Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Making Life Easier: FAIL

I know that all of the stuff they have moved to online for is supposed to make our lives easier.

Like e-performance.

But, like e-performance, easier if often not the reality. (remember that my e-performance inserted typos...a friend's changed EVERY LETTER to the next letter in the alphabet, making it look like his EER was written in Estonian).

So I spent much of this morning battling with "My Itinerary," which is allegedly going to help generate my orders. And I need my orders so I can schedule my packouts, leave, flights, etc.

I know what I will be doing each of the next 77 days, at least as far as general scheduling is concerned. I know when my training ends. I know when my leave will be. I know when I will be doing consultations. I know when I hope to have my packouts.

But "My Itinerary" thinks that I have overlap dates. I don't.

And it has thrown in, for good measure, three travel dates that DON'T EXIST. At least, the day exists, but I will not be travelling that day. I never said I would be travelling that day. And those travel days are the ONLY thing the system will not allow me can delete. My training that I have been in sinc Sptember is deletable, but not these mysterious travel dates.

They weren't there yesterday. Maybe they will be gone tomorrow.

And another thing...why do I have to put a location in for my leave?? Or at the very least, why isn't "Location: Anywhere But Work" not an option?

Monday, May 30, 2011

Moving From Thinking to Doing

It has begun.

Without even thinking about it, I have made the transition from thinking about my upcoming move to planning for it.

First thing I plan for, as always, is the pets.

My parrot has to have a permit to be "exported" if I ever plan to "re-import" her again. I didn't know this the last time I went overseas, and there was a period of gut-wrenching panic when I was told that if I didn't get the proper permit before coming home, even though she is a domestic born parrot (she's a native of Mississippi), they would put her down at the border.

Seriously gut-wrenching. I have had her since she was 4 months old...and she is 15 now. She is my baby.

So I have started the process of getting the proper permits. They tell you to give it at least 60 days. I opted for 90 to be on the safe side.

I also know that pet food, while widely available in Estonia, is also expensive. And I don't want to switch their foods. My dog has a sensitive digestive system and my bird is on a very healthy, varied diet that includes pellets she likes that have everything she needs.

I got a coupon in the mail for 10% off at Petco, and thought I would buy a bunch of food and put it in my HHE. Then I went to the website to compare their prices with Petsmart's and discovered they were having a 20% off sale at Petco with free shipping. So I bought a bunch of dog, cat and bird food. I will mail some so it will be there when I get there, put some in my UAB and most in my HHE. This should cover me for a bit.

I also bought myself a new suitcase. I knew this was coming. I have one decent Samsonite that my dad bought me a while back, plus a pretty cheap set of luggage that has seen better days. I am planning on using my trusy old Samsonite and the new Samsonite I just bought for my trip to Estonia. I am also eyeing a Swiss Gear 20" carry on that has a laptop sleeve. I think that would be easier than the backpack I normally carry on. And the sleeve means I can pull out my laptop quickly at security.

I have also begun tossing things, trying to pare down what will need to be packed. I have lists of what I am taking in my UAB, in my HHE, and what needs to go to storage. This would be simpler if my wife wasn't staying behind for six months.

There is still much to do. I have started the process of getting my orders, and I need to send that off tomorrow. I need to go ahead and get travel to purchase my ticket, even though they won't want to. But purchasing it now means guarenteeing a spot on the plane for the pets.

And I need to finish up language. I have 30 days until my final test, and another eight until the official end of my training.

Then I need to prepare my grandmother's house to be rented, squeeze in some vacation and retake the Security Overseas Seminar (required every five years I believe if you are going overseas, and I last took it in 2005).

And then I leave. In 78 days.

I'll be ready by then, right? Right?

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Concern about Freedom of Assembly in Russia

Office of the Spokesman
For Immediate Release

May 29, 2011


Concern about Freedom of Assembly in Russia

We note with concern that in Moscow on Saturday, May 28, a peaceable demonstration of Russians advocating for the rights of gays and lesbians, joined by international supporters, was forcefully disrupted by counter-protesters, and that Russian security forces then detained people from both groups, including American citizens. Some protestors were seriously injured according to media reports.

Freedom of assembly is a fundamental right all members of the OSCE committed to, including in the Moscow declaration and as recently as the Astana summit. As nationwide legislative elections approach, constraints on the ability of Russian citizens peacefully to gather and express their views will be closely watched in evaluating the integrity of the electoral process. We call on Russian authorities to work with municipal officials to find better ways to safeguard these fundamental freedoms.


Saturday, May 28, 2011

This Memorial Day, remember the diplomats, too

Found this today over at Dead Men Working and had to share it with you.

This Memorial Day, remember the diplomats, too

By Clayton M. McCleskey

WASHINGTON — They are the proud, the few and the unarmed. They dodge bullets in the mountains of Afghanistan and brave the deserts of Iraq. They serve as America’s face to the world, from violence-ridden Mexico to the financial hubs of Asia to the capitals of Europe. They promote American business and protect American citizens abroad. They are the men and women of the U.S. Foreign Service.

On Memorial Day, we rightly pause to remember those who serve our nation in military uniform. But we should also recognize the more than 12,000 members of the American diplomatic corps who serve in Washington and in 271 missions across the globe.

“They are the ones out there on the front lines trying to advocate and explain [American] policies, regardless of which administration they are serving,” said Karen Hughes, former Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy under President George W. Bush.

She praised the Foreign Service as “a very dedicated group of public servants” who “work and make sacrifices around the world in some very difficult assignments.”

You may think of diplomats as tuxedo-wearing statesmen sipping cocktails at summits in Switzerland, but American diplomats are deployed in places like war-torn Africa and Afghanistan, where they often face the same dangers as members of the military. One diplomat I spoke to said he has been shot at five times in the line of duty.

Yet, even as America’s engagement with the world is growing more crucial, budget hawks are circling over the State Department. Speaking to the National Conference of Editorial Writers this month, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned, “There’s a huge gap between perception and reality … and people think that we can balance our budget on the back of our foreign operations.”
The continuing resolution passed to fund the government cut $8 billion for the State Department and USAID — while increasing the Defense Department’s budget by $5 billion. The demands on the State Department are growing, but the budget isn’t. “It is so out of whack with what we have to be doing,” Clinton lamented.

Part of the problem is that many Americans misunderstand diplomats’ role. Diplomacy isn’t about throwing money at the world. Yes, foreign aid — which accounts for only about 1 percent of the total federal budget — is a useful diplomatic tool. But too often diplomacy is dismissed as wasteful global charity or useless hemmin’ and hawin’ at the United Nations. Whether working to secure access to natural resources (like oil), leading reconstruction in Afghanistan or screening hundreds of thousands of visa applicants, diplomats are producing concrete results. They are the facilitators of globalization.

In an interconnected world, diplomacy is becoming ever more relevant to the daily lives of Americans, especially when it comes to the economy. Diplomats pave the way for American businesses to make profits at home by expanding overseas.


Members of the Foreign Service play a crucial role in making that kind of lucrative international agreement possible, part of a government-wide campaign to help American businesses increase exports.

“We need to set up partnerships and relationships all around the world so we can understand the market needs in Kenya as well as the market needs in Fort Worth,” Hariton said.

Indeed, to maintain America’s global competitiveness and to capitalize on the opportunities globalization creates, we need a well-funded diplomatic corps.

“Diplomacy used to be thought of as the quiet, behind-the-scenes, government-to-government communications,” Hughes told me.

It’s now so much more than that. “In order for America to enact the kinds of policies we want to enact around the world,” Hughes explained, “we have got to build a public case for those policies, for our values and for our interests.”

Our diplomats are out in the trenches doing just that, often at great personal danger — remember the Iranian hostage crisis? Foreign Service officers have also been the targets of drug violence, insurgent attacks and kidnappings. Yet they man their posts, safeguarding American interests and protecting U.S. citizens overseas.

This weekend, as we salute our military, we also owe a tribute to America’s diplomats, many of whom are in conflict zones riding in the same Humvees as the troops. The only difference is that they can’t shoot back.

*Clayton M. McCleskey is a contributing writer for The Dallas Morning News based in Washington. His email address is letters@claytonmccleskey.com.*

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Making Progress

I got my report from my progress test.

It said I was making good progress and that barring some drastic change, I am expected to earn my required score when I take my final test on June 30.

Having it in writing feels good.

Icing on the cake?

Dinner with friends. Foreign Service friends. Friends I would never have if not for this job.

It is one of the things I love best about my job.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Work-Life Balance

Work-Life Balance is an issue we all struggle with throughout our careers, especially in the Foreign Service. The nature of the job, and of the people drawn to it, is such that the work never really ends, and you can pour every ounce of yourself into it.

At your hazard.

I have been told that you HAVE to either work nights or weekends, and usually both. Junior Officers (sorry, still can't call you guys ELOs...that is still a group whose music is in my ipod) are told they must work overtime and not charge for it (a topic for another post, but short answer is yes you can and should put in for it but you shouldn't charge for ALL of it). I have even heard that it is really just better if you are single.

But to survive and thrive in this career and in life, you need your family. Yet we have to deal with stresses on the family that are not typical to most careers, such as unaccompanied tours, spousal employment opportunities (or lack thereof), dealing with the educational and developmental needs of our children while in a foreign country, ...the list goes on.

AFSA is having a panel discussion on the topic, which is also covered this month in the Foreign Service Journal, tomorrow at 2 pm at the AFSA headquarters (2101 E Street NW). Please attend if you can (I can't...I have area studies. Any bets on whether it will be worth missing this program?). If you plan to go, please RSVP to

AFSA has assembled for the panel Margot Carrington, an FSO studying work-life issues on a year-long Una Chapman Cox Foundation Fellowship; Steve Morrison, a Foreign Commercial Service Officer and the parent of a special-needs child; Kathie Lingle, a nationally-renowned expert on work-life issues at the Alliance for Work-Life Progress; and Judy Ikels, Chief of the Work Life Division in HR.

The Family Liaison Office (FLO) will also have representatives on hand to discuss the work-life resources they have available to all FS employees.

I also encourage you to check out an article in the Post's Federal Diary today, Balancing work and family on foreign turf, by Joe Davidson.

He discusses Morrison, and the way he and the Department dealt, ultimately successfully, with his son's needs:

[...] Morrison’s is a success story. His son is doing well.

He’ll tell that story at a program about work-life balance, which the American Foreign Service Association will sponsor at its headquarters Thursday afternoon. But all of the stories Foreign Service officers can tell about that balance don’t necessarily have happy endings.

Yet the degree of grousing among people who have been posted abroad is surprisingly low. And whatever complaints they have are often countered by a telling of the many benefits Foreign Service officers and their families receive.

The demands of serving Uncle Sam in distant lands can be tough to balance. In addition to Foreign Service officers’ jammed workdays, nights can be filled with receptions and dinners for visiting dignitaries, and emergencies and diplomatic crises.

This all occurs in a place with a different language, different laws, and different customs and traditions. It can be difficult to maintain a family under those pressures. The May issue of AFSA’s magazine, the Foreign Service Journal, reported that 64 percent of survey respondents said family concerns could cause them to leave the Foreign Service. The lack of spousal employment was, by far, the problem that caused Foreign Service officers the most stress, according to the survey.

AFSA President Susan Johnson said the examination of work-life balance was organized because of a concern that “the quality of family life has deteriorated” for Foreign Service officers over the years. Greater security concerns and the need for two incomes are among the items that cause problems, she said.

“All of those things add stress,” she said, “but the nature of Foreign Service work makes it more challenging.”


I encourage you to read the entire article here.

And I encourage you to place a premium on your work-life balance, because it makes you a healthier person, and therefore a better representative for our country.

When your career is over, what will you have other than memories (and no one to share them with) if you give up your family in the process.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Today Was A Good Day

But it didn't start out that way.

It started out with an upset stomach. A really upset stomach.

Pre-test nerves or a virus coming on? I really wasn't sure.

I went to class anyway.

My classmate, because she is just a nice person, offered to switch days with me, since her test is tomorrow. Our teacher said she didn't think that would help.

Guess her vote was for nerves.

During class, even as my stomach churned, I tried to relax. Then my classmate said she was full of nervous energy. I agreed I was too.

So our teacher said "Get up. Let's go."



But we didn't sit outside and study, which is good, since it something I am horrible at. I love being outside...oh look! Shiny thing!

Yeah...no focus when I am outside.

Instead, she walked around campus with us. We talked about what we saw. We hopped. Three times. We walked up and down stairs, describing what we were doing.

It was a great break.

Then I had my test.

I feared I would get less than I got before I went to Estonia. I secretly hoped I would get a 3 in either speaking or reading (both would be too much to hope for).

In reality, I got better than I did before, got exactly what I was supposed to get. So I am still on track for my 3/3.

The test felt good...I felt good about my speaking, good about my reading, and knew where my mistakes were (damn endings). I knew when our teacher was kicking it up a notch. I asked for clarification.

I think by June 30, I will be ready.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Welcome to the 161st!

I'll forego whining about the progress test I have tomorrow to welcome the latest crop of Foreign Service Officers: Welcome to the 161st!

We have several bloggers in this class (at least until they get scared off of blogging!). They are:

Black Passport

Diplomat Fritz

Going Global


The Kern Family

Welcome to the Foreign Service!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Area Studies and A Visitor

Credit where credit is due.

Area studies yesterday was decent. At least it concerned one of the countries covered by our area studies...though of course, that country was Ukraine.

Still, it was an interesting, if mostly anecdotal, talk about minorities in Ukraine.

Today, we had a visitor in class.

He is a Department employee, but before joining State, he lived in Estonia for a total of six years, two as a Peace Corps volunteer.

His Estonian is better than that of any native born American I have met (not better than any American I have met...our teachers are Americans, but they were born in Estonia to Estonian parents and so have an unfair advantage).

But what was great, and is beginning to give me a glimpse of my missing self-confidence, was that I understood him. Completely.

That made me really happy, and was a pretty good way to cap off the week and put me in the right mindset for my progress test Tuesday.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

All in how you look at it

Okay, so I am the first to confess when I am dumb.

Today as I was filling out my time sheet, I looked at the calendar, grumbling about my upcoming final language test.

I had in my head that I had five weeks left.

But I have six.


Somehow, having six more weeks is SO much better than five. Yes, I know that is crazy.

But seriously, five weeks is practically a month, where six is a month and a half! That's lots of time!

Of course, what I DON'T have lots of time before is that progress test they sprung on me. Grumble. THAT is only six DAYS away.

Still not happy about that.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia

International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia

Press Statement
Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Washington, DC

May 17, 2011


In every part of the world, men and women are persecuted and attacked because of who they are or whom they love. Homophobia, transphobia and the brutal hostility associated with them are often rooted in a lack of understanding of what it actually means to be lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT). So to combat this terrible scourge and break the cycle of fear and violence, we must work together to improve education and support those who stand up against laws that criminalize love and promote hate. As we mark the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia this May 17, let us resolve to redouble our efforts.

On behalf of President Obama and the people of the United States, I am proud to reaffirm our support for LGBT communities at home and abroad, and to call for an end to discrimination and mistreatment of LGBT persons wherever it occurs. Whether by supporting LGBT advocates marching in Belgrade, leading the effort at the United Nations to affirm the human rights of LGBT persons, or condemning a vile law under consideration in Uganda, we are committed to our friends and allies in every region of the world who are fighting for equality and justice. These are not Western concepts; these are universal human rights.

Despite these gains and hard work, there is more to do to turn the tide of inequality and discrimination against the LGBT community. If you are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, know that the United States stands with you and we are unwavering in our commitment to ending this cycle of hate.

It Gets Better

And I don't mean in the way they mean it at It Get's Better, the fabulous project aimed at saving the lives of teens who are being bullied.

I mean it sarcastically.

As in, today, I got the date for my final language test.

And what was the ONLY date of my final week that I said absolutely no to?

Right, Tuesday, the day after a three-day weekend.

Guess what day they assigned me?

You guessed Tuesday, didn't you?

You'd be right.

So I went and spoke to my instructor, and we decided that it would be better to ask for Friday before the weekend.

So I did.

Nope, can't have that either. How about Thursday?

So now I am scheduled for Thursday, a FULL WEEK before my training is done.

Let me just tell you that if all this crap causes me to get less than a 3/3, I will NOT ask for a language waiver. Nope, FSI is going to have to extend me (and I think the minimum is six weeks from the test) so I can get the 3/3.

Because all that means for me is that I get my language incentive pay and I get six extra weeks with my wife.


Monday, May 16, 2011

This is a joke, right?

We all know I am not a fan of progress tests. They stress me out.

Plus, I have a sneaking suspicion that since returning from Estonia and hearing my wife would not be coming with me Tallinn in August (we are now looking at late January, which is at least not NEXT August), there hasn't been much progress to measure.

I might have even gone backwards.

No worries though, right? My next test would be my last test, and it would be July 7. That is nearly 7 weeks to get my act together. Right?


Today my teacher comes in and says they want to do another progress test BEFORE the final test.

Like next week.


And it gets better.

In the afternoon, my teacher asks if I got the email from our LTS. No, because of course there were no available opennet computers during our break. Why?

Apparently there are some "priority testers" who got to bump my test time. So my scheduled time...gone. So now we have to come up with another time.


Hey, there is a slot at 7:30 AM on the 7th. Want that?

No. Not just no, but hell no. And not just because I can't because my wife and I carpool so I can't be there at that hour. It is also no because if I test that early, I guarantee I will not get my 3/3. I might not get a 2/2. I am NOT a morning person.

So now, I have no date, only the possibilty of a date sometime July 6-8. Hopefully sometime after 10 AM.

This is a joke, right? Is somebody filming this?

Friday, May 13, 2011

And we're back...

So I was all set to tell you about yesterday's events when Blogger decided it had other ideas.

For a while, I could read my blog but not post to it. Then I couldn't even read it. Then I could read it again, but it ate my post from Wednesday.

Finally we are back...whatever those "maintenance issues" were must have been doozies!

Yesterday, we got a chance to meet an Estonian diplomat who is part of the Transatlantic Diplomatic Fellows program. He will spend nearly a year working alongside our folks for nearly a year before taking up his assignment at the Estonian embassy here in D.C.

To say he is impressive would be an understatement. Your Estonian word for the day, is in fact, impressive: muljetavaldav. Also impressive is actually being able to pronounce it.

Anyway, like me, he seems to have done a bit of everything, and unlike me, he speaks quite a few languages WELL. Estonian is not his native language, but you would never know it. His Estonian is perfect. Really perfect. Even our teacher said so, and she'd know. He actually wanted to teach Estonian at one point...yes, that good at it.

So of course what do you do when you meet someone that impressive. If you are me, you stammer. You understand most everything he said and lose the ability to respond at all. And when you do force out something, you are several minutes behind the conversation, you make mistakes you know better than to make, and you get so frustrated you let your really talented classmate do all the talking.

I have come to the conclusion, after thinking about it a lot, that a big part of my problem is self confidence. I usually have it. Lately I haven't. Some of that I suppose could be the distraction of trying to figure out how my wife and I can actually move at the same time, and not feeling like I am succeeding at protecting my family. And that distraction, which doesn't make for good studying, then also affects my performance. And so I have gone from someone who has always believed she was a good language learner to someone who feels like an idiot. This happened to me before...in algebra. It took a year for me to get back on track, and I still don't think of myself as being good at math even though I actually know I'm not bad at it.

So do me a favor, if you see my self confidence laying around, could you return it to me? That lack of it is really screwing me big time. And I don't have a year to get back on track.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

At least we are moving in the right direction...

We got word yesterday that my wife's amended application for in country language training was approved.

Of course, it is still a separation. The amended application is for 22 weeks of study at FSI and 22 in Tallinn.

At least it is going in the right direction. Now it is only 22 weeks apart instead of a year.

While it is a step in the right direction, it still doesn't solve many of our problems.

Like having to be separated AGAIN for the service. We have already done three years apart for the service, and that gets old fast.

Like having to do two moves. Which is going to cost the Department a substantial amount of cash.

Like not getting to rent out our house until February instead of in August, which is going to cost us a substantial amount of cash.

Like having to spend my vacation time coming home to help my wife pack out instead of with the two of us travelling around Europe. And having to pay for plane tickets for her to come to see me at Christmas and me to come home when she is ready to return. Which is going to cost us a smaller, but still significant, amount of cash.

So I am not throwing in the towel. We still have other ideas. But at least we are working from a better starting point.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Coyote 2.0

There seems to be no amount of time, effort or expense spared to rid FSI of the Canada Geese who have called our campus home for generations now.

These geese are smart, so when FSI put up Coyote cut outs, the geese were having none of it.

You'll notice the geese in the distance. They have absolutely NO fear of the cut outs. In fact, one even laid her eggs right next to one. I think she hoped less intelligent predators would be scared off by it.

So this week, we have Coyote 2.0.

Note that this one is in 3D and has a fluffy tail. It startled a colleague of mine when the tail blew in the wind, but does not seem to be affecting the geese.

Epic Fail.

I guess next time they will just bring in the real thing.

Personally, I like the geese.

AFSA President responds to “Prisoner? No, Your Honor, I’d Rather Be a Diplomat”

May 6, 2011
Diplomatic Service

To the Editor:

Re “Prisoner? No, Your Honor, I’d Rather Be a Diplomat” (news article, April 28):

You report that Vincent L. Leibell III, a former New York state senator who pleaded guilty in December to corruption charges and faces up to two years in prison, offered a tour of diplomatic service in the Middle East as an alternative to prison time, saying he would be “honored to serve on one of our civilian nation-building teams.”

He added, “I believe that I would be uniquely qualified if allowed to serve.” He also said his background in public service “would lend itself to our efforts at nation-building in the Middle East.”

Diplomatic service is not just about service abroad, it is also about promoting the image of the country and maintaining a certain decorum in state-to-state relations. Upon appointment, American diplomats receive a presidential commission that states that “reposing special trust and confidence in your Integrity, Prudence and Ability, I have nominated, and by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, do appoint you ...”

Mr. Leibell clearly lacks at least the first two of these qualities and would be well advised to serve at home because regrettably his credentials to represent his country abroad are tainted.

President, American Foreign Service Association
Washington, May 3, 2011

Digger comments:
I would only add that he should serve at home IN JAIL.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

This Day is a Mother

I'm no longer a fan of Mother's Day.

Not because I don't think Mother's should be honored. I do. Honor them every day.

Not because I didn't have a great mother. I did. I was singularly blessed.

But that is why Mother's Day is so hard for me. It is on of those days where the loss of her is particularly acute. And though I lost her 15 years ago, that loss is palpable on most days for me. Mother's Day just amplifies it for me.

One of the hardest things about being in the Foreign Service is that you miss so many of your family's milestones. Births, deaths, marriages...we are often away for that.

And I experience that too. I hate how much of my nieces and nephews lives that I miss...they grow up at light speed, move from wiggling blobs of cuteness to little people, to teens, to adults in no time. But I don't get to be a part of that.

But something even more painful for me is the milestones my mom misses. She never met my wife, and I know mom would love her as much as I do. I know she'd approve, and be happy that I found someone who was both good to me and good for me. I know she was at our wedding in spirit, but I'd have rather had her there in body.

She never got to see me finally succeed. I think she would be proud of me in this career I stumbled into. The interesting things I experience can never be shared with her. A devout Catholic, she always wanted to go to Rome. I went, I saw the Sistene Chapel, saw an address by the Pope. And I can only hope that somewhere, she experienced it with me and that she heard me tell her about it in my heart.

She can never come visit me at post, and I feel certain she would have. I could have given her some cool experiences in exchange for the wonderful childhood she gave me. In exchange for the amazing gift she gave me of never doubting that she loved me. Never doubting that she wanted me.

A friend told me after I lost my mother that it never hurts less. It just hurts less often.

That is the truest think I have ever been told about it.

So yeah, Mother's Day is a mother.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Foreign Affairs Day

Today is Foreign Affairs Day, and AFSA held their annual Memorial Plaque ceremony. This ceremony honors those who have died while in the service of the country in the Diplomatic Corps. I hope you will take a moment today to remember them and their families.

The AFSA Memorial Plaque Ceremony
Foreign Affairs Day, May 6

The AFSA Memorial Plaque Ceremony, which honors Foreign Service personnel who have lost their lives while serving their country in the line of duty or under other inspirational circumstances, will be held on Foreign Affairs Day, Friday, May 6 at 10:25 am, in the C St. lobby of the State Department in front of the west plaque. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton regrets she will not be able to preside due to last minute conflicts. We are pleased that Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg is scheduled to preside over the ceremony.

AFSA President Susan R. Johnson will open the ceremony with a brief welcome and will present a message from President Barack Obama and Deputy Secretary Steinberg will make remarks in memory of the honoree, Eugene F. Sullivan, bringing the total Foreign Service personnel inscribed on the plaque to 235. Our deepest sympathies and heartfelt gratitude go out to the family and loved ones of Mr. Sullivan. He died of black water fever in Ethiopia in 1972. He was a Foreign Service Officer in USAID and a father of seven.

The solemn ceremony offers an opportunity to remember and honor our fallen colleagues who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country, and reminds all Americans of the extremely dangerous and difficult conditions that the Foreign Service faces today in many parts of the world. Sadly, as we pay tribute to and formally honor Eugene Sullivan, today, nearly forty years later, AFSA also remembers another member of the Foreign Service family, Sharon Clark. She died of cerebral malaria on December 26, 2010, while serving in Abuja, Nigeria - a sad reminder than the dangerous diseases remain one of the many risks Foreign Service personnel face as part of their work. Also, this occasion allows the Foreign Service family to come together in honor of our profession and the importance of diplomacy and development as instruments of our national power and our country’s desire for prosperity and peace.

Following the conclusion of Foreign Affairs Day at 3:00 pm, you are warmly invited to attend AFSA's Foreign Affairs Day Reception, from 3-5 pm at AFSA headquarters, 2101 E Street NW. Drinks and hors d’oeuvres will be served at no cost. At 4 pm the 2011 AFSA Scholarship winners will be announced. You are welcome to come and go as you please.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Back to the USSR...again


I get that Russia is a great big country that affects basically every country in the world.

I get that Russia has had a tremendous impact on the countries we are going to.

I get that we need to know about Russia to understand the relationship.

But really, I would like to hear about the relationship, not just about Russia. And more than that, I want to learn about the country I am going to. And how it related to NATO, for example, or th EU, which it is now a member of. I would like to hear about the elections it just had and what direction it is going politically. I would like know about their economy, and how they have achieved such great stability despite their austerity measures.

I would like to learn these things, but I haven't.

Today's talk in area studies on energy was interesting, and the speaker was very good. But it was mostly about Russia, and how it controls energy resources. And it was not different enough from a previous lecture on energy issues in our region that we had earlier, with the exception that the previous lecture actually discussed our countries in depth.

Next week, we are having a repeat of a lecture we had earlier. The week after that, we are hearing about Belarus, yet another place none of us are going.

And we only have nine weeks left.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

It's A Combined Team Effort

It is nice when Federal employees get a little credit. In the current political climate, that is a rare occurance.

That's why this piece in the Federal Times is so nice.

Berry: Many feds assisted mission to find, kill bin Laden


.... [Office of Personnel Management Director John] Berry said in an interview that thousands of civilian employees played a part in collecting and analyzing the intelligence that led to Sunday's mission in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

"It wasn't just the Navy SEALs," Berry said. "It was our men and women at [the Office of the Director of National Intelligence] and the CIA and the Foreign Service from the State Department, who have been on the ground working in Iraq and Afghanistan. It's a combined team effort."


Berry hopes that as the public learns about how civilian employees helped the military kill bin Laden, they will be more receptive to arguments about the value of the federal workforce.


He noted that nearly 3,000 federal civilian employees have died on the job since 1992, including 24 who were killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. About 100,000 civilian employees have served alongside military service members in those countries over the last decade, and Berry said more needs to be done to recognize civilian employees killed in the line of duty.

"When you join the military, or you join the civilian force, you take the same oath to defend the same Constitution," Berry said.


You can read the whole piece here.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

FSJ: Trailing Tandems

Clayton Bond, who is a great officer and just an all around great guy, has an article in this month's Foreign Service Journal on life as a Trailing Tandem.

In it, he discusses the difficulty he and his husband faced during their separated tour, and the decision he finally made to take leave without pay so they could be together. He, like me, values family over career, so his story is a particularly salient one for the issue on Work-Life balance.

The article is especially timely for me, given the situation my wife and I are dealing with (nope, still no answers....).

But it did give me some ideas! :)

Monday, May 02, 2011

Why I Am Celebrating...

I am celebrating Osama's death because it is justice, and justice should be celebrated.

There is a quote circulating around Facebook originally credited to Dr. Martin Luther King. It basically says: I will mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. "Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that."

The first sentence was apparently written by a Facebooker, and only the last was actually said by MLK.

I'd like to share another quote from MLK with you:

"Justice delayed is justice denied."

And for nearly 15 years (because you will remember that the first attacks on the World Trade Center were also the work of bin Laden), all of his victims, his THOUSANDS of victims, have been denied justice. And his victims weren't just those who died, but the families and friends they left behind. And the people who could no longer feel safe, even if they didn't know a single person who died. These people deserved justice.

And now they, and we, have it.

Think about it another way.

Imagine that you have a stalker.

A real stalker, one who means you real harm.

One who you never know when or where he will pop up. One who has already killed members of your family. And you know he wants you to be next.

You would know you were never safe. You would wish him dead, because with some people, you know that even having them in jail won't make you safe. They will find a way to get to you, whether in person or by sending a proxy. Because there are just some people who will not stop as long as they live.

Now imagine that stalker leads hundreds or thousands of people who will do his bidding, and you have Osama bin Laden.

He was my stalker, and the stalker of every diplomat, every soldier, every American. He was the stalker of every person in the world who didn't buy into his perverted version of Islam, even his fellow muslims.

He murdered members of our family...people in embassies, soldiers at war, innocents in the World Trade Center, in London, in Madrid...

No, killing him won't end all terrorism. But the lack of a smart, charismatic leader will likely fracture al Qaeda in a way that will make planning acts of terror, especially on a large scale, harder for the world's main terrorist organization.

And killing him will make his followers feel a little like the stalked rather than the stalkers.

And maybe if they are busy looking over their shoulders, they will be spending a little less time trying to kill my family.

And I think that is worth celebrating.


Osama Bin Laden is dead.

As with most decisions I make, the reasons behind my decision to join the Foreign Service were complicated. Among them of course was that my wife was in the Service. But bin Laden was a deciding factor too...after 9/11, I wanted to serve my country. And as an out lesbian, military service was not an option.

So I am glad he is dead...I know that while this has cut the head off the snake, the danger continues. I pray for the safety of all those serving our country now.

As President Obama said, bin Laden was not a Muslim leader. He was a murderer of Muslims.

I think the manner in which he was living really speaks to that.

He is (was) a spoiled rich kid. He sent poor muslims off to die in the service of a jihad that most muslim leaders reject. He never took a risk to his own life to carry out his murderous plans.

And so all this time, while we had an image of him living in caves, an image that no doubt served him well among his followers, many of whom actually are living in caves and other lives of desparate poverty, he was actually living in a million dollar mansion.

He had excellent security and was in town and a mere 60 miles from Islamabad. He was not living a life of hardship, but he used the lives of hardship of his followers to carry out his plans with no personal risk to himself.

How profoundly hypocritical.

Now I know there are those who will decry this action, who will say all war is wrong.

I am a believer in diplomacy, in negotiation. I believe soft power must go hand in hand with hard power, that we can save lives by better funding the diplomatic corps so we can fight fewer wars. But I don't think we can ever hope to stay out of all wars.

Because I believe Hitler would have continued his evil plans to wipe all Jews from the face of the earth had it not been for war. I am not convinced that slavery would have ended without war. And I am not convinced that Osama could have been convinced to change his ways while there was breath in his body.

So good riddance. Lives will be saved because his is dead.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Volbriöö/ Kevadpüha

Volbriöö is a night in Estonia where I am certain I will decide to get home early and stay there.

In many places, it is called Walpurgis Night (Walpurgisnacht), and is a traditional spring festival on 30 April or 1 May in large parts of Central and Northern Europe. Its celebration is associated with dancing and with bonfires. And drinking. Lots of drinking.

The festival is named after Saint Walburga (ca. 710-777/9). Walburga was canonized on 1 May (ca. 870), so she became associated with May Day, especially in the Finnish and Swedish calendars. The eve of May day, traditionally celebrated with dancing, came to be known as Walpurgisnacht (or Volbriöö in Estonian). Because the night originally stood for the gathering and meeting of witches, some modern people still dress up as witches to wander the streets in a carnival-like mood.

Volbriöö celebrations are especially popular among college communities such as Tartu, the university town in southern Estonia that we visited last month. Estonian students in fraternities and sororities will march through the streets of Tartu, followed by visiting each others' frat houses throughout the night. The festivities are so raucous that the sale of alcohol is prohibited in many places in the country, including the city of Tallinn, beginning at 5 pm on the 30th and continuing until 10am on the 1st.

In Estonia, Volbriöö is celebrated throughout the night of April 30th and into the wee hours of May 1, which is a public holiday called "Spring Day" (Kevadpüha). You might have noticed that the Estonians are not celebrating "May Day," or the international workers' holiday. This is because Estonians were required to celebrate May Day during Soviet Times, and since regaining their independence twenty years ago (now THAT is a celebration I am looking forward to seeing!), they no longer mark the 1st of May in that way. Now, it is the culmination of Volbriöö and celebrates the arrival of spring. And for as much winter as Estonia gets, I certainly understand celebrating that!