U.S. Army Maj. Ildiko Szentkiralyi is the embodiment of the American melting pot's best characteristics.
The daughter of a first generation Hungarian immigrant mother who came here after the 1956 Revolution, the 35-year-old attorney and Bowling Green native is now half way across the world helping her country in the Afghanistan war.
Stationed in a heavily guarded compound in the heart of Kabul, Major Szentkiralyi is assigned to the adjutant general's office as a contract and fiscal law attorney. She is part of a team that provides legal reviews for all expenditures in Afghanistan, from handling payroll to things like repairing roads in the war-torn country. Their goal, as the 1994 Bowling Green High school graduate puts it: "be good stewards of the tax payer's money."
The work is relentless and demanding during her one-year tour, which began in June. Twelve-to-14-hour days are broken up by meals served on cardboard trays, heavy work-out sessions to break the boredom, some reading -- Major Szentkiralyi devours the Stars and Stripes newspaper and Cosmopolitan magazine -- and sleep.
The 1999 graduate of Bowling Green State University with a degree in criminal justice is not complaining.
"We work all hours but we see a lot of benefit from our work. On the state side it almost feels like you're just going to work every day and you might not see the benefit of what you're doing," she said.
She is the daughter of Aniko Szentkiralyi, a Hungarian immigrant who moved to Bowling Green and raised Ildiko as a single parent following a divorce. Major Szentkiralyi said the Hungarian culture was an important part of her upbringing and that her mother's family was directly affected by the Revolution of 1956, the anniversary of which is being celebrated until Thursday.
"My family's very patriotic toward the United States," she said "When my mom went back to Hungary in 2006 or 2007 it was the first time she had been back. She felt more at home in the United States [though]," Major Szentkiralyi said.
She said the work in Afghanistan can be extremely tedious. The compound features high walls, barbed wire blockades, and an almost jail-like setting for the roughly 1,000 service personnel and civilians who work there. She rarely ventures out to satellite legal offices in the city.
The key for the people serving there is to find the proper balance between the job and taking care of themselves.
"The most important thing about being here is you get into a routine. We put the mission first, but in the back of your mind you have to put yourself first because it can consume you. The work is always going to come in and you won't have any time to yourself," she said.
Her time there has been invaluable and has made her a better attorney, said Major Szentkiralyi, who received her degree from the University of Toledo College of Law in 2007.
"What I have learned and done in the past five months would have taken me two years to learn in the States."
And she's looking forward to coming home next June, when she expects to spend a month or so visiting her mom and Toledo-area friends before receiving her next assignment. The United States looks awfully good from Afghanistan, she said, and she's not keen on serving in Europe or other parts of the world at this point.
She just wants to come home.
"That's kind of cheesy or whatever, but it's true," she said, laughing. "Man, I like my down time."
Contact Rod Lockwood at email@example.com or 419-724-6159.