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Posts Tagged ‘ambassador

President Obama, Secretary Clinton Commemorate the Benghazi Four

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Travel Warning: Libya

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Consular Affairs issued a Travel Warning for Libya on September 12.  It reads as follows:


September 12, 2012

The Department of State warns U.S. citizens against all travel to Libya.  On September 12, 2012 the Department of State ordered the departure of all non-emergency U.S. government personnel from Libya, following the attack on the U.S. Diplomatic mission in Benghazi.  The political violence has increased in both Benghazi and Tripoli.  The airports in Benghazi and Tripoli are open and U.S. citizens are encouraged to depart by commercial air.  This Travel Warning supersedes the Travel Warning dated August 27, 2012.

U.S. citizens traveling to, or remaining in, Libya should use extreme caution and limit nonessential travel within the country, make their own contingency emergency plans, enroll their presence in Libya through the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), and provide their current contact information and next-of-kin or emergency contact information. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by OSB

16/09/2012 at 12:19

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.

Post-9/11 Diplomacy: The U.S. Foreign Service on the Kojo Nnamdi Show

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The Kojo Nnamdi Show on NPR hosted U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Cameron Munter, American Foreign Service Association (AFSA) President Susan Johnson, and Foreign Service Officer Matthew Asada.  They discuss the Foreign Service in the post-9/11 world.  The interview is a bit lengthy, but there were some interesting tidbits if you’re interested in joining the Foreign Service or if you are interested in how 9/11 affected U.S. diplomacy.

For those who are already in, most of it is well-worn (in my opinion).

The full transcript can be found here.  Among some interesting quotes,

MUNTER     12:11:40

Since that time and the recent years, I’ve been ambassador in Serbia, two tours in Iraq and in Pakistan. And I think that going to places like Iraq and Pakistan in a post-9/11 era is something that Foreign Service officers not only will think is possible, but will expect.

JOHNSON   12:37:51

Well, it’s entirely appropriate. And AFSA is very supportive of full implementation of what’s called Diplomacy 3.0 and that hiring surge for the State Department as well as for 50 percent increase in AID capacity. We are about 17 percent of the way there. That is that, since this started, we’ve increased the staff by about 17 percent on the way to that 25 percent target by 2013.

…However, looks as though, in the current situation that we’re facing, fiscal, political, et cetera, that there’s a real danger that this will be interrupted, and we will not be able to meet that target, certainly not in the timeframe of 2013. I hope that we’ll be able to keep that trend going in the right direction because it is critically important.

Written by OSB

24/09/2011 at 06:24

Where Were You On 9/11/01?

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We’re coming up on the 10th anniversary of one of those days in American history in which everyone remembers where they were when they heard the news that the World Trade Centers were hit.  The news reached the Embassy I was working in at the time late in the afternoon.  I remember watching the news feed in a crammed cafeteria with just two TVs, one of which had a very fuzzy picture.  It was the one time in my entire career that I can recall that nobody noticed the Ambassador slip in quietly with the crowd.

Where were you on September 11, 2001?

RQ: Reconciliation

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This past weekend a reader asked,

How do you reconcile your career ambitions as a Specialist with the de facto status of Specialists as “support staff.”  Specialists don’t occupy the top positions at the State Department, nor do they ever (to my knowledge) become Ambassadors.  Since the opportunities for Foreign Service Officers are so much more prestigious at the upper levels, why didn’t you switch?

Short answer: I would never want to be an ambassador.

For a more detailed response, I offer the following points.

Very few FSOs become Ambassadors.  Very, very few.  I agree that Specialists with the ambition of becoming an Ambassador should absolutely take advantage of the various options available to them in terms of switching career tracks, or leverage their overseas experience with State to score well on the FSOT and in the oral assessment.  However, when you look at the larger picture the odds are still very, very long that you’ll ever make it that high.  As a counter to this line of reasoning; if you spend your entire 25-year career as one of the best Political officers the State Department has ever had, and you get passed over for a position by a political appointee, how would you feel?  At the highest levels qualification does not play as large a role as a stellar 25-year career might assume.

I spoke to Specialists being considered “support staff” in a previous post.  If you choose to accept “support staff” as a demerit, that is a personal choice.  I’ve never met an FSO who is ungrateful when I open their safe after they forget their combination, nor have I ever had to justify the importance of what I do to an FSO.  I do my job, am good at it, and it just so happens that my success facilitates the success of others.

Finally, I question the logic of judging a line of work based on the very top levels of what those in that profession can reach.  If you join State determined to become an ambassador you might very well reach that level.  The odds are that you won’t.  Others are perfectly satisfied in their chosen specialty for a myriad of reasons- experience in the field, career options after they retire, the desire to do something relevant to their education, etc.  To answer the question directly, I don’t reconcile my career ambitions as a Specialist with the unlikelihood of me becoming an Ambassador at all.  I don’t know how far up the SEO food chain I’ll go, but I’m pretty sure I’ll get my -01 at some point… and beyond that?  Who knows.  If not, oh well- I’ll retire without leaving anything back at post.

Be sure to check out past Reader Questions in the Archives.

Written by OSB

22/07/2011 at 06:24