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.

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