a doll whole time
By Moni Basu

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Consider this: In a land where U.S. soldiers are dying and women remain covered under burqas, an American real estate agent in a black skirt, pumps and lipstick journeys across harsh terrain for almost a year. Through it all, her smile never wanes.

Now consider this: Connie Engel was thrown from the backs of Humvees and Chinooks, endured the firm grasp of a highly curious turbaned man, and lost her left hand in Afghanistan. Still she kept smiling.

And bobbling.

“Little Connie,” as she came to be known, spent a year traveling in a war zone tucked between socks, measuring tape, water and ammunition in the assault pack of 1st Lt. James Partamian.

That’s because she’s a bobblehead doll that Partamian discovered among samples of bricks and other supplies at BRPH, the Marietta architectural firm where he works. He didn’t know the real Connie Engel, only that the bobblehead was ascribed with that name. When he deployed to Afghanistan in May 2007, the Georgia Army National Guard soldier decided to take Connie along.

He photographed Connie on the hood of a Humvee and by the entrance to a U.S. military base, dust billowing behind her. Back in Georgia, no one noticed the bobblehead doll was gone because the office was reorganizing at the time. That is, until Partamian started e-mailing pictures back to his friends.

“I just thought it was kind of funny. Amusing,” Partamian said.

An Afghan interpreter asked Partamian: “Who is this lady, sir?”

“I don’t know,” Partamian answered.

He had never really thought about it. Who was the real Connie Engel?

When it was time to leave Afghanistan, Partamian packed Connie in a tough box that the Army shipped home. But the truck carrying the box was robbed. Connie never made it home.

On his 38th birthday, Partamian’s wife planned a surprise lunch for him at Chow Baby at Cobb Galleria. He noticed a woman wearing a black suit who looked familiar. He recognized her but didn’t know why.

“Are you someone famous?” he asked.

Someone at the table shouted: “It’s Connie!”

Engel, a commercial real estate agent and partner in Childress Klein Properties, had ordered the bobblehead dolls several years ago to use as a marketing gimmick.

One somehow landed at Partamian’s workplace. He was thrilled to know there really was a person behind the doll.

Through mutual friends and colleagues, Partamian’s wife had discovered Engel.

“To James,” Engel wrote over a photograph of the bobblehead doll wearing a computer enhanced Purple Heart. “I am honored to have joined you in Afghanistan. Thank you for your service.”

She also gave Partamian a gift: a brand-new bobblehead doll.

Next destination for “Little Connie”? She’s heading to Guyana with Partamian, where he and other Army engineers will help build a medical clinic.

Not as dangerous, but still a place Connie Engel will probably only experience through her bobblehead likeness.