Zoe, a fellow American Indian from South Carolina (yes, that means we are probably related somehow!) and part of the FS blogger community, from over at Something Edited This Way Comes asked my thoughts on this piece that ran in Atlantic Free Press: American Diplomats Shun Hardship Posts in Third World Counties, particularly because he mentioned Jerusalem. He said, "Jerusalem is considered a hardship, which does not make any sense. To anyone who has ever visited Jerusalem, it is a joy to be there, not a hardship. Apparently, living in close proximity to Arabs is a hardship for American diplomats."
I'll address that particular statement in a minute.
But just let me say that this piece by Matthew Nasuti is one of the most ill-informed pieces of drivel I have read in a long time, and as someone who blogs on the Foreign Service, I read a lot of negative stuff about our work. Nasuti knows nothing about Foreign Service life and employs the most tired and inaccurate stereotypes he can find.
Let's start with our "generous base salary." Junior Officers join the Foreign Service at an FS 04 to FS 06, with the lower the number, the higher the rank. Starting salary at FS 06 is $38,394. The highest salary for someone coming in at FS 04 is $77,837. Trust me, anyone who comes into the Foreign Service as an FS 04 could be earning MUCH more in in the private sector, but we choose to take a pay cut to serve our country. Now, when we serve in Washington, DC, we get 24% locality pay, meaning that FS 06 makes $47,693. Let me assure you, that is not a high salary in D.C. But they lose that locality pay when they go overseas, and they are the only American public servants who do. Folks from other agencies keep their locality pay salary as their base salary, even though they are serving at the same embassies and consulates that we do. Senior members of the Foreign Service keep it as well. Efforts are being made to correct this, but currently, the lowest ranking, lowest paid Foreign Service Officers are the ONLY ones to take a pay CUT to go overseas.
The cut doesn't end there. When they are in the states, the spouses of FSOs can easily work to supplement their family income. Not so overseas. The few jobs available are extremely low paying, and the truth is that most FS spouses can not find work overseas. Yes, they get housing or a housing allowance. But this is of little consequence if they lose both the spouse's salary and a portion of their "generous base pay" and still have a mortgage to pay in the states.
He talks about the swimming pools and clubs for Americans in Baghdad. Did he mention that in some places, diplomats have those swimming pools to insure they have drinkable water? Of course not. He also neglects to notice the PTSD people return with after being awoken nightly by bombs, after losing colleagues to IEDs, after narrowly escaping death themselves. They work 7 days a week in physically and mentally unhealthy conditions. Yes, they get paid a big bonus. They earn every penny. And keep in mind for that JO, every penny could be less than $80,000. And unlike the military and other Americans there, they pay income taxes on every penny.
He mentions our housing, and how we live like elites compared with our neighbors in these countries. It is true, we often get some of the nicest housing a country has to offer. But that doesn't translate to nice housing. Victoria DeLong's house in Haiti didn't protect her. It collapsed on her and killed her.
He mentions language shortfalls. That is true. And not because we don't want to learn languages. All of us have languages other than English. But the truth is that we are so understaffed do to the lack of hiring in the 90s and the rapid build up of our embassies in Iraq and Afghanistan that we don't have enough people to fill our posts, let alone give them language training. They are working on that, both with recruitment of speakers of critical needs languages and general increased recruitment. But we had to wait for Congress to give us permission to increase our numbers. We can't just allocate money to it...they approve the number of FSOs. So fixing that issue takes time, but it is one we are all committed to. And meanwhile, our embassies are staffed at only 70% (except Iraq and Afghanistan, which is nearly completely staffed because we volunteer for the hard posts).
He mentions Beijing, but doesn't tell you about the FS spouse who has lost her health to the pollution. Her husband has lost his hearing from an unknown virus and poor health care. Sure, they are in a historic city. But there is a huge difference in visiting a historic city and living there. And they are paying the price. And their hardship pay was reduced.
And while we are talking about living in historic cities, let's do talk about Jerusalem. First, it is profoundly offensive that he thinks the hardship is living near Arabs. I LOVED my Palestinian colleagues, and I found the Palestinian people warm and hospitable. And Jerusalem is, as I have said many times, a wonderful place to visit. But living there is hard. The tension there is palpable. The people who live in Jerusalem are not the secular Jews and Arabs of Tel Aviv. They are the ones who choose to live on the seam, to fight with their very existence the battle of who belongs there. Daily you see Palestinians having their homes, homes they have lived in for generations, bulldozed over an unfair permitting process. Daily you seem Israelis who have been the victims of terror attacks. Daily you watch the size of the settlements increase and the chances for peace decrease. You see protests, sometimes you get caught in the middle of them, especially if you have, as part of your job, covering the areas most disputed. You worry about terror attacks. And because the issue is so important to so many people, the hours are long. The Secretary and other high level delegations visit often and it is hard to get a break. I came out of there physically and emotionally drained. It is a wonderful place to visit, but it is a hard place to live.
I recommend you go to his site, but not to read his drivel. Instead, read the comments of the FS families. I have not responded there because I could not do better than they have.To a person, they are all proud, as am I, of our service, and they all love this crazy life we lead. But no one would accuse someone who loved being in the military of having an easy life, and they should be aware that neither do we. We just love serving our country and are tired of the crap people peddle about our life of service when they have never walked in our shoes.