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Archive for December 2011

12 Things for 2012

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Some end-of-year thoughts on Foreign Service life for those looking to join, those already in, and those retired.

1.  Living abroad is no picnic.  Occasionally I hear griping about how it’s not fair that FS employees can retire with full pension benefits after 20 years of service compared to 30 years in the Civil Service.  It’s 100% justified.  Living overseas causes numerous hardships even in the best of posts.  Cultural exposure, raising a family, moving with pets and kids every few years, it’s all simply exhausting.  It’s also exhilarating for those who embrace the always-on, constantly demanding, and rarely forgiving pace.

2.  Western business practices are an exception, not the rule.  In the US you’re used to paying a set price for an agreed-upon service.  Guess what?  Elsewhere in the world things are more… flexible.  Why yes, I’d love to tip the guard holding the AK-47 who lets us into the museum or site of interest.  No, I don’t mind paying a “guide” to take us back to our car after leading us through an hours’ worth of jungle on an elephant.  Sure I’ll pay double for a taxi ride after the meter “broke way bad” (in the words of one enterprising taxi driver).  Especially in the poorer parts of the world, people will milk you for every dinar, lek, takha, rial, baht, or peso they can.

3.  There are really only two Generalists in every embassy that a Specialist (and Generalist) should fear: The Ambassador and The Deputy Chief of Mission.  Do not assume they know who you are, do not assume that your position as staff assistant entitles you to special privileges, and do not ever mistake one for the other.  The consequences of each of these can range from comical to frightening.

4.  There is really only one Specialist in every embassy that a Generalist (and a Specialist) should fear: The Ambassador’s OMS.  Tread lightly.

5.  No matter how hard you think you are working, your Marine Security Guard detachment is working much harder.  Give them the respect and kindness they deserve.  Address them as “sir” or “ma’am” (until you learn their names, of course), invite them to your happy hours (even if it’s just for snacks), and go out of your way to ensure that they are invited to your social functions.

6.  There’s no such thing as a “typical” embassy.  Each has its own character and characters.  Searching for a “relaxing” tour is folly.

7.  Locally Employed Staff run the embassy.

8.  You cannot do everything.  As such, do not alienate your entire local staff by lecturing a 30-year LES on your first overseas tour as I once witnessed.  Some things are unforgivable, and since your EER often depends on how well your local staff members can make you look, you’d better treat them right.

9.  Foreign Service families bear disproportionate hardships when abroad.  Do your significant other a favor and go to the social events she/he wants to go to without complaining; they are making significant sacrifices for you, the least you can do is go to a party once in a while.  Same with children – don’t miss their school plays, no matter how bizarre their role is (for example: first toucan).

10.  The answer to the question “Why is this so different than in America?” is almost always “Because it’s not America.”  It’s obvious, you say – but you’ll hear it every day.  Every. Single. Day.

11.  Your time at post is short.  Make the most of it, no matter how isolated the city, no matter how poor the local  economy is, no matter how much you hate your neighbor with the screeching cat.

12.  Always, always be thankful.  You are the commissioned representative of the best country on Earth.  You have a roof over your head, pay that probably puts you in the 99% of the world’s average income, and a support network that spares very few expenses to keep you happy.  What most of the world would give to be in your situation.

To all Foreign Service employees, Families, Marines, Seabees, Civil Servants, LES, local guards, and contractors in the DOS family, Happy New Year!  Here’s to a great 2012.


Update: Overseas Comparability Pay

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A recent ALDAC cable confirmed that the next round of funding for State Department operations does include the maintenance of Overseas Comparability Pay’s (OCP) first and second installments (8% and 16%).  It does not include the third installment (24%).  Under the circumstances, I don’t think anyone can reasonably expect the third installment to happen in the current fiscal climate.

Written by OSB

27/12/2011 at 10:34

Travel Warning: Syria

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Consular Affairs issued a Travel Warning for Syria on December 21.  It reads as follows:


December 21, 2011

This Travel Warning replaces the Travel Warning dated September 30, 2011, and is updated to reflect reduced staffing at the U.S. Embassy in Damascus and a possible reduction in consular services. U.S. citizens should not travel to Syria due to ongoing violence and civil unrest. The U.S. Department of State urges U.S. citizens currently in Syria to depart immediately while commercial transportation is available. The number of airlines serving Syria has decreased significantly since the summer months, and many of the remaining airlines have reduced their number of flights. U.S. citizens who must remain in Syria should limit nonessential travel within the country. For the time being, the Embassy continues to provide passport services, as well as other emergency services to U.S. citizens. However, staff levels at the Embassy are being further reduced. Visa services for immediate relatives of U.S. citizens may also be affected due to staffing levels. Our ability to assist U.S. citizens in an emergency is extremely limited and may be further constrained by the fluid security situation.  Read the rest of this entry »

Travel Warning: South Sudan

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Consular Affairs issued a Travel Warning for South Sudan on December 22.  It reads as follows:

Republic of South Sudan

December 22, 2011

The U.S. Department of State continues to warn U.S. citizens of the risks of travel to the Republic of South Sudan and strongly recommends U.S. citizens defer all travel to the country. This replaces the Travel Warning dated July 12, 2011, updates information on security incidents, and reminds U.S. citizens of ongoing security concerns in the Republic of South Sudan.

The Republic of South Sudan separated from Sudan and became an independent nation on July 9, 2011. The Department of State warns U.S. citizens of the risks of traveling to South Sudan and strongly recommends that you avoid all travel to the states in the border region between Sudan and South Sudan (Upper Nile, Unity, and Western Bar el Ghazai states in South Sudan; Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile states in Sudan; and the Abyei Special Administrative District). In recent months, skirmishes have broken out between forces loyal to the Government of Sudan and forces loyal to the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) in this region, and there has been a build-up of military forces along both sides of the border. In addition to fighting on the ground, the Sudanese air force has bombed areas in the Unity and Upper Nile states.   Read the rest of this entry »

Travel Warning: Cote d’Ivoire

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Consular Affairs issued a Travel Warning for Cote d’Ivoire on December 16.  It reads as follows:

Cote d’Ivoire

December 16, 2011

The Department of State warns U.S. citizens of the risks of travel to Cote d’Ivoire. U.S. citizens who reside in or travel to Cote d’Ivoire should monitor conditions carefully, maintain situational awareness, and pay very close attention to their personal security. While the security situation has improved during the past several months, the potential for some civil unrest remains. Security conditions could change quickly and without advanced warning. This Travel Warning replaces the Travel Warning of June 16, 2011 to update U.S. citizens on the current security situation.

The Embassy continues to operate as a partially unaccompanied post, meaning minor dependents of U.S. government employees are not permitted to travel to or accompany family members to Cote d’Ivoire. Embassy personnel are also subject to travel limitations and are instructed to avoid large gatherings, crowds, and areas where political events are planned. Our ability to assist U.S. citizens in an emergency may be limited in certain circumstances.  Read the rest of this entry »

Travel Warning: Afghanistan

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Consular Affairs issued a Travel Warning for Afghanistan today.  It reads as follows:


December 01, 2011

The Department of State warns U.S. citizens against travel to Afghanistan. The security threat to all U.S. citizens in Afghanistan remains critical. This Travel Warning supersedes the Travel Warning for Afghanistan issued March 8, 2011, to remind U.S. citizens of ongoing security risks, including kidnapping and insurgent attacks.

No part of Afghanistan should be considered immune from violence, and the potential exists throughout the country for hostile acts, either targeted or random, against U.S. and other Western nationals at any time. Remnants of the former Taliban regime and the al-Qa’ida terrorist network, as well as other groups hostile to International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) military operations, remain active. Afghan authorities have a limited ability to maintain order and ensure the security of Afghan citizens and foreign visitors. Travel in all areas of Afghanistan is unsafe due to military combat operations, landmines, banditry, armed rivalry between political and tribal groups, and the possibility of insurgent attacks, including attacks using vehicle-borne or other improvised explosive devices (IEDs). The security situation remains volatile and unpredictable throughout the country, with some areas, especially in the southeast, experiencing substantially increased levels of violence. Read the rest of this entry »