Sunday, May 25, 2014

What rhymes with "Hell"?

Oh that's right, it's CODEL.

I preface this by saying we have had three CODELS (short for Congressional Delegation) in the past several weeks, and they were fine. They were here for an appropriate reason, did not involve spouses, did not devolve into SHOPDELS. The Principals were mostly pleasant and the whole visits were relatively painless (I say relatively only because they came right at the same time as two major conferences that brought a bunch of high level folks from the Department plus we had a separate visit from another really high ranking person in the Department, AND we had the arrival of the 173rd Airborne AND we had the handover of the Baltic Air Policing mission AND we had some major military visitors AND we had the Secretary of the Army. AND we aren't done...).

So relatively painless, but exhausting anyway.

But back to CODELS. Al Kamen has an updated version of his Loop Guide to CODELS in the Washington Post.

One of my favorite of his rules is:

"Rule 2. Ditch the spouse: Spouses raise red flags for reporters. Reporters are no longer buying the dodge about spouses traveling “at no extra cost.” Understaffed embassy personnel have to schedule separate events and provide vans, maybe security, guides and so forth for day trips, sightseeing and shopping. Given chronic understaffing at U.S. embassies, this is hardly what those folks need to be doing."

I would add a few more rules if I were Queen of the World, you know, in the interests of members of CODELS not looking bad..

For example, Travel commercial air whenever possible. It saves the taxpayers A LOT of money, especially if you travel coach like the rest of us are required to do. Fiscal responsibility, you know.

When I posted the link to the article on Facebook, a lot of folks added their rules to. I share them, with details removed to protect the guilty.

"Do not demand that helicopters being used to search for missing soldiers be commandeered for your use because you brought a bunch of [INSERT FOOD ITEM FROM YOUR HOME STATE] with you and you want a photo op of you delivering it to your state's National guard troops, who are stationed at a forward operating base in a hot zone. Yeah, that happened."

"When at the last minute you decide an unexpectedly snowy location will not please your 16 colleagues and their spouses and it's your last stop on the trip, JUST GO HOME! Don't come to a warm location and ask for four different schedules -  with a few hours notice on the weekend. Not saying this actually happened but JUST DON'T DO IT!"

"When there's a small technical problem with milair, do not insist that your control officer buy one-way, first class tickets home when you can wait an hour or two for repairs."

"Avoid packing your CODEL with representatives from US territories solely to qualify for MilAir who will only play 4 rounds of golf on a 3 day junket and participate in no other events."

"Do not expect your favorite diet beverage other than Diet Coke to be readily available in a developing country. Also don't expect your favorite sports court of choice to be available in said developing country and do not force your Junior Officer control officer to play with you instead of going home to his or her family. You are on a "working" trip, right?"

And how about not pointedly thanking the military for their service and not the FSOs who are giving up their weekend to take care of you. We want to make you happy. We want your trip to be a success because we are here representing our country, yours and ours together. We know your trips can advance our country's foreign policy, and that is our goal here. But remember Kamen's rule two? About our chronic understaffing? A thank you for your service is nice to hear for us too.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

90 Years of the Modern Foreign Service

In 1922, Lucile Atcherson Curtis took the Foreign Service exam
and passed with the 3rd highest score that year.
She went on to become the first female U.S. Foreign Service Officer.
Photo courtesy of the U.S. Dept of State 
We in the Foreign Service trace our heritage to the founding of our country and to Benjamin Franklin, whose work as our first diplomat in getting the French to side with us in our war for independence had as much to do with our winning our Revolutionary War as did our military struggle against the British.

But this year marks the 90th anniversary of the founding of the modern Foreign Service, when the bill merging the diplomatic and consular corps was signed into law by President Calvin Coolidge.

In honor of this anniversary, AFSA asked members of the Foreign Service to write in 100 works or less what made them most proud. You can read their stories here.

AFSA also put together this excellent video history of the Foreign Service.

You can also go here to learn about Constance Ray Harvey, who is featured in the video, and here to learn about the Foreign Service Officers who have died in the service of our country.

Even on my worst days, I am proud of the work we do.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Career diplomats: collateral damage from ‘nuclear option’

Al Kamen has a piece in "In The Loop" today about how the nuclear option is harming career diplomats on their way to Ambassador.

Until recently, it was also harming even newly minted Foreign Service Officers. In addition to all promotions, all tenures were on hold. 

Those holds were finally released. But these have not been. 

And now they are harming our relations with other countries, and that harms our national security.

"The career nominees at the Senate have waited about 250 days so far on average, even though they are nonpartisan and their hostage value is thus pretty close to nil. The only things damaged by this situation are the country’s national security, its economic well-being, it’s ability to get solid trade, food and energy deals and its capacity to spread U.S. human rights and other values.

Nine of those career folks stranded on the Senate floor are nominated to serve in mineral- and energy-rich Africa. It’s obviously hard to lead there (either from behind or from front) when trained diplomats aren’t in place. In contrast, does anyone think the Chinese are not fully staffed there, locking up deals for raw materials, oil, food and such? Yet one of five U.S. ambassadorial posts in Africa are empty."

Remind me again who Congress works for?

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

I hate this part

If you transfer during summer season, I highly recommend you try to leave in May.

Otherwise, you will be like us, among the last to leave. You just get to say goodbye over and over and over to people you care about. Granted, this is the Foreign Service, so you will likely see them again.

Even so, it sucks.

We had a few friends leave along the unexpected curtailment, the transfer of some folks who arrived a year or more before us.

But now it has begun in earnest, with the people we have served with for the last three years departing.

And it sucks.

I've already said goodbye to some of these folks.
More will leave soon.
And in two months, so will I.
I hate this part

It actually started last month with the Departure of one friend, though his wife is still here through the end of the school year, so that one feels less real.

And then last week, one friend who I have served with for four years total, because we were at a previous post together, also left. That too feels a little unreal because I misjudged his flight date and didn't get to say goodbye.

Thank God for Facebook.

So today it really started to feel real. One of our good friends is flying out tomorrow. She and her husband and their impossibly cute baby came by the embassy to say goodbye.

I really hate this part.

This week, my deputy will leave, and she will be horribly missed. Let me tell you, having a deputy where you can confidently take vacation and know your section will be fine is worth her weight in gold. And she is. She was great when she got here, but I have watched her over two years develop into an exceptional officer.I'd serve with her again anywhere.

Next week, another good friend departs. And then another and another.

We have a great group of folks here...I am not happy to see any of them go. And I am REALLY unhappy about having to see ALL of them go.

Stupid summer transfer season.

New folks are coming. I am sure they are all great.

And the pouty me doesn't want to know any of them. Because my friends are leaving. And in two months, so will I.

I hate this part.