Saturday, April 19, 2008

DMW: Danger and Directed Assignments

Dead Men Working discusses Danger and Directed Assignments. You can read the entire post here.

On Danger and Directed Assignments

Twenty five years ago this week, the father of a childhood friend of mine was sent on a short TDY to Lebanon. And twenty five years ago today, he died when the American Embassy in Beirut was bombed.

He was not the first American diplomat killed in the line of duty, and he certainly was not the last. But he was someone I knew, and his death impressed upon me, near the start of my own career, the risks that all of us take in the service of our country.

Since then, I have seen colleagues I knew killed or injured in Islamabad, Nairobi, and Dar, not to mention a couple of near misses myself (I was in the embassy in Nairobi, for example, a day before the bombing).

I have very little patience for those who dismiss the Foreign Service as being somehow less patriotic or less willing to serve than our colleagues in uniform, or for that matter, who define patriotism and service to our country solely in military terms. But those who define patriotism as the willingness to die for one's country should recognize that that is a burden we, as well, have borne.

I joined the Foreign Service in order to serve the United States. And in the course of my career, I have had guns drawn on me five times in anger, been attacked with a knife, had my office surrounded by an angry mob, and had my own home targeted for attack by Bin Laden.

This week, of course, the spectre of directed assignments of FSOs to Iraq was raised again in the press, and various media and blogs were filled once again with invectives against those FSOs who spoke out against such assignments in a meeting last year.

I have bid on Iraq positions, and would go if selected.

And I support, in general, the right of the Department to direct assignments, and to move me and my colleagues around as they see fit. For the good of the service. ...I question whether directed assignments would actually be for the good of the service, or enable our embassy in Iraq to function more effectively.

I have served in difficult and dangerous posts. Nowhere near as dangerous as Iraq, but difficult nonetheless.


Its all well and good for those bloggers and journalists (and even some politicians) to compare FSOs to the military, to note that they take the same oath of office, and that they agree to be world-wide available. But it is important to note the differences:

Military personnel self-select for hazardous duty. Yes, they go where they are ordered to go, and would prefer not to get shot at, but let's face it, they joined the military knowing that the primary duty of military personnel is to fight. They willingly chose a career in which there was a very strong probability that, at some point in their careers, they would go to war.

Military personnel are well trained for hazardous duty. It starts on the first day of boot camp and continues throughout their careers. Even those with desk jobs train continuously throughout their careers for the eventuality of a deployment to a war zone.


And yes, FSOs take the same oaths of office as soldiers do. So do postmen, tax collectors and United States Senators, none of whom share either the willingness nor the skill sets that the military possess to deal with the stress and danger of war.

And rather than twisting arms, or embarrassing the Foreign Service, I believe that keeping those promises, of adequate training, proper mental health care, and fair treatment of those who return disturbed, is the better way to go....

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