Sunday, September 23, 2012


The last two weeks have been a blur.

They started with the murder of friends and colleagues and ended with a big military conference which included a visit by Admiral Stavridis. Lots of stars on those shoulders!

And there is no end in sight...tomorrow I leave for a four days in Moscow (probably won't be able to blog there, so don't worry if I don't write that I have been eaten by Tigers), then I come back for a reception and a Public Affairs visitor to show around. Oh, and did I mention we have a new Ambassador?

At least this weekend, we were able to have a little fun.

A friend from Embassy Riga spent the night with us, and it was nice to get to hang out. And last night, I actually got to watch my alma mater play football on tv! And then today, there were the shrooms.

Estonians love their mushrooms. And our CLO arranged a trip for us out into a national forest for a day of mushrooming with a local expert.

She said there were some 10,000 different kinds of mushrooms in Estonia. She identified a few that we might find in the forest. Don't ask me what kind they were. I probably gathered about half edible and half not. I am still not sure how to tell them apart, and I don't see myself ever cooking anything I gathered.

I did learn how to identify some magic mushrooms though...because I found them.

They are really pretty.

I picked this one...that was before I knew what kind it was.

No, I didn't eat it or take it home. Or the other ones like it that I found.

The ones I found that were edible were not as pretty...and once she took out all the poisonous ones, were also not too abundant.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Why Should We Care About Diplomacy?

The murder of our friends and colleagues continues to shine a much needed light on the hard work our countries diplomats do.

I wish I thought that it would last and that Americans would truly come to appreciate our work, which Nick Kralev noted in his recent article, Why Should We Care About Diplomacy?, saying,
"U.S. diplomacy affects the everyday lives of Americans, including their safety and security, their ability to travel and communicate with people in other countries, their employment and overall prosperity. Yet, it is astonishing how little we know about our diplomats, and about their skills and work."

Another nice piece, Diplomats, Security and the Budget, came out yesterday, telling a bit more about our work and how we have been affected by budget cuts. Because those who fight tooth and nail against any cuts to the military budget slash away at ours not realizing the impact it has not just to our ability to do our jobs but to our safety when we do it.

The article, which notes that since 1980 and prior to the murder of Chris, Sean, Rone and Glen, 88 diplomats have died in the line of duty, most the victims of attacks, says:

"The deaths last week of Stevens, Smith, Doherty, and Woods should remind all of us of the extreme risks and daily discomforts that are taken by a great many of the thousands of men and women who staff the more than 260 embassies, consulates, and missions we maintain in 180 separate countries. We should also recognize that our national security is as dependent on men like Christopher Stevens and the work they do in weaving together alliances and bringing stability to strife-torn regions of the world as by our investments in military hardware or our deployment of military personnel. It is a tough, often dirty business—it deserves our respect and appreciation.

It also deserves resources. In each of the last two years, Congress has cut President Obama’s request for U.S. Foreign Service and U.S. Agency for International Development staffing levels despite repeated analysis by the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, indicating that our embassies are critically understaffed.

But even more inexcusable are the repeated and deep cuts made to embassy security and construction. Thousands of our diplomatic personnel are serving overseas in facilities that do not come close to meeting the minimal requirements for security established by the so-called Inman commission’s report on overseas diplomatic security to President Ronald Reagan’s secretary of state more than two decades ago."

I believe it is easy for our budget to be slashed because people don't know what we do or the dangers we face. And so telling our story, so that Americans will understand more about what we do, is a big part of the reason I and more than 400 others in the Foreign Service, have blogs. I want to share with you what everyday life is like for a diplomat, what we do and what we endure to serve you. And I hope too that some of you will decide that not only do you think our service is worthwhile, but that you want to join us.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Welcome Home

This is video of the transfer of remains ceremony. I wish I could have been there, but I was able to watch some of it on television.

Welcome home.

ABC's Persons of the Week

ABC named American Diplomats Serving Overseas as their Persons of the Week.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Telling Our Story

Since the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens, Information Officer Sean Smith, and Security Officers Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty in Tuesday's terrorist attack on our Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, prayers and wishes have been all over regular and social media. But I know that as with all things, as we in the Foreign Service will continue to feel as though we are walking in the Twilight Zone, watching while the world moves on to the next thing.

But while we have this brief moment where the country's attention is focused on diplomats and what we do, I wanted to share with you a couple of good articles that have come out about our work.

We all need to do a better job of telling our story, and we need to start now, for the brief moment that we have the country's attention, even though it took the deaths of four patriots to get it.

From Nick Kralev at Foreign Policy:

America's Other Army‎ "We cannot expect to be protected by our geographic position, which historically has been such an advantage for America -- I think Sept. 11 demonstrated that conclusively," Clinton told me. "In order to maximize the chances that we will enjoy security and tranquility here at home, we have to be in effect the chairman of the board of the world -- to try to get friends and allies to work with us, to mitigate problems, to bring about solutions that neutralize or prevent nonstate actors, as well as rogue states, from taking actions that put the lives and property of our people and our friends and allies at risk."

Got that? For the United States to be truly secure and prosperous, the whole world has to be secure and prosperous -- and that is "the world we seek," according to the National Security Strategy. At the same time, the White House recognizes "the world as it is" and acknowledges that the U.S. government must deal with it. This is where the U.S. diplomats come in: It's their job to reconcile the sometimes contradictory goals of protecting American interests in the short term while also -- somehow -- working to reshape the world into a more secure and prosperous place for future generations.

From Ambassador Prudence Bushnell writing for the NY Times:
Our Diplomats Deserve Better "Diplomacy is a dangerous profession. You cannot exert influence by whispering in diplomatic code to your government counterparts behind closed doors. You do not spread American values — especially in places where passions are high, governments fragile and guns plentiful — by remote control from Washington. You have to get out from behind the walls and engage with people. We know this can put us in harm’s way; our people in the Benghazi consulate knew it. And they did their jobs anyway.

That is because, hokey as it sounds, the people who represent us overseas really do believe they can make a difference. They confront violent behavior and strong passions with American leadership, smart power and peaceful means."

From Daniel Nasaw of the BBC: 
Libya attack: US diplomats have to work around the danger "Of course, people who join the foreign service know what they're in for . . . I don't think American diplomats are surprised or intimidated by the fact that they have to serve in difficult places," -- Paul Bremer

From Larry O'Donnell and Senator John McCain on MSNBC:
Dangers Facing State Department Workers Senator McCain is especially eloquent, and O'Donnell makes clear that we and the military have in common that we are government workers serving the country.

And now I will leave you with two images, one is of Secretary Clinton and President Obama at "The Wall" in the State Department that lists the names of all those who have died in the line of duty in the Foreign Service. Since World War II, more Ambassadors have died in the line of duty than Generals or Admirals.

And the next of of my friend Chris and his three fellow diplomats coming home. God speed.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Who Chris Was To Me

You undoubtedly know that in Benghazi, Libya on the evening of September 11, four members of the Foreign Service family were killed during an attack on our consulate.

Two have not been named, pending notification of their families. One was Sean Smith, an Information Management Officer normally posted to The Hague but who volunteered for temporary duty there. And the other was our Ambassador to Libya and my friend, Chris Stevens.

There is the old line about six degrees of separation. That everyone in the world is separated (sometimes from Kevin Bacon) by only six people. But there are never six degrees of separation in the Foreign Service. The line about there being fewer diplomats than military musicians is true. And so I doubt there is ever more than two degrees of separation in the Service. If you don’t know a person, you certainly know someone who does. 

But with Chris, there was only one. We served together for more than a year and he was my friend.

There are certainly people who knew Chris better than I do. Many people have served with him over the course of his career with the State Department, and he was the kind of guy it was hard not to like. In fact, one of my friends went to Libya to serve with him at his request…how could you say no to a guy like that? I know her heart today, like mine, is broken.

You have read all of the official accounts of him. He was a gifted diplomat, a former Peace Corps volunteer who devoted much of his career to the Middle East. A devoted friend to Libya who went there first as an envoy to the rebels and then as their Ambassador once they had escaped Ghaddafi’s oppressive regime. He was devoted to his work and to his country.

But all of those reports talk about Ambassador Stevens, with all the lofty connotations of a person in that position.

To me, he was still Chris.

Chris was the political chief in Jerusalem when I arrived there as a freshly-minted Junior Officer. Shortly after my arrival, he assumed the position of Deputy Principal Officer, or DPO. DPOs are the consulate’s version of a DCM, or Deputy Chief of Mission. These are the folks who are second in charge at an Embassy or Consulate right after the Ambassador at the Embassy or the Principal Officer at a Consulate. And because the Consulate in Jerusalem is autonomous, meaning that unlike other consulates, it reported directly to DC and not to the Embassy (because our consulate in Jerusalem is our mission to the Palestinians. We don’t have our embassy there because the final status of Jerusalem is an issue for negotiation between the Israelis and Palestinians, and we don’t want to prejudice those negotiations). So basically, Chris was our Deputy Ambassador.

The duties of DCMs and DPOs are many, but one of the most important is that they serve as a mentor to the Junior Officers. So Junior Officers often get to know their DCMs very well. And such was the case for me with Chris.

For me, Chris wasn’t the Ambassador at an important mission. He was the guy who invited all of us JOs over to his place for pizza to talk about our concerns. He was the guy who would have parties at his awesome apartment with its amazing view of the city to display the photography of one of our Marines.

And he was the guy whose couch I would sit on and rant (or occasionally cry) about whatever the frustration of the day, week, month, or year was (and in Jerusalem, there were many). Sometimes he would listen patiently, sometimes he would tease, and sometimes he would offer solutions.

I have heard rumblings that his death is being used back in the states as a tool to score political points. Shame on those who are doing it. I am glad I am not there to hear it.

Chris’ life and death are not a tool for political gain. They are a testament to what we do as diplomats. We are the ones who are in not just the dangerous places you hear about in the news, like Afghanistan and Iraq, but equally dangerous places around the globe. Places where we lack the protection provided by the presence of our military. And yet we go there, because to not be in those places is for America to give up on relations with those places. It is for America to give up on peace with those places, on partnership with those places. We go to places where the military is not in hopes that they never have to go there. In a very real way, we place ourselves in front of the front line in the hopes that our words will spare American lives.

Chris and I hadn’t stayed in close touch, though we were friends on Facebook. The last time I talked to him was to congratulation him on his Ambassadorship because he deserved it.

He was a great guy, and I really liked him. And I will miss him.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Losing A Friend

I have written here many times about the dangers of Foreign Service work. About how we are risking our lives to serve the country.

Many people scoff at that notion. They think being a diplomat is about going to fancy parties. Pin-striped cookie pushers they call us.

Today, my heart hurts. Today, we lost four Americans serving our country. Among them, my friend Ambassador Chris Stevens.

I served with Chris in Jerusalem. He was our political chief and then our Deputy Principal Officer. He was a great diplomat and a great guy.

And he was a true friend to the people who killed him.

I can't really write much more about it right now, so I am going to leave you with the thoughts from some friends and with the video to introduce Chris as the new Ambassador to Libya. Because as one friend said, I want you to remember him as he was.

From Laura Smiley:

"I don't pontificate very often (*cough* - well, I guess I do), but as well as soluting our military and fire/police departments, we should recognize that there are those who choose to serve on the front lines, trying to engage directly with the people in other countries on a daily basis. These foreign service personnel do not carry weapons. They (usually) do not wear bullet-proof vests. They are often found in the epicenters of poverty and anti-American sentiment, quietly bringing the basic building blocks of civilization (education, clean water, medicine, electricity), or building upon those blocks (women's education, sustainable agriculture, democracy, civil society). They proudly represent the values and ideals of our great country abroad, and are true patriots.

"Smart, courageous, and much too self-deprecating (or at least not self-promoting as much as their credentials would certainly allow), I love serving along side of these selfless men and women!

"I ask you to spend a moment reflecting on their service, as well as their sacrifices."

And this from my A-100 classmate Tim Davis:

The Foreign Service is a mystery to most Americans. If you're reading this and not in the Foreign Service I may be your only link toAmerica's diplomats. Today, two of our missions were attacked and it's likely one of my colleagues was killed.

It's true that diplomats go to fancy receptions and meet interesting people, but it's also true that they go to the sorts of places the State Department tells you not to go; war zones with large military presences like Afghanistan and until last December Iraq. They also volunteer, however, to go to countries largely without the military,like Egypt and Libya, where today's attacks happened. And they don't just go. They raise the flag. Their sole job is to say, "I am an American and this is what we stand for.". It is a brave thing to do in places where anti-American sentiment is often palpable. It has a cost.

As someone trained in the Marine Corps it makes sense that I wouldvolunteer to go to these places. That's not particularly brave. Most of your fellow Americans in the Foreign Service who go to these places and risk their lives do so without the security of having been a Marine, but with faith in our country and the desire to do their part in projecting America's innate goodness to the world.

We are, as a nation, blessed with troops who are more courageous and more just than any the world has seen. We are equally blessed with diplomats, like my colleague today, prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice in the name of America and its promise.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Simply Amazing

Sometimes I get to do amazing things as part of my job.

Like meeting the Shepards.

Judy and Dennis Shepard are there with us in Tallinn this week.

While they are here, they will meet with gay activists, do interviews, speak to classes, speak at a showing of The Laramie Project, and even meet with Estonian President Ilves.

In each place, they carry the message of the necessity of tolerance, the dangers of bigotry.

What they have suffered, having their son brutally murdered for being gay, is simply unimaginable.

That they have taken that suffering and turned it into what can only be called their ministry is simply amazing.

I have trouble, 16 years later, talking about my mother's death. I still feel she was taken from me too young.

And I was older when my mother died than their son, Matthew, was when he was murdered. And my mother was not murdered.

The depth of strength they have, to go around the world and tell their story over and over, to start the Matthew Shepard Foundation to fight the battle they fight for LGBT acceptance, to work eleven years for the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act at times when it seemed it would never pass, is unfathomable.

I told them last night that I was so sorry for their loss and so amazed at what they have done. And that I wish ever LGBT person could have parents like them.

Welcome to the 169th!

Okay, I am breaking my pattern of forgetting to welcome the newest A-100 class until days (weeks) after they begin.

So a warm welcome to the 169th A-100, which starts today!

So far, I have only been able to find two bloggers who will be joining the class. The first is actually long-time blogger Daniella over at Tuk and Tam. She has crossed over to the dark side (that is, she went from EFM to Tandem) by joining this class.

And the other blog is Pickering Fellow JDC over at Journey.

So congrats to Daniella, who has long since been part of the Foreign Service family, and welcome to JDC! ON EDIT: Found one more! The Dispatch

Sunday, September 09, 2012

You've Heard That Before

I always hate using the excuse that I have been too busy to write.

But I am using it this week, because it has the unfortunate aspect of also being true.

For the last two weeks, actually, we have been full tilt preparing for the arrival of our new Ambassador. AND two concerts. AND an important speaker visit. AND several important military visits.

AND I had to do an EER for my APAO because I would really like to see her get tenure. (Fingers crossed everyone. She deserves it, as does my former APAO, who is also up this time. Of course, if they both get it, we will all talk about my awesome EER writing skills...for other people!).

The EER is done now. The concerts are half done. And the Ambassador's arrival would have happened except...

Lufthansa decided to strike Friday. So instead, he is supposed to arrive today. Fingers crossed for that too.

I'll try to do better...I will even try to tell you about our speakers after they have spoken.

And I will try not to forget to welcome the new A-100 class tomorrow! (Does this count as a welcome if I forget?).

Monday, September 03, 2012

These are the people

There was a terrorist attack against Americans in Peshawar, Pakistan today.

According to the most current reports, suicide bombers drove a car laden with explosives into a consulate vehicle. Two Americans and two local employees were injured.

You can read more about it here.

There are lots of people who think life in the Foreign Service is glamorous...and easy. This is one of the reasons why the American public is so willing to freeze our salaries for years and cut our pay when we go overseas. Because we have it so good.

Yes, there are great parts to being in the Foreign Service. I love my job, and I love serving my country.

But there are parts of it that are hard.

Like living in places where your health is compromised by the local conditions and local healthcare (or lack thereof).

Like having to spend your career away from your family, missing birthdays, weddings and funerals.

And like being a target.

I am lucky. I am in a safe place.

But I have been in dangerous places. And clearly, I have colleagues who are in even more dangerous places. Places I will likely serve in before my career is over.

So when you say your prayers tonight, say a few for those who are risking their lives to serve you. And when you hear someone talking about useless government employees and overpaid bureaucrats, remind them that the people who were injured today are the people they are talking about. That it takes both military and diplomatic power to advance our interests in the world, and that diplomats too sometimes pay the ultimate price for our country.

Saturday, September 01, 2012


There were times this week when I wasn't sure I was going to survive it.

There were 31 Fulbright interviews over the course of two days.

There was the prep for the arrival of our new Ambassador.

And there were approximately a bazillion meetings, many to do with the item above.

Oh yeah, and I had to write an EER (that is State Department speak for an evaluation...I wanted it to be really good because really want to get my APAO tenured, which is State Department speak for job security and no more overtime) AND some brief remarks that also needed to be really good.

We didn't manage to get out of the office yesterday until 6:30, which was cutting it a bit close for our 7 pm dinner reservations.

And I didn't want to cancel the reservation, because yesterday was our anniversary. We have been married ten years.

Ten years.

We've been together for nearly 13, and we were legally married in Massachusetts on our 10th anniversary together.

But yesterday was our real anniversary, the one from our church wedding in North Carolina. The one where we promised before God that we would forever treasure the gift we had been given. Where our church community promised before God to support our marriage.

Ten years.

Seems like nothing. And everything. I hope we get at least 50 more.