Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Risks We Take

For all of you still convinced of how easy the lives diplomats live are, Email from the Embassy has a good piece this week on the risks we take to serve the country in the Foreign Service.

Everyone knows the risks we take to serve in some of the most dangerous places in the world. At least, I like to think they know. Sometimes I am not so sure. But to refresh your memory, there have been 21 attacks on U.S. embassies and consulates since the 1998, when our embassies in Nairobi, Kenya and Dar e Salaam, Tanzania were attacked. Fifteen of that attacks have happened just in the nearly 11 years I have been a part of the Foreign Service. Hundreds have died in those attacks, including the one everyone now remembers, the one at Benghazi, which took the life of my friend, Ambassador Chris Stevens.

But there are other risks too. Risks we are aware of but sometimes try to push from our minds. The Department knows...it is why we can retire with full pension after 20 years instead of the usual 25-30 the federal government requires.

That risk is to our health.

We serve in places where healthcare is far less than what we can get in the U.S. while the risk is far greater. Ebola is just the most recent example. In addition to the courageous health care workers risking and sometimes losing their own lives to help the people of the affected West African countries, there are also diplomats serving in those places, working to make sure we can get help where it is needed. But this is far from the only place. When I went to visit my wife in Baku, a pre-checkup at my then university advised me simply not to go. And added that if I got sick with ANYTHING, to leave the country. As Donna mentions in her piece above, she sacrificed hearing in one ear to the pollution in China and now wonders about the mysterious chemical she inhaled for a day in Moscow before they were warned to turn off their heating systems and close all windows. One of my wife's A-100 classmates lost 1/3 of his intestines to a mystery bug at his first post.

There are cancer clusters from people who served at certain posts together. malaria, respiratory illnesses from years of pollution, and mysterious miscarriages. And even for me, there is a potential connection between vitamin D deficiency and arthritis. But mine, like so many others, can't necessarily be traced to my service.

Like Donna, most days, I think the risk is worth it. And I know if my knees are the worst of it, I have gotten off easy.

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