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Springing to Action March 11, 2011

Posted by KG in FS Life, State.

There’s devastation in Japan right now, and you better believe the State Department has been working the crisis non-stop — answering calls to assist not only the tremendous American population resident in Japan, but also our close friends the Japanese.  Consular officers on the ground, Watch officers in DC, contract call center employees, local wardens.  Responding to calls for help.

For the last few weeks, or probably more like months at this point, the Department has been working other crises.  Getting Americans out of Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya.  Assisting other nations who asked for our help, regardless of lingering resentments or bilateral political issues.  I’m one of the lucky ones who didn’t have to work the crises day in and day out, but I was still drafted to assist at times.  Graveyard task force shifts.  Late nights working for the bosses to get them the latest information, in the most perfect form.  Or just ensuring that my regular portfolio is fully covered, just in case something terrible happens.   Through the ongoing Egypt situation, I’ve stayed in good touch with one of my close friends in Cairo.  His wife and baby daughter were evacuated.  He stayed on as the Ambassador’s assistant.  During the worst times, he was sleeping on couches at the chancery.  He watched the Superbowl from the chancery while dining on MREs.

I’ve been there too.  Thanksgiving 2008, I was at our Consulate in Mumbai.  Our planned dinner sat in our fridge while my wife and I worked twelve hour days.  Talking to anguished parents, identifying bodies recently murdered by terrorists, arranging documentation for those who fled hotels without their belongings, getting Gatorade and granola to newly released Americans who had been trapped in their hotel rooms.

This is what we do.  And we’ll continue to do, even in the face of Congressional disdain, in the face of pay cuts and possible work stoppages.  Frankly, I shudder to think what would have happened if there were a massive tsunami during a stoppage of the government, but I’m willing to bet Department hands would have thrown the rules to the wind to assist.  Yes, sometimes we have cushy lives in nice parts of the world.  And sometimes we have superficially fancy lives that are anything but under the surface.   At every turn of our fluid lives, we’re always — in DC or overseas — working an adventure that’s predicated on waiting for what’s next.  The next post, the next visit.  And the next crisis.  When we’ll be called to do things beyond the call of duty as part of our regular duties. 

It hurts my professional pride to think that the Foreign Service, as a group, is so misunderstood.  When a crisis happens, large or small, innumerable legislators call us with requests for briefings on both what we’ve done and why we haven’t done more.  Yet when the calls come to tighten the budget belt, our request, a mere fraction of other agencies, is seen as an easy target.  Somehow, there’s a one-way transaction expected.  Maintain the highest levels of service, even though we won’t replenish your ranks, fund the training you need, or give you compensation comparable to others.

Here’s the worst part: individually, I believe that we’ll comply.  We’ll keep working hard in the face of cuts to our budgets, and maintain the highest levels of public service.  Institutionally, however… I’m not so sure.



1. Nomads By Nature - March 12, 2011

May I link this post to my blog? You capture very well the complexity of what the job requires in contrast to the support (or lack thereof) of those tirelessly trying to help around the world in best and worst of scenarios.

2. KG - March 12, 2011

By all means, link away.

3. FSO - March 12, 2011

I like the phrase “superficially fancy lives.”. It perfectly captures this life.

4. Behind the scenes « Nomads By Nature - March 13, 2011

[…] isn’t the first time. They have been behind the scenes in the aftermath of the Mumbai massacre, the Haitian earthquake, the 2004 Boxer Day tsunamis, as well as every other world event or […]

5. Donna - April 5, 2011

Very well put. And thanks for the link.

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