The above is not a draft notice, but these days few people outside the US military receive such explicit hints that it would behoove them to consider spending time in body armor in Baghdad. In the Army, as my father used to say, it was "We need three volunteers: you, you, and you." The State Department, diplomatically of course, "considers you particularly well qualified." The result is the same. Our diplomat-blogger contents herself with reproducing the Friday morning email. Like the good career professional that she is, she provides no editorial comment. But you can bet that there is much soul-searching going on in the "M" household this weekend.
In the fall of 2007, much was made of the State Department's difficulties in filling its personnel slots at the US Embassy in Baghdad and elsewhere in Iraq, though after the initial flurry of publicity, in fact no one was actually "directed" (or, in non-State speak, forced) to go to Iraq. But "asking you to seriously consider volunteering," while not literally forcing, has a different meaning when you're an individual employee having to deal with the juggernaut of Washington's personnel establishment. The American Foreign Service Association (AFSA, the professional association which advocates for American diplomats with their employers at the State Department, USAID, as well as the Departments of Commerce and Agriculture) has monitored this issue, and its monthly magazine, the Foreign Service Journal, has documented the nuanced meanings of "volunteering."
Consider the typical case of an officer with school age children, who has to follow increasingly restrictive rules that narrow choices down to places like Iraq (Green Zone or PRT?) and Afghanistan (Kabul or a Provincial Reconstruction Team?). One such officer outlined his dwindling options, and illustrated how in the end, his "voluntary" assignment to Afghanistan was simply a choice of lesser evils. And it's not just Iraq and Afghanistan. According to AFSA, "two thirds of the Foreign Service is deployed overseas at all times and 70 percent of them are at hardship posts (meaning locations with difficult living conditions due to terrorist threats, violent crime, harsh climate, or other factors)." Like the military, many Foreign Service families are separated during entire tours of duty.
I think I have said before that we weren't surprised that M got the email. We both served in Jerusalem (from which she was pressured two years ago to go to Baghdad after doing two straight hardship tours of 25% or greater). She has a 2/2 in Arabic, is a political-coned officer with political experience.
AA is certainly correct that there has been much soul-searching in our household this weekend. I feel like we have run the emotional gamut, and have considered a variety of choices, from M volunteering for the jobs listed in the hopes of coming back to DC, to volunteering for a PRT in the hopes of linking both of us to an interesting post afterward, to going then quitting afterward, to making them direct her. And honestly, we still don't know what we are going to do. The extra money would be nice, but nobody goes into government service to get rich, and like AA said, we certainly wouldn't get rich resigning in protest. For us, there is the added issue of what we would have to deal with if, god forbid, she got hurt or killed. I could be denied access to her hospital room or the right to make medical decisions should she be unable. I would not automatically inherit "her half" of our house, and if I did, I'd have to pay inheritance taxes. I could be denied the right to bury her in the plots we have already purchased together.
I still don't know what we will do.
You can read AA's entire piece here.