Thursday, December 20, 2007

Washington Post article gets results!

This press release was forwarded to me last night by Glenn Kessler, the author of the Washington Post article on Ambassador Guest's resignation. Wow.

Lantos Advocates Bill Extending Basic Employment Rights to Same-Sex Couples

Washington, DC – Congressman Tom Lantos (D-San Francisco/San Mateo) today joined with Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) to introduce a bill that would extend basic employment rights to same-sex partners of federal employees.

The Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act (H.R. 4838) would extend the employment-related benefits to same-sex domestic partners that are currently available to spouses of married federal employees, including those in the Foreign Service.

These dedicated men and women serve their country, yet our government does not honor the basic rights of the benefits they have earned for themselves and their families,” Lantos said. “There is no rational explanation for a same-sex domestic partner to be treated as a second-class citizen, and it is a national embarrassment that we are forcing good people out of government service.”

As Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Lantos highlighted the particular difficulties facing gays and lesbians in the Foreign Service. Partners of gay and lesbian Foreign Service officers are refused diplomatic passports and the security training normally provided to spouses.

Gay and lesbian partners of Foreign Service officers are also denied the housing support granted to other employees while their partners serve in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as any financial support in joining their partners as they travel to their jobs overseas.

We ask our diplomats to serve their nation in many high-threat posts, but deny them the ability to fully protect their families,” Lantos noted. “This is absolutely outrageous and unacceptable.”

Wednesday, December 19, 2007


When I got to work this afternoon, I had an email from our PDAS (Principle Deputy Assistant Secretary) offering me the INR Special Assistant position. Technically, I am the BLC (Bureau's Leading Candidate), since they can't assign most positions yet. Open Season last year started on January 23 (I remember the date vividly since that was the day they started trying to send M to Iraq), so probably it will be another month or more before I am actually panelled to the position. And of course, that is only if someone coming out of Iraq or Afghanistan doesn't want the position. But I think I am in pretty good shape.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Bidding Stress Continues

So today we get a cable telling us that each bureau has been instructed to cut 10% of its jobs that are up for bid this summer. Those are the jobs I am currently bidding on. Should any of my "core bids" (those at grade and in cone) disappear, I have to come up with others. Not much fun...I had trouble finding the ones I did bid on.

It could also mean that it will be much harder to stay in DC, not a prospect I am thrilled about. I have only been here 6 months. I want to go back overseas, just not immediately.

So as of this moment, I have no idea where I will be after June. And I am one of those who really really likes to have a plan.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

More On Ambassador Guest and MOHs

The Washington Post had a good article today on Ambassador Guest's resignation and the challenges faces by "members of household" (MOH) at the State Department.

Ex-Ambassador Criticizes Rice
Envoy Unhappy With State Department's Treatment of Gays

By Glenn Kessler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 5, 2007; Page A27

Michael E. Guest, a tall, soft-spoken man with salt-and-pepper hair, looks every bit the diplomat. At the young age of 43, at the start of the Bush administration, he was named ambassador to Romania, and since he returned in 2004 he has trained new ambassadors before they ship out overseas.

But last month, after 26 years in the Foreign Service, he did something uncharacteristically undiplomatic.

Guest resigned from the State Department, giving up a career he loved, in order to protest rules and regulations that he believes are unfair to the same-sex partners of Foreign Service officers, giving them fewer benefits than family pets. He had spent the years since his return from Bucharest trying to win changes in policies, appealing directly to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, but said his proposals were met with indifference and inertia.

"I've felt compelled to choose between obligations to my partner, who is my family, and service to my country," Guest told a crowd of 75 senior State Department officials, a few steps from Rice's office, at his retirement ceremony on Nov. 20, according to a transcript of his remarks. "That anyone should have to make that choice is a stain on the secretary's leadership, and a shame for this institution and our country."

Within the State Department, gay men and lesbians are widely accepted, in contrast to the military, where an admission of homosexuality is grounds for dismissal. But Guest and others say the State Department's regulations have not kept pace with the department's culture, especially as Foreign Service officers overseas face increasing dangers.

For instance, same-sex partners -- or unmarried heterosexual partners -- are refused anti-terrorism security training or foreign-language training and are not evacuated when eligible family members are ordered to depart. Unlike spouses, they do not receive diplomatic passports, visas or even use of the State Department mail system. They also must pay their own way overseas, get their own medical care and are left to fend for themselves if a partner is sent to a dangerous post such as Iraq.

Many of these rules, Guest said, could be changed with Rice's signature, which he said was not a matter of gay rights but of equal treatment.

John Naland, the president of the American Foreign Service Association, said that a number of top officials attending the ceremony for Guest acknowledged that these issues should be addressed. "If everyone is saying we need to do more, then let's do more," he said.

"The secretary and the State Department do not discriminate on hiring or promotions," said Pat Kennedy, the undersecretary for management, who also attended the ceremony for Guest, a longtime colleague. "These are complex issues. We are committed to giving our personnel the support they need to get their jobs done."

Aaron W. Jensen, president of Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies, said the group's leadership met with Rice in May 2005 to argue for a change in policies but "we would like more leadership on this issue." He said that surveys indicated that about 350 same-sex partners were affected by the regulations. There are 12,000 Foreign Service officers, and about 5 percent are gay, he said.

J. Michelle Schohn, an officer in the intelligence bureau, said she gave up a budding career in archaeology and joined the Foreign Service simply because of the hassles she encountered when her partner was based in Azerbaijan, shortly after the Soviet Union collapsed. One of her partner's colleagues got married and his spouse immediately got a diplomatic passport, but Schohn was treated no differently than any American tourist. Because of the difficulties, she ended up flying to Azerbaijan a month at a time to stay with her partner, and received no housing allowance for staying home.

At one point, during violent protests, "had there been an evacuation, we would have had to pay to evacuate me," she said.

Once Schohn joined the Foreign Service, she said, the department "has been very good to us," posting the two together in Jerusalem and now back in Washington, though same-sex couples technically cannot bid for jobs in tandem.

Another Foreign Service officer, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of her counterterrorism work, said she had to pay for her partner's evacuation when she was based in an African country that erupted in conflict. Her partner was not allowed to attend embassy security briefings and was prohibited from using the diplomatic postage service. "Effectively, she doesn't exist," she said.

The travel costs of family pets, however, are paid for by the State Department.

When Guest was ambassador, he signed a waiver allowing his partner and other unmarried partners to pay to use the embassy medical facilities. When Guest returned to Washington to head the management and leadership school at State's Foreign Service Institute, he began a campaign to get the rules altered. He won an annual award in 2006 from AFSA for "constructive dissent," but saw little or no response from top officials. Finally, he wrote Rice directly in December, knowing that soon he would be posted again overseas.

"This was my last chance. I never got a response," Guest said yesterday. "I don't know that I expected a response. What I wanted was attention to the issue." He said that in the State Department culture, "one word from the secretary" would have spurred action.

"That's what I was hoping, that I would somehow get to her heart," he said.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Ambassador Guest's Remarks

Here are Ambassador Guest's remarks at his retirement ceremony in their entirety:

"You know, some boys grow up wanting to conquer the world. I grew up wanting to explore it, and eventually I came to want to change it, to make the world a better place. And I remember that when I first heard about the Foreign Service, it was like WOW! - this is the career I was born for, this is what I was always meant to do.

So as you can imagine, today is a bittersweet day for me. I love this profession. I always will. I'll always be proud to have been a part of the Foreign Service. I've had the unique and happy opportunity - well, not so unique, because most of you have had this opportunity too - to work on issues I really care about. And I've had great colleagues, every step of the way, those of you here today among them. Together we've done a lot to change the world for the better, in small ways and in large, and America is safer and more prosperous because of it. And when we're criticized unjustly, as has been the case in recent days, it's regrettable that the Administration hasn't done more to stand up for us.

You know, I invited a number of the newer members of our Service today because I wanted them to see this Foreign Service rite of passage. But this isn't a typical flag ceremony. Most departing ambassadors use these events to talk about their successes, the things they've done. But I want instead to talk about my signal failure, the failure that in fact is causing me to leave the career that I love.

For the past three years, I've urged the Secretary and her senior management team to redress policies that discriminate against gay and lesbian employees. Absolutely nothing has resulted from this. And so I've felt compelled to choose between obligations to my partner, who is my family, and service to my country. That anyone should have to make that choice is a stain on the Secretary's leadership, and a shame for this institution and our country.

Since I'm leaving over this matter, I ask that you indulge me for a moment. It's irrational that my partner can't be trained in how to recognize a terrorist threat, or an intelligence trap. How is that in our overseas communities' interests, or in those of the Department? It's unfair that, because we're not married and indeed cannot marry, I have to pay his transportation to my assignments. It makes no sense that partners cannot sit in otherwise vacant seats to learn the informal community roles expected of them as Ambassadors' or DCMs' partners. Why serve in dangerous or unhealthful places, if partners' evacuations and medevacs are at issue? And shouldn't gay and lesbian partners have separate maintenance allowances, when employees answer the call to duty in Iraq and elsewhere? Does their service and sacrifice somehow matter less?

I've spoken with many, but not all, of you about this over time. To those who are hearing this for the first time, I want to make clear that this is not about gay rights. Rather, it's about the safety and effectiveness of our communities abroad, of the people who represent America. It's about equal treatment of all employees, all of whom have the same service requirements, the same contractual requirements. It's as much a part of transforming diplomacy as any issue the Secretary has chosen to address. And fundamentally, it's about principles on which our country was founded, principles that you and I are called upon to represent abroad - principles that in fact are symbolized by this flag, which ironically has been offered to my partner.

Nick [Burns] and Harry [Thomas] - and Pat Kennedy, my old friend - congratulations, I just heard yesterday that you've been confirmed as Under Secretary for Management. I have complete confidence in you, and I know you're going to do a great job. I ask all of you to give this issue the priority it deserves. This is discrimination, pure and simple, and it doesn't deserve a place in the institution that this Secretary leads. I mean, come on! We do amazing things overseas, convincing governments to do things they really don't want to do. How is it that we can't convince our own leadership, our own government, to do something that's so clearly right? Secretary Rice has access and influence with this President, and now we have a Democratic Congress - you know that we can do this! Please take this issue up - not for my sake, it's too late for that, but for the sake of those who remain, and for the integrity of this institution and indeed of this flag.

I've often said that leaders are judged not only by the challenges they tackle, but by those they fail to address. Well, this is a question of leadership - and please don't just reach for the low-hanging fruit. That's really not enough. I've heard for a year and a half now that we're going to allow partners into a few FSI courses. Well, even that hasn't happened, but that's not good enough - it's the low-hanging fruit that should have been done years ago. This issue needs a comprehensive approach. We are WAY behind the private sector in this area, and it's time for the Department to catch up.

Enough said. Please work on this. If you need help from the outside, let me know, and I'm sure I can arrange it.

It's been such an honor and privilege to work with each of you. You and others do so much for our country, and I'm grateful for your friendship. I've had a lot of good mentors over my time in the Service. Most have left the service - people like Roz Ridgway, and Ray Seitz, and Avis Bohlen, true icons in the Foreign Service. Others, like Bill Burns, are now overseas and couldn't be here. But I see one of my mentors here. Bruce Burton taught me a lot about our craft early in my career. He also taught me that it was fun to work long hours in the office. Somebody arrest that man! Really, I learned a lot from Bruce about what can be achieved in the Service. Thank you.

I've mentored several of you, to try to keep you from making the same mistakes I've made, and I hope you've found my advice helpful. To the younger and newer members of our service, let me just say that y'all are terrific. You do our country proud. I know you'll play a major role in restoring America's image abroad and in making our world a better place, and I'm sorry I won't be with you, but I'll google you and watch you from afar, so be careful not to do anything that gets you into trouble, or I'll find out. There are also a number of folks with gray hair here today - prematurely gray, of course, like mine. Within a few years, we'll turn the keys of this State Department car entirely over to you. So here's my last piece of advice: don't let this car stand idle. Rev the engines, run it as fast as you can, and enjoy the ride, as we have.

Some of you have asked what I'll be doing next. Well, truthfully, I don't know. For awhile I'll probably enjoy watching re-runs of "Murder She Wrote." Seriously, when else will I have the luxury to stop and think about what's important to me, and what I want to do at this point in life? Wherever I land, and whatever I eventually do, I know I'll work on making a difference on issues that really matter to me. Maybe saving tropical rainforests, or helping instill the rule of law or democracy overseas, or maybe just trying to improve Comcast's customer service. I'm strangely comfortable with not knowing what lies next, as I know this is the right move for me.

Wherever I go, and whatever I do, I'll carry this flag with me. It will remind me of what our country should stand for. But the stars in this flag will remind me of you, of each of you, and of so many other cherished colleagues, far-flung across this globe, who serve America with skill and dedication and pride. Know that as you embark on your journeys, you carry my heart and America's hopes with you.

Thank you again for coming, and may God bless you all.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Unequal Treatment at the State Department

This today in the NYTimes blog. I am sorry to see Ambassador Guest go, but having left a career I loved and joined State because of the treatment partners receive, I understand his decision.

December 3, 2007, 2:20 pm
Unequal Treatment at the State Department
By The Editorial Board

Retirement ceremonies for career American diplomats tend to be predictable, decorous affairs reflecting the skills of envoys who have spent years perfecting the fine art of defending often indefensible Washington policies abroad. But when Michael Guest, a former ambassador to Romania, closed out his quarter-century career recently he did what few people do — displayed uncommon courage and threw a rhetorical hand-grenade into his own party.

Before friends, colleagues and top officials in the State Department Treaty Room, Mr. Guest took Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (who was not present) to task for failing to treat the partners of gay and lesbian foreign service officers the same as the spouses of heterosexual officers. And he revealed — with eloquent sadness, not anger — that this was the reason for his departure.

“Most departing ambassadors use these events to talk about their successes . . . But I want to talk about my signal failure, the failure that in fact is causing me to leave the career that I love,” said Mr. Guest, 50, whose most recent assignment was dean of the leadership and management school at the Foreign Service Institute, the government’s school for diplomats.

“For the past three years, I’ve urged the Secretary and her senior management team to redress policies that discriminate against gay and lesbian employees. Absolutely nothing has resulted from this. And so I’ve felt compelled to choose between obligations to my partner — who is my family — and service to my country. That anyone should have to make that choice is a stain on the Secretary’s leadership and a shame for this institution and our country,” he said.

Among the inequities cited by Mr. Guest and other gay diplomats: unlike heterosexual spouses, gay partners are not entitled to State Department-provided security training, free medical care at overseas posts, guaranteed evacuation in case of a medical emergency, transportation to overseas posts, or special living allowances when foreign service officers are assigned to places like Iraq, where diplomatic families are not permitted.

According to Aaron Jensen, president of Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies, gays comprise about 5 percent of the current force of 12,000 foreign affairs officers and there are roughly 350 same sex partners.

But the issue goes beyond the gay community, because elderly parents and adult children living with foreign services officers are also denied such benefits.

“This is not about gay rights . . . It’s about equal treatment of all employees, all of whom have the same service requirements, the same contractual requirements,” Mr. Guest — who was the first openly gay diplomat to be confirmed as ambassador and take his partner on his overseas posting — said in his farewell speech.

The good news is that unlike the military, which subscribes to a counterproductive “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that forces gays to pretend to be otherwise, the State Department does not consider open homosexuality a firing offense. And Mr. Jensen says the State Department is a much more tolerant workplace for gays than it was 10 or 20 years ago.

“In the past, there was quiet toleration. Now, it’s accepted,” Mr. Jensen says. “But it’s fair to say there’s been no focus on equality of benefits for gays and lesbians and their families in the State Department.”

Clearly, there is a need for reform. Some changes would require congressional action; others Secretary Rice could implement by fiat. Mr. Guest told The Times that he has heard nothing from her, even after his speech.

Treating gay public servants by different standards than apply to everyone else is unacceptable, especially at a time when all American diplomats and military personnel are being called on to serve — sometimes repeatedly — in war zones like Iraq and Afghanistan.

It’s also foolhardy since the two conflicts have put such strain on American resources that personnel shortages are commonplace. The government should be doing everything in its power to retain its best and brightest, beginning with treating them equally.


I'm back at work for my second of two overnights. With luck, our schedules won't change and this will be my last overnight for a month. I could stand that.

It is a really yucky night to have to go was pouring rain when I came in. I really appreciate the Diplomatic Security (DS) guys who keep us safe, both here and overseas. But boy do I feel for them on a night like this! Like me, they will be up all night. But unlike me, they will be guarding the entrances to the building. So they will be outside, all night, in the cold and pouring rain.

Whatever they get paid is not nearly enough.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Thank You Secretary Gates!

In a speech Secretary of Defense Robert Gates gave at Kansas State on Monday, he called for additional funding of the State Department. Among his comments about the Department:

"...But, my message today is not about the defense budget or military power. My message is that if we are to meet the myriad challenges around the world in the coming decades, this country must strengthen other important elements of national power both institutionally and financially, and create the capability to integrate and apply all of the elements of national power to problems and challenges abroad. In short, based on my experience serving seven presidents, as a former Director of CIA and now as Secretary of Defense, I am here to make the case for strengthening our capacity to use “soft” power and for better integrating it with “hard” power....

...The key, over time, was to devote the necessary resources – people and money – and get enough things right while maintaining the ability to recover from mistakes along the way. Ultimately, our endurance paid off and the Soviet Union crumbled, and the decades-long Cold War ended.

However, during the 1990s, with the complicity of both the Congress and the White House, key instruments of America’s national power once again were allowed to wither or were abandoned. Most people are familiar with cutbacks in the military and intelligence – including sweeping reductions in manpower, nearly 40 percent in the active army, 30 percent in CIA’s clandestine service and spies.

What is not as well-known, and arguably even more shortsighted, was the gutting of America’s ability to engage, assist, and communicate with other parts of the world – the “soft power,” which had been so important throughout the Cold War. The State Department froze the hiring of new Foreign Service officers for a period of time. The United States Agency for International Development saw deep staff cuts – its permanent staff dropping from a high of 15,000 during Vietnam to about 3,000 in the 1990s. And the U.S. Information Agency was abolished as an independent entity, split into pieces, and many of its capabilities folded into a small corner of the State Department.

Even as we throttled back, the world became more unstable, turbulent, and unpredictable than during the Cold War years. And then came the attacks of September 11, 2001, one of those rare life-changing dates, a shock so great that it appears to have shifted the tectonic plates of history. That day abruptly ended the false peace of the 1990s as well as our “holiday from history.”...

...these new threats also require our government to operate as a whole differently – to act with unity, agility, and creativity. And they will require considerably more resources devoted to America’s non-military instruments of power.

So, what are the capabilities, institutions, and priorities our nation must collectively address – through both the executive and legislative branches, as well as the people they serve?...

...I mentioned a moment ago that one of the most important lessons from our experience in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere has been the decisive role reconstruction, development, and governance plays in any meaningful, long-term success.

The Department of Defense has taken on many of these burdens that might have been assumed by civilian agencies in the past, although new resources have permitted the State Department to begin taking on a larger role in recent months. Still, forced by circumstances, our brave men and women in uniform have stepped up to the task, with field artillerymen and tankers building schools and mentoring city councils – usually in a language they don’t speak. They have done an admirable job....But it is no replacement for the real thing – civilian involvement and expertise....

...The importance of deploying civilian expertise has been relearned – the hard way – through the effort to staff Provincial Reconstruction Teams, first in Afghanistan and more recently in Iraq. The PRTs were designed to bring in civilians experienced in agriculture, governance, and other aspects of development – to work with and alongside the military to improve the lives of the local population, a key tenet of any counterinsurgency effort. Where they are on the ground – even in small numbers – we have seen tangible and often dramatic changes. An Army brigade commander in Baghdad recently said that an embedded PRT was “pivotal” in getting Iraqis in his sector to better manage their affairs....

...we need to develop a permanent, sizeable cadre of immediately deployable experts with disparate skills, a need which President Bush called for in his 2007 state of the union address, and which the State Department is now working on with its initiative to build a civilian response corps. Both the President and Secretary of State have asked for full funding for this initiative. But we also need new thinking about how to integrate our government’s capabilities in these areas, and then how to integrate government capabilities with those in the private sector, in universities, in other non-governmental organizations, with the capabilities of our allies and friends – and with the nascent capabilities of those we are trying to help.

Which brings me to a fundamental point. Despite the improvements of recent years, despite the potential innovative ideas hold for the future, sometimes there is no substitute for resources – for money.

Funding for non-military foreign-affairs programs has increased since 2001, but it remains disproportionately small relative to what we spend on the military and to the importance of such capabilities. Consider that this year’s budget for the Department of Defense – not counting operations in Iraq and Afghanistan – is nearly half a trillion dollars. The total foreign affairs budget request for the State Department is $36 billion – less than what the Pentagon spends on health care alone. Secretary Rice has asked for a budget increase for the State Department and an expansion of the Foreign Service. The need is real.

Despite new hires, there are only about 6,600 professional Foreign Service officers – less than the manning for one aircraft carrier strike group. And personnel challenges loom on the horizon. By one estimate, 30 percent of USAID’s Foreign Service officers are eligible for retirement this year – valuable experience that cannot be contracted out.

Overall, our current military spending amounts to about 4 percent of GDP, below the historic norm and well below previous wartime periods. Nonetheless, we use this benchmark as a rough floor of how much we should spend on defense. We lack a similar benchmark for other departments and institutions.

What is clear to me is that there is a need for a dramatic increase in spending on the civilian instruments of national security – diplomacy, strategic communications, foreign assistance, civic action, and economic reconstruction and development. Secretary Rice addressed this need in a speech at Georgetown University nearly two years ago. We must focus our energies beyond the guns and steel of the military, beyond just our brave soldiers, sailors, Marines, and airmen. We must also focus our energies on the other elements of national power that will be so crucial in the coming years....

...I hear all the time from the senior leadership of our Armed Forces about how important these civilian capabilities are. In fact, when Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen was Chief of Naval Operations, he once said he’d hand a part of his budget to the State Department “in a heartbeat,” assuming it was spent in the right place.

After all, civilian participation is both necessary to making military operations successful and to relieving stress on the men and women of our armed services who have endured so much these last few years, and done so with such unflagging bravery and devotion. Indeed, having robust civilian capabilities available could make it less likely that military force will have to be used in the first place, as local problems might be dealt with before they become crises."

Here is the link if you want to read the speech in its entirety.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Turkey Day!

I wanted to wish everyone a Happy Turkey Day/Busk/Green Corn!

Since I had to work last night and tonight, M went to see her folks for the day without me. So I had a great lunch with a good friend from Jerusalem and some friends she served with in Manilla. Among them were three of the Marines she served with, and it was really great to sit and chat with them. It reminded me of the good times I had with the Marines in Jerusalem and what great guys they were.

It made me thankful for the job I have and the comraderie you develop with other Foreign Service people. I had only met two of my friend's guests briefly once before, and yet we could all sit around and share stories of our service. You make such great friends in the service, and even the folks you don't know either have a friend in common with you or have been to a place you have been. The Foreign Service is a small world, and one I am thankful and proud to be a part of.

I am also thankful for having a wonderful partner, a wonderful home and family that loves me. I am thankful we all, including the pets, are in good health. I am thankful to be back in the states for a while, and thankful I am an American, and one fortunate enough to get to serve this great country.

funny pictures
moar funny pictures

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Can Someone Explain...

Can anyone explain to me why the Department, after all of the uproar over announcing the possibility of directed assignments first in the media, STILL seems to think it is better to tell the media before it tells us?? This came out yesterday...I was at work yesterday and there was no cable or email about this.

State Dept. Seeks Workers for Hot Spots

WASHINGTON (AP) - The State Department has begun looking for diplomats willing to take hundreds of unfilled positions at embassies and consulates in 15 dangerous countries after finding enough volunteers to avoid forcing some to go to Iraq.

Having averted an employee revolt over the prospect of ordered tours of duty in Iraq, the department is now seeking foreign service officers for more than 500 jobs at 21 diplomatic missions in those countries, which include Afghanistan and Pakistan, officials said Monday.

The selection process for the non-Iraq hardship posts, all of which are also of limited one-year duration and covered by restrictions banning or limiting the presence of family members, starts this week and should be completed by January, Foreign Service Director General Harry Thomas said. "Afghanistan and Pakistan will be first and then we will move to the other unaccompanied posts over the next several weeks," he said. The other nations in that category are Algeria, Bosnia, Burundi, Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ivory Coast, Lebanon, Liberia, Palau, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Sudan and Yemen.

Thomas said he was "pretty confident" that volunteers would be found for all the jobs but stressed that if there were not enough, the department would force diplomats to fill them under threat of dismissal in the same so-called "directed assignments" system that ignited controversy over the Iraq positions.

"We reserve the right to direct assign at any time," he told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.

Thomas' comments followed the State Department's formal announcement that volunteers had come forward to take all 48 vacant positions at the U.S. embassy in Baghdad and outlying provinces that will open next summer and that it would not have to force anyone to go to Iraq.

"We are pleased to announce that all of the Iraq jobs have been filled by volunteers," spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters, adding that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice would be sending a worldwide cable congratulating the foreign service and those who answered the call.

McCormack said Rice had assured herself that all the volunteers were qualified and "that we met the bar that we had set for ourselves." "We, in no way, lowered the standards in order to get these volunteers," he said. "We're quite pleased that the Foreign Service and the State Department has stepped up to this challenge."

The prospect of the largest diplomatic call-up since Vietnam had caused an uproar among the 11,500-member Foreign Service. At a contentious town hall meeting late last month, the strength of their opposition came into public view as some diplomats protested the forced assignments, citing safety and security concerns.

Three foreign service personnel - two diplomatic security agents and one political officer - have been killed in Iraq since the war began in March 2003.

The complaints were a deep embarrassment to the department and led Rice and her deputy, John Negroponte, to remind diplomats of their duty to serve their government anywhere they are needed.

More than 1,500 diplomats have volunteered to work in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. Still, the resistance to forced assignments generated bitter criticism of the diplomatic corps; some Internet commentators accused the foreign service of cowardice and treason.

At the Oct. 31 town hall meeting, hundreds of diplomats applauded when one likened a forced tour in Iraq to a "potential death sentence." Some at the session questioned the ethics of ordering unarmed civilians into a war zone and expressed concerns about a lack of training and medical care for those who have served.

The debate, often in nasty exchanges, has surfaced on the State Department's official blog. Last week, the Web log posted a critical message from a career diplomat in Iraq who accused opponents of directed assignments of being spoiled elitists and suggested they are "wimps and weenies." More than 200 people, including some who identify themselves as foreign service or military officers, had entered the fray on the Dipnote blog as of Monday, making it one of the most popular posts the two-month-old venture has published.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Ex-Hostage Says, Don't Fault the Brave Foreign Service

Remember the hostages held in Iran? They were Foreign Service Officers. Just like those of us serving today. The letter below is from one of them, and is worth reading.

November 15, 2007
Ex-Hostage Says, Don't Fault the Brave Foreign Service

To the Editor:

As a retired Foreign Service officer and a former hostage in Iran, I regret the growing media cynicism portraying the Foreign Service as a bunch of sheep unwilling to rise to the challenge of assignments to Baghdad.

This is nonsense. More than 2,000 Foreign Service personnel have volunteered for service in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past five years. I've met many of them on their return.

While frustrated by the security limitations that make it both difficult and dangerous for them to exercise traditional diplomatic functions beyond the Green Zone, they courageously volunteer to serve as unarmed civilians, as is their calling.

Baghdad has a lower vacancy rate than any other American embassy in the world. Criticize the government policies that obligate service in one of America's largest embassies in unprecedented danger these days, but not the hundreds of still deeply committed Foreign Service officers who are ready to serve there.

Bruce Laingen

Bethesda, Md., Nov. 12, 2007
Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company

One the One Hand, I'm Happy...

I just heard that the department has gotten volunteers for all 48 of the unfilled positions in Iraq (which is awesome), meaning no one will be directed to Iraq. Once again, my collegues have shown that no matter what you read in the media, we DO step up to the plate and do our part, even when it is hard, even when it is unpopular, and even when it strains the rest of the service.

My concern is that I heard the announcement over DC's NBC affiliate Channel 4. I verified that that no internal announcement has gone out. The station said the announcement is scheduled to be made tomorrow.

The announcement is also already in the Washington Post online:

US Drops Plan to Force Diplomats to Iraq

Is this the department's new communication method with us?

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Addressing Comments about the Diplo-draft

The Foreign Service has been taking a beating in the media over the whole directed-assignments issue. Much of what has been reported in the media has focused on inaccuracies and a few comments taken out of comments. The worst of them have questioned our courage, committment and patriotism. And as someone who joined the service after, and in no small part because of, 9-11, I resent it.

Here, according to AFSA, our employee association, are some of the facts, with my own comments in italics:

-- more than 2,000 FS members have volunteered for service in Iraq/Afghanistan over the past five years;

-- no one has had to be directed to serve in either war zone thus far;

-- this exercise is about a potential shortfall in volunteers for a relatively small number of positions in Iraq for summer 2008 (and I might add, these are NEW positions. The existing positions were all filled with volunteers);

-- well over 80 percent of the FS-designated positions in Iraq for summer 2008 have already been filled, eight months in advance;

-- Embassy Baghdad has a lower vacancy rate than almost any other U.S. embassy in the world (94% as opposed to 79% for the rest of the world, even as the Service is down by 20%...we are 11,500 strong and need an additional 2,094 officers to fill all of our positions and allow for a training float similar to that of the military);

-- most people in the Foreign Service spend the majority of their careers in
increasingly difficult and dangerous hardship posts (M and I volunteered for Jerusalem during the second intifada, and M served in Azerbaijan before that);

-- unlike the military, our members are courageously volunteering to serve as unarmed civilians in a combat zone;

-- our assignment system has always worked on a voluntary basis because FS
members take seriously their commitment to worldwide service;

-- when the Foreign Service is compared unfavorably with the military, we have attempted to note that the Foreign Service is less than one-half of one percent of the size of the U.S. military in personnel and budget (there are more army musicians than foreign service officers), and that we are stretched thin all over the world at the other 260 embassies and consulates that we staff , most of which are hardship posts. (And we ARE all over the world. More than 60% of the Foreign Service is "forward deployed," compared with about 20% of the military. So unlike the military, we don't automatically get sent back to the states or a European post after an overseas tour.)

I had two primary complaints about the directed assignments: that they had been almost exclusively targetting those who had already served in the region, leaving untouched those who had served in lesser hardship posts, and that they announced in the media before telling us. The second still annoys me, but the first that have corrected, with many of the "prime candidates" having never served in the Middle East. That is as it should be. We are supposed to be generalists. We are supposed to be able to work where ever the Department sends us...I would have no "regional experience" if they decided to send me to Mexico, but I would go.

And if they order me to Iraq, I will go. In a few years, depending on the health of some family members (the reason I don't volunteer now), I will probably volunteer. I think it is hypocritical for those outside either the Foreign Service or the military to question my patriotism. I have already put my life at risk to serve my country in a dangerous place. No doubt I will again.

Make no mistake. I may have concerns about the way some personnel issues are handled, but I am proud to be in the Service and I am proud of my service to the country.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Scare Over?

Happy Halloween!

My own personal scare seems to be over. Apparently I am not getting the dreaded "prime candidate" email, at least not this time. Of course, next summer bidding season, M will be bidding, and presumably, if I get a two-year position this round, I will be the following summer. I fully expect one or both of us to get the call by then.

I do know a number of folks who got the email, and I have to say that the identification process for "prime candidates" is even less transparent than I expected. Of the four folks I know personally who have gotten the email, only one has regional and language experience. A good friend from A-100 has served in Algiers and Beijing, so he has French and Chinese. One woman in the Ops center got the email because the person on the committee knew her. Another has served in Romania and England. On the one hand, I am glad they are "spreading the wealth" to folks outside of those who have served in the Middle East. On the other, how are they choosing? Grade, cone and transfer eligibility date seem to have the most to do with it, but I can't really be sure of that.

It does seem like they are targetting people at the rank of FS 03. So maybe there is at least one bright spot to my not getting promoted this time.

Our Pumpkins

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

A Letter from AFSA

This is an email sent out by our "union," which eloquently states many of the concerns both I and many of my collegues have voiced. The bolding is mine.

AFSANET: Implications of Directed Assignments: October 30, 2007

This is an update from AFSA President John Naland:

On October 26, 2007, the Director General of the Foreign Service and Director of Human Resources, Ambassador Harry K. Thomas, Jr., announced to the news media (and later to employees via an ALDAC cable) that the well has finally run dry of State Department Foreign Service volunteers to serve in the war zone in Iraq. He announced that, if volunteers
could not be found for 48 remaining positions by November 12, then directed assignments would begin.

AFSA regrets this fateful turn of events. From 2003 through 2007, over 2,000 career Foreign Service members volunteered to serve in Iraq. Now, with the Foreign Service facing a fifth rotation into Iraq, the addition of 80 new positions to fill next summer at the giant U.S. mission in Baghdad and the expanding Provincial Reconstruction Teams around the country has pushed the strain on our ranks to the breaking point.

While there are many Foreign Service members who have not (yet) served in Iraq, only a small fraction possesses the regional, language, or other expertise that Ambassador Ryan Crocker says that he needs. And many members in that reduced group are now at, or have recently returned from, some other hardship assignment.

With 68 percent of the Foreign Service already “forward deployed” in 189 foreign countries (compared to 21 percent of the uniformed military stationed abroad), the Foreign Service has no bench strength with which to surge more personnel into Iraq. The State Department’s own September 2007 staffing data show a 1,015 position operational staffing deficit in the Foreign Service, plus an additional 1,079 position deficit in training and related needs. This 2,094 position deficit is documented in a blue-ribbon report released on October 15 by the Center for Strategic & International Studies

Yet, despite this huge deficit between the State Department’s mission and the resources available to carry out that mission, the Administration is seeking to add just 254 new positions in its still-pending FY-08 budget request. The prospects are uncertain for Congressional funding of even that inadequate request. That comes on top of Congressional refusal to fund 100 positions in FY-07 and 221 additional positions in FY-06 to narrow worldwide staffing gaps.

All of these factors have combined to deplete the well of potential Foreign Service volunteers for Iraq. Nevertheless, AFSA repeats its call for any Foreign Service member who has been considering a tour in Iraq to volunteer now. We also repeat our call for Foreign Service retirees with Middle East experience, particularly those with Arabic-language skills, to consider serving in Iraq. For both groups, the financial and other benefits are substantial. Obviously, there are also substantial physical and emotional risks.

At the same time, AFSA stands by our position that directed assignments of unarmed Foreign Service members into the war zone in Iraq would be detrimental to the individual, to the post, and to the Foreign Service as a whole.

This position has been questioned by some who point to the Foreign Service record during the Vietnam War. However, most Foreign Service veterans of that conflict with which AFSA has consulted draw sharp distinctions between Vietnam and Iraq. Without minimizing the courage
and sacrifices of their colleagues and themselves 40 years ago, they report that Saigon (except during the 1968 Tet Offensive) was rarely as dangerous as Baghdad has been and that the Viet Cong rarely targeted CORDS (Civil Operations and Revolutionary Development Support) personnel in the way that PRT members in Iraq are being targeted. They also note that the State Department today gives Iraq-bound Foreign Service members only around two weeks of pre-deployment training compared to the four to six month comprehensive training regimen provided to Vietnam-bound diplomats.

All this serves to underscore the remarkable dedication of Foreign Service volunteers in Iraq since 2003. The same is certainly true for Foreign Service volunteers in Afghanistan.

Thus, while AFSA acknowledges that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has legal authority to order Foreign Service members to Iraq, we continue to urge the State Department to find ways to staff a right-sized Embassy Baghdad with volunteers. Those ways, as AFSA has long suggested, could include substantially increasing the Involuntary Separate Maintenance Allowance, creating special incentives for those willing to serve two-year tours in Iraq, and actively recruiting Foreign Service retirees willing to serve in Iraq.

The announcement of directed assignments to the war zone in Iraq is a further blow to Foreign Service morale that is already depressed by a widely shared conclusion that the Administration in recent years has paid inadequate attention to securing the resources that diplomats need to
advance America’s vital interests worldwide.

In the online opinion survey of active duty State Department Foreign Service members being conducted by AFSA State Vice President Steve Kashkett (it began in mid-October and will run for one more week after which AFSA will report full results), only 15 percent of the over 3,700 respondents to date say that they believe that the Administration is doing a good job of securing resources for the Department. Only 12 percent believe that the Administration is doing a good job of convincing Congress to correct the overseas pay disparity. Only 20 percent believe that the Administration is doing a good job of defending the Foreign Service. This lack of support arguably weakens the State Department’s moral authority to order unarmed diplomats to serve in
the war zone in Iraq.

In the survey, a striking 45 percent say that “developments in the last few years have made me less likely to remain in the Foreign Service for a full career.” That last statistic is higher among entry level employees. AFSA has a request pending for updated Foreign Service attrition statistics.

The poll also shows that 68 percent of respondents oppose directed assignments to Iraq. And that snapshot of survey results was taken before directed assignments changed from being a future possibility to an immediate probability. In the last few days, AFSA has received an
avalanche of e-mails from members, many expressing hurt and disbelief that they and their families learned about this life-and-death announcement last weekend via the news media instead of directly from their employer.

In the days ahead, AFSA will continue to speak out on behalf of the Foreign Service on the issue of directed assignments to Iraq. In doing so, we will be guided by our responsibilities as the voice of the Foreign Service. We will also be guided by our new survey results showing that two thirds of respondents want AFSA to be more vocal and assertive, even at the cost of more friction with Management (one percent of respondents want us to be less vocal and assertive).

To conclude, AFSA salutes the over 2,000 career Foreign Service members who have volunteered since 2003 to serve in the war zone in Iraq. We encourage any Foreign Service member who has been considering a tour in Iraq to volunteer now. We also continue to strongly urge the State Department to find ways to staff a right-sized Embassy Baghdad with volunteers.

If only I'd had my camera!

As much as I dislike the overnight shift, there is something that is always stunning about seeing DC in the early morning sun after having been up all night.

This morning, though, I got a special treat. As I was heading across Memorial Bridge toward Arlington cemetery on my way home at about 8 this morning, I spotted a bald eagle flying across the bridge and down the Potomac River. And just behind it, there was another! A pair of bald eagles flying together!

Probably best I didn't have my camera...I nearly wrecked without one!

Still Don't Know...

...if I have dodged the bullet. The emails that were to be sent around identifying the "prime candidates" for the Iraq positions today didn't go out. Supposedly we will hear tomorrow.

Seems like most folks are pretty upset about the way we were "notified." The cable telling us about all this went out after close of business Friday and AFTER the press conference. That is really no way to treat people who are serving the country, people you are asking to put themselves in harms way, unarmed in a war zone.

Monday, October 29, 2007

What I Miss...

I have heard people say that overseas, they get really accustomed to having GSO take care of all of their maintenance needs. They get back to the states and have forgetten how to change a lightbulb.

Not me. Since returning, I have not only changed lightblubs, I have re-caulked my tub, installed a cabinet in the bathroom, assembled new bookshelves, ripped out old cable wire, and hauled away all the boxes from moving home. Yes, overseas, they would do all of that except the lightbulb!

No, what I miss is medical. M and I recently had some things we considered going to the doctor over, and I suggested we go to the nurse at work to get a referral. Nope. Not even a referral. And I had gotten used to the nurse being someone I could wake up in the middle of the night if I had food poisoning. Someone who would call in a prescription for antibiotics, or arrange tests at labs. Someone who would go with me to the hospital if need be. Someone who called to check on my after my apartment was robbed, and again after I was robbed at knifepoint. Someone I trusted. And now I have to find my own doctor?

So, Eliana, the list of what I miss about Jerusalem isn't a long one, but you are definitely on it!!

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Iraq Bound?

If you read the Washington Post online today, you know that the department has decided to "direct" people to Iraq. We all knew this was coming...they just weren't able to get enough "volunteers" even with the incentive packages and arm twisting.

It is more likely that M will get forced than that I will, though I am not happy with either prospect. She got Arabic training and I got Hebrew, so she has the coveted "regional and language experience." Basically meaning that the Department is first sending people who have already volunteered to serve in the Middle East. Sort of makes me wish we had pushed for going to Europe. Silly us, we wanted to serve where the country needed us.

The article is below, in full. Do note however that saying that directed assignments have happened before because an entire class of junior officers was directed to Vietnam is a bit disengenuous. Junior officers are always directed on their first two tours. It is after those tours that officers have the expectation of not being forced into a job.

I suspect this will put a big damper on recruiting, and I know a LOT of folks who said they would quit if it came to this.

U.S. State Department enforces postings to Iraq

By Sue Pleming
Friday, October 26, 2007; 8:14 PM

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Facing staff shortages in Iraq, the U.S. State Department announced on Friday that diplomats would have no choice but to accept one-year postings in the hostile environment or face losing their jobs.

In what is likely to be an unpopular move with staff, State Department human resources director Harry Thomas said about 250 "prime candidates" for vacant Iraqi posts would be notified on Monday of the decision.

He said they would have 10 working days to respond to the demand that they go to Iraq in summer, 2008, and only those with valid reasons such as a medical problem, would be exempt.

Until now postings to Iraq have been on a voluntary basis and often hard to fill.

"We have all taken an oath to serve our country and so if someone decides they do not want to go, then we would then consider appropriate actions," Thomas said in a conference call with reporters.

"We have many options, including dismissal from the foreign service," added Thomas, who returned on Thursday from a visit to Iraq where he assessed staffing needs for next year.

Iraq assignments will be handed out from November 12 until the U.S. Thanksgiving Holiday on November 22 but Thomas said he hoped that enough diplomats would step forward voluntarily.

Privately, many U.S. diplomats say they fear being posted to Iraq because of the risks of working in a war zone. In addition, it is an "unaccompanied" posting, meaning children and a spouse cannot accompany the diplomat because of the dangers involved.

Thomas said the State Department had made "directed" assignments before, such as in 1969 when an entire junior foreign officer class was sent to Vietnam and again in the 1970s and 1980s for some difficult African postings.

"This is not unique," he said. "Foreign service officers have always volunteered for their country."

Currently there are about 200 U.S. diplomats in Iraq who serve on a one-year basis and the staffing need would rise to about 250 for next summer, he said.

Thomas said about 1,200 State Department employees have already served in Iraq since the U.S. invasion in March 2003 and those postings have so far been on a volunteer basis.

He said there was an attractive financial package for those serving in Iraq as well as five recreational breaks during the year-long posting.

He did not believe the move would discourage people from joining the foreign service.

"After Google and Disney, we are the most popular place for people to work," Thomas said, referring to a recent survey that ranked the State Department in the top five places to work in America.

Monday, October 08, 2007

I Must Be Nuts...

Maybe I am nuts to think about leaving the Foreign Service and going back into archaeology. One thing the Foreign Service definitely affords you is the opportunity to see so much more of the world than you would likely see otherwise (if for no other reason than cost).

I was just looking at the photos I posted on my Facebook page and thinking about all the places I have been. I have scuba'd in the Red Sea. I have climbed Masada and Vesuvious. I have ridden a camel to the pyramids at Giza. I have been in the Hagia Sofia and Blue Mosque in Istanbul. I've wandered the streets of Pompeii and seen the Piata and the Sistine Chapel. I have hiked through Petra and seen the Dead Sea Scrolls. And I have lived where I had a good view of the Dome of the Rock in the Old City of Jerusalem from my balcony.

How cool is that?

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Overnights Again

Some of my collegues told us Watch newbies that working the Watch feels like constant jetlag...

Boy are they right.

I just finished two overnights, and I am feeling every minute of my 40 years. But on the bright side, I am getting sushi again tonight (let's hear it for having friends who are also sushi addicts!) and then I have four days off. The plan is to make some progress on my dissertation.

In other news, folks I have talked to about jobs I am bidding on are beginning to reach out to references I gave them. Which means, I hope, they are seriously considering me. I know the German desk has contacted one of my friends in Jerusalem, and the folks from the Balkans desks have gotten back to me wanting to know my ranking of those jobs. Both are good signs. I think I have a decent shot at being offered a good job this time. Maybe of having more than one good one to choose from.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Maybe I'll Stay

I've been giving a lot of thought to not leaving the State Department. I know that sounds weird. I was even asked at a job interview why I was considering leaving, when it was such a plum job.

There are no two ways about it. I was miserable in Jerusalem. And I spent a great deal of time searching USAjobs trying to find a job back in archaeology. But finding a job in archaeology that pays what I make now is like finding the proverbial needle in a haystack.

But I realized the other day that I was thinking about how content I am right now. Okay, I am not wild about the shifts, but I am already 1/4 of the way through this assignment. And I do like my job. The work, especially when I am the Watch Officer and not the Current Intelligence Officer (that is more like being a copy clerk), is really interesting. I am learning A LOT. And as I am bidding and talking to people about jobs I am bidding for, I am realizing how happy people in my bureau, Intelligence and Research (INR), are. Many have done multiple tours there, some even converted to civil service so they could stay in INR permanently. And with the higher clearance I now have, I could also go work for other agencies if I chose.

I have also realized that I would enjoy any of the six core bids, or bids on jobs that are at cone, in grade (meaning in our career track (cone) and at our rank), that I have picked. Plus, there are a least another six jobs I am bidding on that are not core, that I think I would like. I am bidding on four desk officer positions for the Balkans and one for Germany, plus a press officer position for the Balkans, a consular press officer position, a job teaching the public diplomacy course, a job working with the legislature, two political analyst positions and one press analyst position. There is a staff aide position in INR I may bid on as well. And any of these jobs would be interesting.

Which is to say there is are a lot of places I can go in the Department and find interesting work. And the supervisors for all of these places seem pretty good.

So I have a good job with great benefits and interesting potential for the future. Add to all this that I love our condo, I love being in the states, and I love being here with M. Really I have a lot to be thankful for. We don't have to worry about bills. I can go to the dog park with Noostie. We are developing a network of friends here, including some of our best friends from Jerusalem. I am thrilled that outside of that pressure cooker, we all still like each other.

All of which is to say maybe I will stick with the State Department.

Which of course means I am milli-seconds away from being offered the perfect job in archaeology. But even if that happened, it is not a bad position to be in.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007


I am feeling a bit better about the whole bidding situation, but it is still a major pain. It is hard to meet with so many people about so many different jobs and to keep track of it all.

I had two interviews of a sort today. Both went extremely well and I think I have a good shot at the job I want. But it is technically two ranks higher than me (hopefully only one once the promotion list comes out), which means they can want me but can't tell me with certainty that I will have the job for quite a while. And if someone of the right rank decides at the last minute that they didn't get the job they wanted and want this one instead, I would be screwed. Even if I am the one the office wants. Fortunately, I also think I have a good shot at my second and third choices, which would also be decent jobs. And one of them is at my rank.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007


When I got home from Jerusalem, I was desperate to find a different job. I had been miserable there and I really wanted to go back into archaeology.

I still want to go back into archaeology. I don't love what I am doing now like I loved archaeology. But that said, I am not miserable anymore. I like my job. I can foresee getting other jobs within the department that I would also like, and I think I have a good shot at them. And I am tenured, so not only do I have a really good salary and great benefits, I have job security. So I am not desperate to leave.

But I put in a number of applications when I first got here. And today I had an interview with a job I think would be fabulous - archaeologist for Mt. Vernon. It is a permanent position with good benefits. I'd get to teach classes, be out in the field...the folks there seem great. The area is gorgeous. Problem? Huge salary cut. Not as big as some of the contract positions I have seen, but close. They said upper 40s. I make a good bit more than that. I could take a salary cut, but how much and at what cost? I put a good bit into my TSP and IRA to plan for my retirement. I couldn't do that with that kind of salary cut. Well, not and keep our condo. But we wouldn't find a place around here all that much cheaper. And hell, I'm not sure we'd have enough to keep the condo even cutting out saving for retirement (which at my age is an admitted dumb idea if I plan to actually retire).

But my conundrum is, where do I draw the line? At what point do I say that being happy now is more important than the money. It isn't a simple question. On one hand, I am SO much less stressed than I was before I got this job because I don't have to worry about my bills. But on the other, I love archaeology and I feel like I have something to offer there. I don't feel special in the State Department. And because my mother died at 48, I know living to retirement is not a sure thing.

I probably won't take this job if it is offered to me. But as the amounts get a little higher, I have to think more and more. And I don't know where line is.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Where Were You?

I was in Chapel Hill, NC, sitting in a graduate anthropology class on chiefdoms six years ago today. We took a short break to go across the hall to our office and Theresa told us all the news. One friend's father was working at the Pentagon. Others knew people in NY. All of us were stunned.

I taught class that day and we mostly sat with the tv on and talked about the attack. In the days and weeks to come, I spent a lot of time thinking about what it all meant and wondering if archaeology was the best way for me to serve my country.

My first impulse was to join the military, but I shouldn't have to lie about who I am in order to serve. They shouldn't make me a security risk by forcing me to be closeted.

So I joined the State Department instead, where I could be open about who I am, and for the last three years I have served my country as a diplomat. I am proud of my service even when I am not proud of my country. But for all its flaws, it is still the best deal going, and having been overseas, I still think America does most things better than anyone else. I still think America is the best country on the planet.

But now, and maybe this is partly a function of turning 40, I wonder if I might better serve my country by going back into archaeology. By teaching people that our country's history did not begin with the landing of the Mayflower or even the various explorers before that. Maybe teaching people about my history, as an American Indian, is also service. Maybe reaching out to other Indians is a good way to serve as well, because we are part of the tapestry of this country and part of what makes this country strong.

I don't know what I will do. I like my job and I continue to be proud to serve. But I love archaeology. It is important to me to serve. I am just not sure how.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Slowly, Some Clarity

I am making some headway with the bidlist. There are some interesting desk positions that are pretty much at the top of my list (Serbia, Albania, Croatia) plus some analyst positions in that same area and in the Israel/Occupied Territories/Jordan area. I can't bid the analyst positions as "core bids," of which I need six, because core bids must be in cone and at grade. In cone means they must either be Public Diplomacy jobs (which is my cone) or Interfunctional. At grade for me means they need to be at the FS 03 grade (I am actually a grade lower than that, an FS 04 (lower numbers are higher ranks), but because I got tenure, I can bid 03 positions as core bids). So the analyst positions can be considered in cone because they are interfunctional, but they are FS 02. I can bid on them, but they won't count as one of the six bids I have to have. The desk jobs will, though.

Other jobs I am considering are slots on the nuclear task force (which would get me a year of Russian) and a position as the Deputy Director of PD Tradecraft, the PD training course.

And, the add a little something interesting to the mix, I spotted a job in academia that I would LOVE to have. It is an assistant professor of anthropology specializing in the archaeology of southeastern American Indians. The applicant needs to have experience in researching race, class and gender (I do), experience in public archaeology (I do), and have PhD in hand by August 2008 (insha'allah, I will). The timing of the job would even allow me to finish my job in INR so I don't have to leave them short-handed.

So who knows? Many possibilities.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

It Didn't Help

The waiting is over...the bid list is out. So now I have verification of the jobs I thought would be there. And just as I thought, there are some really interesting ones. Too many. Not sure what to do.

I don't have to have my bids in until October, but I need to lobby for the jobs I want in the meantime.

And then of course, wait....until as late as January....for my assignment.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Friday, August 17, 2007


I swear that sometimes (okay, a lot of the times), the State Department seems like a hurry up and wait sort of place. It starts before you join. You sign up for the written exam and then you wait to take it. You take it and wait to get the results (3 months I think for me). You get the results and then wait for the oral assessment (seven months). You pass the oral assessment and wait to get your medical and security clearances (mine took 2 1/2 months, but only because I have had a boring life! Some take 2 years!). Once you get your clearances, you wait for "the call" to join an A-100 (the orientation class). Depending on your score, that could happen quickly (I got an offer almost immediately, declined it and took the offer for the next class) or you could wait 18 months, not get an offer, and have to start all over again.

Then you wait for the bid list, wait for your assignment, wait for tenure, wait for promotion, wait for your bid list again. It is an OCD's worst nightmare.

And so here I am, less than a week after getting tenure and I am in the holding pattern for not one but two things...promotion and bidding. Promotion I will find out about around Octoberish. The bid list is due out next week. It is weird to be bidding so soon after starting an assignment, but my position in INR Watch is only for one year, and so it goes. Getting tenure opens up all kinds of options for me, because before tenure, you are only eligible to receive one full course of language (I got Hebrew...useful only in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, neither of which I want to bid on after living in J'lem for more than 2 years).

Now I can bid on almost anything at my grade, since I am now considered a mid-level officer (no longer a Junior Officer! Woo hoo!), including language. But what to do? There are some interesting Public Diplomacy (PD) jobs (my career cone is PD), but there are also some desk jobs. I just found out a friend is going to be the Deputy Office Director for Western Europe, and I wouldn't mind working for him. The guy I did my bridge assignment for in NEA/PD (Near East Affairs Public Diplomacy) is now handling PD in DC's South Central Asia (SCA) office, and he was great to work for. There are analyst positions in INR, which would be lots of fun, and then there are any number of overseas posts offering a year of language training before you go to post. This might be my chance to get Russian.

So bidding this time could be fun. Of course, once I bid, it could be as late as January before I actually get my assignment locked in...Sigh.

Monday, August 13, 2007

I Got It!

The tenure cable finally came out. I'm tenured!!

Tenuring Troubles

Yes, I am still waiting. Impatiently. I have been refreshing the ALDACS cable que every few minutes. And sometimes it won't refresh. Maybe between me and all my A-100 classmates, we have broken it.

Like I said before, lots of really good officers don't get it the first time around, and largely for reasons beyond our control. I think that is one of the most frustrating things about this process. They could deny you tenure the first time for not going to Iraq, or not doing our consular work, or doing too much consular work, or having only one boss or not getting a hard language...and we have zero say in whether we get any of that. Our first two tours are directed, completely at the will of the Career Development Officers (CDOs). And yet this decision is made as though we had some part in the decision-making process.

One of my classmates suggested they just tenure everyone who did a good job, since they know they will eventually anyway. A part of me suspects they don't do that because they need to be able to direct people to Iraq or passport duty, and they can't really force tenured officers to go.

The longer it takes, the more edgey I get. It got worse last week when several of my classmates, all of whom I consider good officers deserving of tenure, got emails from their CDOs saying they had been passed over for tenure this time. I am cautiously optimistic because I got an email from my CDO saying I would NOT be getting such an email from her office.

But you never know until the cable is out.

I think I'll go refresh the queue again.

Friday, August 03, 2007


I have been trying to convince myself that I didn't care if I got tenure this time around. In the State Department, tenure is basically the same as in academia. If you have it, it is really really hard to fire you. So its job security basically.

You get considered for tenure at the first tenure board that meets after your 3-year anniversary of service. That was March 4 for my class, and the next tenure board met in late May/early June. But it takes a while, usually a couple of months, for the results to come out.

And for most of that time, I haven't given it a second thought. But now that the tenure cable is due any time now, I can think of little else. In my head, I know that it is quite likely I won't get it the first time around. You have to get it within your first five years or they kick you out, but having what the boards want is like shooting at a moving target. So some of the best officers I have served with did not get tenure the first time around and it had nothing to do with them. Some boards don't give tenure to folks who had long-term language training, some only give it to those with long-term training. And some people just have the misfortune of having bosses who couldn't write their way out of a paper bag, much less do a good job on an EER. So it is a crap shoot.

But that said, I know if I don't get it the first time around, I am going to take it personally. I shouldn't. I know I shouldn't. But I will. And what will be even more depressing is that those who get tenure this time get to go up for promotion immediately. But the promotion board, unlike the tenure board, only meets once a year. Sigh.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Shift I is Hard!

Let me tell you, these overnight shifts (they are called Shift I because they technically begin at midnight and so are the first shift of the day) are hard! It is 5:16 am and I'd REALLY like to be in my bed asleep!

Finally Getting Settled

I finally managed to get the condo in presentable shape, just in time for a friend to stop by after we had dinner together at the Indian restaurant down in Shirlington. This was just a few days after we went to dinner at the house of one of my A-100 classmates.

It is kind of interesting, seeing other people's places back in the states. Overseas, we basically all have the same Ethan Allen furniture and the apartments are chosen for us. So while we have some of our stuff with us, everyone's place seems like little more than a variation on a theme. Back in the states, you can see the apartment or home that people pick out for themselves and the kind of furniture they buy. It is sort of interesting to see how different a person's place is from what you might expect. And I wonder what folks think of our place. I wonder if our home looks like what people expect.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Dodged a Bullet?

Some of my friends from my A-100 class have started getting emails re-assigning them to the passport task force. Unless you have been living under a bridge, you probably have heard about how the State Department has a backlog of millions of passports that have to be processed. And since they don't have the people to process them quickly, and can't hire them quickly because you have to have a security clearance, they have been trying to get as many volunteers as they can to help out.

But of course, those volunteers can only work just so much in addition to their 40-hour plus work week, and lots of folks simply want to spend their extra time with their families, not processing passports.

Add to that the work is mind-numbing. I did it while I was in Jerusalem. You literally take a file, check to make sure that the paperwork matches what is in the computer, click to accept and transmit it, and stick on a barcode. Then onto the next file. Seriously mind-numbing. And I only had to do it occassionally to help out in ACS (American Citizen Services) because I was in visas (which has its own challenges, but is less mind-numbing than transmitting passports). I have a friend in Jerusalem who does several hours worth of transmittals a day. I fear for her sanity.

Anyway, they haven't gotten enough volunteers, so now they are drafting people. About to go to your new post? Nope, we need you for 2 months doing passports. Finishing A-100? Here is your assignment for the next two months. Doing an internship? Off to passports. Mostly, but not entirely, they are tapping more junior people who can't say no. Hence, they have gotten to my class. We aren't yet tenured, though we are up for consideration as we speak. And some of us who are coming off consular tours, and thus have training and experience (like me), are especially sought after.

I have gotten an email saying I could get an email assigning me to passports, but so far, they haven't (allhamdulillah!). And insha'allah, they won't. I like my job, and it is a critical needs position. Plus, if they took me out of the rotation, my collegues would be forced to pull more overnight shifts and it would be harder for them to get leave during the very months people like to take leave. I don't want to do that to them. I know my boss is fighting for me.

I hope it is enough.

Friday, July 06, 2007


The HHE finally it, alhamdulillah. But man is the house a wreck! Between us, we had almost 200 numbers. While a few of the numbers were pieces of furniture like bookshelves, most of those numbers are for boxes. So I literally have had to make pathways through the boxes. Last night, I had to clear a path to the bird cage!

On the bright side, I got a good bit unpacked, and I did discover that our parmasan cheese grater made it safely. I don't know how I lived without one (yes I do, I never used fresh parmasan. I always bought the canned crap).

I have to work this weekend, but I have a stretch of three days off next week, so I am hoping to make some good progress on the unpacking then. I unpacked enough yesterday to fill the dumpster with boxes and it still doesn't look like I made a dent!

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Car Made It!

We got our car back today, though not in quite as good shape as when we sent it off. It looks like they either scraped against concrete on the back side or it was rubbing against the shipping container. It is rubbed down to the metal and will have to be repainted and have a new bumper. But it is fine mechanically and most importantly, it is NOT at the bottom of the Atlantic! You count your blessings where you can!

Poor scratched car!

Our HHE is here in DC (also not in the ocean...yay!), and we have it scheduled to be delivered next week. So insha'allah, we will have all our stuff here soon.

Now we just have to get tags for the car, but that will have to wait until Saturday when M is off. I got it inspected today, but I don't dare even get a car wash (and boy does it need it...we got a dust storm in Jerusalem after the last time I washed it there!) until we get plates!

Monday, June 25, 2007


One of the things I like about my new schedule is occassional weekdays off. Today was the first of those, and I got a lot accomplished. I was able to go to the DMV to renew my tags (though oddly, it was STILL crowded even though I went well before lunch) and was able to buy screws for my plates, a fire extinguisher, and a battery for the cordless phone.

But the biggest thing I did was get the office straightened out. I had put all of the book boxes in the closet, thinking it would be better to unpack the books once the rest of the books get here. I know we had our favorite, or at least most often used, books in Jerusalem. And I wanted to make sure we had space for them. Of course, we have several bookshelves in our HHE plus three new ones downstairs, and we will need the closet empty so we have room for the boxes when the HHE gets here. So today I dragged one of the older bookshelves upstairs and unpacked a bunch of boxes of books. At least nine I think. They were mostly my archaeology books that I had not deemed urgent for work on my dissertation exams, which is why they were put in storage. But I had forgotten how many really good books I have! And I love books...really, really love them. I don't think a house is a home without books. So now our home feels better, because there are books on the shelves!

Sunday, June 24, 2007

New Beginnings

I've been remiss in writing. I kept meaning to talk about the trip to the Grand Canyon and then forgetting, being too tired, etc...

Anyway, the trip was awesome. The views are astounding and we were able to watch the sunset over the canyon (with a few hundred of our closest friends!). The whole trip was definitely what we both needed after our tour in Jerusalem.

Sunset at Yavapie Point

After our break (who knew 5 weeks could go so fast!), we are beginning new jobs in the department. So far, we both really like them. I am working in the bureau of Intelligence and Research (I could tell you what I do but then I'd have to kill you!) and M is on the Russia desk. For M, I think she is enjoying being back in her element since she specializes in the former Soviet Union. For me, I think the shifts will be hard, but it seems like morale in the office is excellent and the work is interesting. Unfortunately, the guy who recruited me for the office had his last day on Friday (everyone there adores him...he seems to be the usual combination of competent AND a decent human being!). The new guy was there last week training, and it seems like he is going to be good as well. I hear good things about him, and the PDAS said they vetted him heavily because they wanted someone who would keep the morale Ed built high. So I am cautiously optimistic.

Meanwhile, I am enjoying being home. Cayenne seems to like her new digs, and the other pets seem to really like the new furniture. I am finally getting things sorted out enough to be able to have the HHE delivered, should it ever arrive! Nearly every day I wish for something that is in it, like carpets and paintings to decorate the house, the special parmisan cheese grater, or the ironing board. Oh well, soon, insha'allah.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Together At Last

Cayenne, our African Grey parrot, passed the most important test of her life on Wednesday. It was the one given at the quarantine facility to determine if she had contracted bird flu while in Jerusalem.

She hadn't. Not that I was worried, but still. Having to get a bazillion forms of permission to get her back into the country left me less than confident that I would succeed in bringing her home.

And so I was able to go pick her up from JFK today. I'm exhausted from the whole ordeal, and not just today's part. But the important thing is that she is home, and so now our family (me, M, Noostie the border collie, Koshka and Pishik, the cats, and Cayenne) is all together in one place again! I can't tell you how happy that makes me.

I still need to write about our trip to the Grand Canyon and then out to Kansas. I will say for now that the jet-skiing and inter-tubing behind the boat were a blast!

Cayenne...the collar keeps her from picking herself

Friday, June 08, 2007

Canyon de Chelly

The winds died down and Canyon de Chelly re-opened. To go into the Canyon, you either have to buy tickets on one of the jeep tours led by a Navajo guide or have an SUV and hire a certified Navajo guide. We went for option one and took a jeep tour, since our SUV is on a slow boat from Israel.

We toured the canyon in an open-topped jeep with about ten other people. The canyon is full of petroglyphs and pictographs, as well as Anasazi ruins and Navajo homes and hogans.

Me and M at White House ruins

We also saw the site of the Navajo Fortress rock, a large butte where 300 Navajo held out against Kitt Carson for 3 months.

Navajo Fortress rock

The day ended on a sad note for me. My grandmother, my dad's mother, passed away this morning. She was 81 years old and had been blessed with seven children, twelve grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren who adored her. She and my grandfather got married a month after they met, were married more than 50 years before he passed away a few years ago and they loved each other very much. I know she is at peace and happy to join Granddaddy. But she will be terribly missed.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Monument Valley

Today we went to Monument Valley Tribal Park, which is located on the Navajo Reservation and straddles the Utah/Arizona border. We had planned to hike around the park, but the wind today was awful, making the area rival any of Jerusalem's sandstorms. In fact, Canyon de Chelly (pronounced de Shay) was closed today because the wind took out some trees. We are supposed to go there tomorrow. Hopefully it will be open.

So since the weather was too bad for hiking, we took the self-guided driving tour instead. Not as much exercise, but we still got to see some amazing views.

The road to Monument Valley

Monument Valley

Oh yeah, and today, we ran into a family of four Hebrew speakers, bringing the total I have run into in four days to eight. What gives? Did everyone follow me when I left? :)

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Mesa Verde Pt. II

After the tour, we had lunch at the park restaurant and then walked down to the Spruce Tree House. This is the third-largest dwelling in the park (Cliff Palace and Balcony House are first and second), and honestly, the hike down was much more strenuous than the Cliff Palace. I found ladders much easier than the incline. Like Cliff Palace, Spruce Tree House was occupied from about 1200 to 1276. It had 114 rooms, eight kivas and housed about 100 people.

Spruce Tree House

M at Spruce Tree House

Some of the park's archaeologists were mapping the walls there, examining differences in construction techniques over time. There is a re-constructed kiva there that you can actually climb down into (it was by the kiva that I spotted the Hebrew-speaking couple).

Inside the Kiva

We finished by taking the Mesa Top loop. The road offers views of dozens of sites, including Cliff Palace. From the Sun Point overlook, I was able to spot at least seven different pueblos, including Cliff Palace, as well as the Sun Temple on top of the Mesa.

Oak House from the Mesa Top Loop

We are spending the evening in Bluff, Utah, population 320. It was established in 1880 by Mormons looking to colonize the Four Corners area and establish relations with the Navajo and Ute Indians. In town, the remnants of their original village can still be seen. There are several small independent motels here, though I am not sure why, and ours even has wireless internet access. From here, we will head to Monument Valley.

Historic Bluff, Utah

Mesa Verde

Okay, I am beginning to think I am being stalked. I mean seriously, Israel is a country of maybe 7 million people. What are the odds that I would run into two different Hebrew-speaking couples in three days about as far from Israel as I could possibly get? In fact, out in the middle of the desert in Arizona and Colorado? In their defense, neither couple seemed to notice me, but I am certain it is part of a plot to send me back to Jerusalem.

Anyway, we got up early this morning so we could head to Mesa Verde. Future Farmers of America was having a convention in Cortez, Colorado, and we feared that Mesa Verde would be filled with noisy high schoolers as a result (a fear founded in part by overhearing a chaperone at the restaurant where we had dinner last night saying she was taking a group out there). There were some teenagers at the welcome center when we got there, and as feared, they were pretty loud, but luckily we soon lost them.

The park is huge, and even the welcome center is 15 miles from the entrance! Two-thirds of the park have burned since 1989, so sadly much of the drive in is a combination of beautiful views and dead trees. I imagine the park was amazing before the fires, because it is still pretty amazing now. The highest point in the park has an elevation of well over 8000 feet!

Elevation sign at Park Point

By the time we arrived, all of the tickets for the first two tours of the Cliff Palace had been sold, so we go tickets to the 11:30 tour. The tour was described as "strenuous," which made us a bit nervous, but we went for it anyway. (A tour of the Balcony House was described as "adventurous, complete with a 12 ft tunnel to crawl through and a 60 ft. open face rock to climb...we opted to skip that one!). Since we had an hour to kill, we headed to the Chapin Mesa Museum.

From there, we went to Cliff Palace. The tour was not nearly as strenuous as we feared, just a few ladders to climb and a steep incline (you get more winded in the high altitude). And was it ever worth it! Cliff Palace, with more than 150 rooms and 23 kivas, was begun around 1210 AD, though the area was occupied by the Ancient Puebloans long before that. Construction was largely completed within 20 years. Only about 120 people lived there, and it is speculated that it was an administrative and religious center. No one knows why they suddenly began building above-ground structures to replace the semi-subterranian pithouses they lived in for centuries. What is known is that they didn't live in the Cliff Palace or similar dwellings for long, only until about 1300 AD. While there was a drought that began in 1276 AD and lasted until 1300, the guide told us that the site was never reoccupied and that it was only "discovered" by ranchers in the 1800s. That makes me think there was more to it than just the drought. At any rate, the palace is breath-taking.

View From Above Cliff Palace

Inside Cliff Palace

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Chaco Canyon

I first heard about Chaco Canyon in I think 1994, when I was working for the Charleston Post Courier. My editor there told me about Chaco and jokingly told me I was never allowed to go because I wouldn't come back. Thirteen years later, I finally got the chance to see the place, and he was certainly not exaggerating.

Chaco Canyon National Park actually represents just a portion of the sites of the Chaco culture, with literally dozens of Chacoan Great Houses, which are large pre-planned multi-storied public buildings with distinctive masonry, formal earthen architecture and a Great Kiva, in the surrounding area. There are at least twelve Great Houses within the park, the largest of which is Pueblo Bonito.

We started out at Una Vida, which is located right behind the visitors' center. It was named by Lt. James Simpson during a military expedition to Navajo lands in 1849. Construction began at Una Vida in 850 AD and continued for more than 250 years, concurrent with construction at the other sites in the canyon. It has not had much excavation, and is pretty much a natural state of preservation.

Me on the slope above Una Vida with Fajada Butte in the distance

Next we visited the ruins at Hungo Pavi and then headed to Chetro Ketl. This is one of the larger Chacoan structures with a massive Great Kiva.It had about 500 rooms and 16 kivas, and underwent a major, 30-year construction phase around 1020.

The Great Kiva at Chetro Ketl

We finished the trip with a guided tour of Pueblo Bonito, the center of Chacoan culture and the largest of the Great Houses at more than 600 rooms and 40 kivas. Our guide told us that more than 85 percent of the site is original, with only about 15 percent having to be reconstructed. There is still wood that once formed roof beams there (desert archaeology makes me really jealous...the stuff that preserves in the dry climate makes the stuff we are able to recover in the Southeast seem sad!). In one room, the roof is still completely intact, including the straw covering! The Great Kiva there is massive, and even the smaller kivas are pretty impressive. Most of the rooms, however, had no ventilation and were therefore unihabitable. I wonder whether it was an administrative center and the inner rooms were used primarily for the storage of goods for use in the future. Of course, what can be known there is limited because when the place was excavated in the 1920s, none of the more than 100 thousand TONS of fill was sifted. In fact, it was dumped in a nearby wash, so all of the information was literally washed away. Today, we could have searched for the tiniest of seeds to see what was in the rooms. Sad.

One funny thing happened while we were waiting for the tour to begin. M was coming out of the restroom right as a little chipmonk ran out of the bushes. It saw her, and went to run away as she whispered to me to look. Just then, it turned around and ran towards her. She said, "It's charging me. Do you think it is rabid?" It stopped and staired at her, less than 3 feet from her. I said, "No, it thinks you have food." In fact, I am pretty certain I heard it demand, "Where's my cookie?" M didn't have any food to offer, so it turned and left.

By the end of the Pueblo Bonito tour, we were too tired to visit the rest of the ruins there. I can certainly see needing to stay for a while to see it all. One trail alone is 7 miles long and has lots of ruins to explore. But neither of us were up for that after a few days hiking in the desert heat! And we needed to save some energy for tomorrow's trip to Mesa Verde!