Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Round Two (more like four or six) of the Diplo-draft

I found this article by AP writer Matthew Lee today in the Huffington Post. I was not at work yesterday, but M told me she saw the cable yesterday saying they were identifying people they plan to "recruit" to serve in Iraq and that those folks would be notified probably by Thursday. We full expect her to be one of the "particularly well qualified" people who get "recruited." Good thing I am in the service, since as an MOH I wouldn't even be allowed to attend the support group for the spouses of those sent on unaccompanied tours, much less receive the separate maintenance allowance they give to those spouses (even if they are newly wed. M and I have been together for nine years, and were married in our church 6 years ago). It would be nice if the "nation's gratitude" the Secretary refers to extended to roughly 700 people in the service who have "Members of Household" instead of "Eligible Family Members."

Diplomats eyed for possible forced service in Iraq

By Matthew Lee

WASHINGTON — The State Department has begun to identify diplomats who could be forced to serve in Iraq next year unless enough volunteers come forward to fill about 300 positions, The Associated Press has learned.

A department-wide notice issued Tuesday says officials have looked through the files of all foreign service officers who will be applying or "bidding" for new jobs in 2009 and compiled a roster of candidates who are "particularly well-qualified" to work at the American Embassy in Baghdad and in outlying provinces.

Those on the list will be notified of their status this week and urged to volunteer, according to the internal notice, which was also sent by cable to all U.S. diplomatic missions abroad. If positions remain unfilled after the summer, they will become the core of a group of "prime candidates" who may be forced to go to Iraq, it says.

The announcements, accompanied by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's personal appeal for volunteers, were obtained by the AP.

"I am asking that you consider joining this highly motivated team of professionals as we look for volunteers for positions opening in 2009," Rice said. She recorded a video of the message, which also deals with jobs coming open next year in Afghanistan, that is to be shown on the State Department's internal television network.

"Our brave volunteers are doing a tough, but necessary, job far away from family and friends," she said. "Employees and families deserve the nation's gratitude. I can assure you that they have mine, and I encourage you to join our teams in Baghdad and Kabul."

The notices say the department hopes and expects that the call will be answered. But if not, they say the department will start selecting "prime candidates" for compulsory Iraq duty.

A similar move late last year for 48 vacant jobs in Iraq caused an uproar when some foreign service officers objected to forced tours in a war zone in what would have been the largest diplomatic call-up since the Vietnam War.

That furor over so-called "directed assignments" in October and November petered out when enough volunteers eventually stepped up, but not before it made national headlines and sparked harsh criticism from commentators. As a result, the department decided to begin the process of staffing Iraq earlier with a "targeted recruitment effort."

As part of that effort, State Department Director General Harry Thomas said in Tuesday's announcement that his office is now determining which diplomats are "particularly well-qualified to staff key positions in Iraq" that will come open in the summer of 2009.

"We will inform those individuals in the coming days that they are part of a pool of the best qualified potential bidders who will be the primary, but not exclusive, focus of recruitment efforts for Iraq," he said.

"In addition, should (I) determine that identification procedures need to be used ... to staff unfilled positions, these individuals will also comprise the primary pool for identification," Thomas said.

The notices did not say how many diplomats were on the "particularly well qualified" list or exactly when the department would decide if it has to move to directed assignments, which means ordering diplomats to work in certain locations under threat of dismissal unless they have a compelling reason, such as a health condition, not to go.

Since the U.S. reopened its embassies in Baghdad and Kabul, positions there have been filled entirely with volunteers who serve one-year tours and are offered numerous incentives including significant pay boosts, extra vacation time and choice of their next post. But there are serious concerns that the pool of diplomats to draw on is dwindling.

More than 20 percent of the nearly 7,000-strong foreign service have already worked in either Iraq or Afghanistan and a growing number have done tours in both.

And some diplomats have privately expressed unease about volunteering for Iraq amid uncertainty over how the administration following President Bush will deal with Iraq, and how that might affect security there or change Washington's focus on the country.

At least three foreign service personnel _ two diplomatic security agents and one political officer _ have been killed in Iraq since the war began in March 2003.


Jill said...

I hope that you're not one of the lucky ones identified... though if you are, I hope that you're able to make a solid decision for your family.

We have friends who opted to go now and "get it out of the way". They're off in late June for a 1 year tour.

Let us know what happens...

Digger said...

My current boss made the same choice, figuring it was better for his family if he controlled the timing. Of course, there is a sign at the Embassy that says, "Thank you for coming, see you again soon." Which is sort of scary.

I am fairly resigned to having to serve at some point, though I am inclined to make them direct me so that at least they are being honest about it. There is a lot of arm-twisting going on to get "volunteers," and my partner and I witnessed it first hand when they tried to force her to go after two straight 25% or great hardship tours. And that was before last year's prime candidate exerecize.

I suspect they will eventually be forced to go to directed assignments, and in a way, I am okay with that as long as the burden is distributed evenly.

hannah said...

Oh no, not M too... I can see both sides of the issue, wanting to control timing (a friend is doing that) as well as making them come clean about it. However, none of it sounds good! Do you have any Arabic? Any chance you'll get listed too?

I've seen the cables and the emails from our CDOs offering the "opportunity" to JOs to volunteer for Iraq. It's none too encouraging. Realistically speaking, since I'm on track to hit 3/3 Arabic this summer before I head out to tour 1, can I expect to get pressured too this round?

Digger said...

I'd guess you are safe this round since you already have your assignment. I don't expect to get tapped this round because I have my onward assignment too. I got Hebrew for Jerusalem, so the only Arabic I have is a bit I picked up while there (mostly pleasantries). But I still expect that my regional experience will make me one of the "particularly well qualified" in the not too distant future.

Anonymous said...

Minor point - as I recall from the briefing by the woman who organizes the support group for dependents of those on unaccompanied posts, she encouraged us to give her contact information for anyone that would want to be included on e-mails or meetings regardless of the formal relationship.

Maybe not a formal policy (or much of a factor in deciding how to respond to the letter), but something.

In addition to "getting it out of the way" and "controlling the timing", another factor to consider in volunteering is control of what you will be doing/where you will be going. Is there some other position or location (PRT? Afghanistan?) where M would feel safer? more productive? more supportive of the overall mission?

We're all here for our own reasons, but I can't think of anyone here that thinks directed assignments are a good idea.