Friday, December 12, 2008

Christmas? What Christmas?

Diplopundit had this piece today:

Of course, Leahy’s letter [to Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA)] started with this blurb for public record: “As I hope you know, I honored your request and asked Secretary Rice to facilitate your 14-day trip to 10 countries from December 25 through January 7. Please do let me know who the other Senators are who will be accompanying you.” Heh!

Al Kamen of WaPo did a big “Hmmm” on this. He speculated that “Leahy, as Judiciary chairman, probably authorized Specter’s congressional delegation, though it’s possible he didn’t know that the “delegation” was just Specter and his wife and an aide, who are taking a military jet to Europe and the Middle East over the holidays. The itinerary includes stops in England, Israel (his 26th visit), Syria (18th) and Austria. The Austria stop is for a chat with International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei.”

In short, at least ten unfortunate diplomats in mostly sparkling capital cities (London, Jerusalem, Damascus, Vienna plus six more) will be working as control officers for the congressional delegation over the holidays. Sorry guys and gals, you are public servants and should never be off duty. The local staff would have to be drafted especially the drivers. The Community Liaison Officers would also need to be drafted unless no shopping spree is in order (no shopping? where's the fun in that?). I wonder if our diplomats get brownie points if they’re “it” for Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day? No, there's no overtime. What, comptime? Forgetaboutit.

I can certainly sympathize. As a Junior Officer in Jerusalem, I worked on nearly a dozen Secretary visits, numerous congressional visits (CODELS) and one First lady visit. Almost inevitably, these visits occurred over holidays or long weekends (we were actually told this was intentional so as not to "interfere" with our regular business.

We were offered comp time, but comp time expires after a relatively short period of time, so most of us were never able to use it. Small wonder we all came out of there stressed and exhausted. I was advised when I first arrived there to get out of town as often as possible to recharge my batteries, because the stress of being in a place that lives and breathes the Palestinian-Israeli conflict 24/7 is really taxing. But the reality is that it is really difficult to take time off. I came back to DC, even given as little leave as a junior officer earns, with "use or lose" leave (yes, not only did my comp time expire, but they were threatening to take away my earned annual leave).

Luckily I never had to work Christmas (purely dumb luck) or Easter (also dumb luck). And while those who did got sympathy, they got nothing else.

1 comment:

Melissa VonHinken said...

Thanks for some food for thought. Since I hope to pass the language test in Hebrew one of these days (I just got word that I'll be taking the FSOA early next year), an Israeli post will probably be in my future - but I'm hoping for Tel Aviv. There is definitely something stifling about Jerusalem that would make me thankful to have friends in Haifa.