Category Archives: AAFSW

New AAFSW Award for Career Enhancement Champions for @StateDept Eligible Family Members

– Domani Spero

The Associates of the American Foreign Service Worldwide, a non-profit organization that has represented Foreign Service spouses, employees and retirees has a new award for those who promote the cause of career development for Foreign Service family members.


AAFSW is now accepting nominations for the “Champions of Career Enhancement for Eligible Family Members” (CCE-EFM) Award. This award will be conferred alongside the annual Secretary of State Award for Outstanding Volunteerism Abroad (SOSA) and DACOR’s Eleanor Dodson Tragen Award at the AAFSW Awards Ceremony on November 12, 2014.

The CCE-EFM Award has been developed by AAFSW’s EFM Employment Committee to recognize and incentivize those who go above and beyond their job descriptions and routine daily activities to promote the cause of career development for Foreign Service family members serving under Chief of Mission authority abroad or during Washington-based or other domestic field office assignments of their sponsor.

Recognizing that many posts and bureaus/offices have adopted best practices and spurred innovation in addressing the demand for meaningful employment and engagement of family members in fulfilling mission objectives, both by matching them to jobs and by encouraging their good works in host countries in both paid and volunteer/pro-bono activities, AAFSW seeks to encourage and reward those who have exceeded expectations.

As many so often take on this challenge without additional resources nor direct recognition through their performance rating criteria, the CCE-EFM award seeks to draw attention to and thank those who overcome inertia, bureaucracy, and gridlock to advance the careers of professionally-oriented EFMs who have subordinated their own careers in service to the higher calling of the Foreign Service Family.

The award recipient(s) will be chosen for his/her/their individual or collective efforts to adopt best practices and innovations that demonstrate a commitment to expanding and elevating both individual job opportunities and long-term career enhancement for Foreign Service family members.

The deadline for nominations is August 15, 2014. For a detailed description of the award eligibility and criteria, please email

We encourage you to take the time to nominate career champions for our EFMs.

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Filed under AAFSW, Awards, Foreign Service, Realities of the FS, Spouses/Partners, Staffing the FS, State Department

AAFSW: A Guide to Connecting Communities at Overseas Posts via Facebook and WordPress

– Domani Spero

There was a time when embassy newsletters were distributed only in printed format. Do you remember that?  Later they were distributed as Word documents, then eventually as PDF files. We know that some posts put the newsletters up on the Intranet, not sure if all posts do this now. But even if they do put it up on the Intranet, only a third of all FS spouses are working (some outside the mission), which means more than two-thirds do not have regular access to the Intranet. We would not be surprise if at some posts, spouses still have to go into the Community Liaison Office (CLO) to use dedicated terminals to do stuff on the Intranet.

Hey! Look at the bright side, at least they’re not making spouses use the Wang for what they need to do online.

Typically the newsletters are produced by the CLO or by a contractor. We learned that at the Tri-Mission in Vienna, the official weekly PDF newsletter couldn’t serve as an easily accessible timely resource for answers to all the nitty-gritty questions that new arrivals to post always seem to have, such as finding a good dentist or figuring out the public transport system. Tri-Mission Vienna is not alone on this, of course. Most embassies have CLOs but they do not serve as call centers. At the time when smartphones  are ubiquitous, when there are 1,310,000,000 users on Facebook with 54,200,000 pages, access to timely information is still a challenge for some, particularly overseas.

Enter a couple of Foreign Service spouses who wanted a way to share information quickly and efficiently.  Kelly Bembry Midura and Nicole Schaefer-McDaniel put together a Facebook group, “Vienna Vagabonds” to provide support and advice to the Tri-Mission community.  Later they developed “TriVienna” (using free WordPress) as an unofficial resource for the American community in Austria. The site includes information for newcomers as well resources for navigating the city, schools, services and travels to neighboring areas. There are a few other posts with similar unofficial sites but they are still in the minority.

The two spouses have now put together a guide, through the Associates of the American Foreign Service Worldwide (AAFSW) on how to set up similar online communities at posts overseas.  The guide which is pretty straight-forward includes setting up FB pages at post, setting up a community website using WordPress, and privacy and security.  CLOs everywhere should applaud this effort. Community members working together could only enhance the cohesion of the mission and this should make information and resources easily available and shareable.

Before anyone complains about this to Diplomatic Security, please read the material, okay?

Kelly Bembry Midura is a writer and the Content Manager for AAFSW ( She has for many years advocated for making information more accessible to Foreign Service family members.  She blogs at Nicole Schaefer-McDaniel worked as a research social scientist before her husband convinced her to try life in the Foreign Service. She blogs at

As an aside on Intranet access for spouses — the Defense Department has long provided online access and information to spouses of service members. For instance, Military OneSource offers 24/7/365 access to information on housing, schools, confidential counseling and referral services at no cost to Service members or their families.  Its Military Spouse Education and Career Opportunities (SECO) program also offers spouses assistance with career exploration, education and training, career readiness, and career connections.

At the State Department on the other hand, spouses and family members do not even have access to feedback about life at post from other employees, unless they have logins to the Intranet.  Out of  11,528 spouses and adult family members, over 8,700 are not working or are not working at the mission and do not have regular Intranet access.  We suspect that funding the Intranet access for FS spouses and family members would cost less than a wink of what we’re spending at the Sinkhole of Afghanistan.

But — here we are in 2014 and the 21st century statecraft is still missing at home.

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Old Bugaboo of Packout Bothers You? Pick Up This Foreign Service Companion

— By Domani Spero 

*You Might Be in the Foreign Service If…

√  The sound of packing tape makes you cringe.

√  Every time you stay in a hotel, the kids ask if it is their new home.

√  You look at everything you want to buy with a view to: A., how much does it weigh and B., will it explode without a transformer.

√  When you return home, you have a nervous breakdown in Walmart because there are too many choices.

√  You come back to the States for home leave and your 3-year-old yells, “Look, Mama, they have McDonald’s in AMERICA, too!”

Miving Your Hosehold_AAFSW

Every day, somewhere in the world, one or more of the 13, 787 Foreign Service employees and unknown numbers of family members are in the process of moving.  The largest rotation often happens during the summer transfer season, typically after school is out.  This is one of the most stressful part of the Foreign Service, one that we don’t think ever gets easier with time.

If you want to know what moving is like every few years, pick up The Foreign Service Companion Moving Your Household Without Losing Your Mind. This  is a 180-page book divided into five sections: The Big Picture;The Nitty-Gritty; Kids, Pets, and Moving; When Things Go Off-Script and Taking Care of Ourselves.

Eva Groening, a 30-year veteran of FS life with seven consumables posts writes that “moving begins, at least in your mind, the day you learn you will be leaving “here” and going “there.” Then this gem:

“Barter is a wonderful thing – some roach killer for a few tubes of toothpaste? A box of corn starch for a package of chocolate chips?  I treat expiration dates as mere suggestions, but bulging cans go in the trash immediately. 

Ana Gabriela Turner, a spouse who naturalized in 2012 writes about foreign born spouses: culture shock particularly for those moving to the United States, the naturalization process, to work or not to work and other challenges. She forgot to add obtaining a driver’s license as one of the necessities for foreign born spouses navigating their new lives in the United States.

Ed Dyer is part of a trailing household currently assigned to Harare, Zimbabwe writes about the Azimuth Check,  a bearing point or why you need that home leave.

Danielle Dumm, a traveling, writing, shutterbug mama currently in New Delhi, India writes that storing your household’s most important documents and most treasured media in digital form has never been easier and tells you How to Digitize Your Life.

FSO Janet Heg from US Embassy Kabul writes about Packing for an Unaccompanied Tour, what to put in your “Go Bag” and passes on an advice for “shoes that are not only comfortable but also allow you to run in an emergency.”

Michele Hopper, a mom of four who “lives by a well-stocked pantry” writes about Shopping for Consumables and advises readers that  “A full pantry of familiar foods eases even the most difficult day.”   True dat.  Also, how can one not enjoy having a grocery store in your very own home?

FSO Sadie Dworak writes about losing her faithful 10-year-old shih tzu, Hattie during her assignment to Saudi Arabia. A heart-wrenching experience at home but particularly overseas where so many things can go wrong.

Then there’s Public Diplomacy Officer Marlene Monfiletto Nice’s Packing Out is Hard to Do to the tune of Neil Sedaka’s “Breaking Up is Hard to Do.”

Don’t take my plates away from me, My pots and pans, my cutlery,
Got more entertaining to do,
And packing makes it hard to do.

Remember when we first arrived,
It took so long to get the house just right, Now I can’t wait to start anew,
But packing up is hard to do.

But our favorite contribution is hands down, The Slacker’s Guide to Moving by “Ima Spouse Oh”

An international move could be compared to a hurricane: You know it’s coming, you look at maps and worry, and you do the best you can to get ready, whether that means securing patio furniture or downing huge tropical drinks.

The list of things that you “should do” before a move can darken your mood faster than a chocolate shortage. For instance, the first chapter of the State Department’s Foreign Service Assignment Notebook fills 13 pages with preparation suggestions.

This Slacker is here to tell you that you can skip pretty much every- thing in that chapter and still arrive at your destination. In many cases, spending more hours on your move will not actually result in a better experience at post.

Somebody described this book like having folks over and chatting about packouts. If so, then we’d all be happy to have jugs of coffee with EFM, ‘Ima Spouse Oh’ and her pearls of wisdom.  Do you know that you can have things moved in “as-is” condition?  “Yes, the trusty toaster oven arrived complete with crumbs and blotches of melted cheese.”

We had a full laundry basket and a trash can moved in “as-in” condition. Both survived the transfer.

Looking for work before you get to post? Forgetaboutit. “All of the local work Ms. Spouse Oh eventually found was obtained once she started meeting people face-to-face. She decided to change from a job “hunter” to a job “gatherer”: The work is sitting there, she just has to show up in the right place and load it into her basket!”

Mrs. ‘Ima Spouse Oh’  is also huge on delegation, unless “it’s too much effort:”  “Ask the movers to unpack the boxes. Claim you have to work and let your spouse handle everything…. Go on vacation and let the Foreign Service officer in the family manage the move –that’s what would happen if he/she were single anyhow! Just promise not to complain about how things were done if you did not help do them.”


The only thing missing in this book is when a spouse is ditched by the FSO overseas, and how that packout in the midst of a separation or a divorce can be extremely messy.

The Associates of the American Foreign Service Worldwide (AAFSW) has put together this Foreign Service Companion Moving Your Household Without Losing Your Mind.   The book edited by Kelly Bembry Midura and Zoe Cabaniss Friloux.  Kelly blogs at  The editors and authors are volunteers. Your purchase will benefit the programs of the AAFSW.  We understand that this is part one of a series planned for publication, we look forward to the rest of the books in the series.

*You Might Be in the Foreign Service If… excerpted from the book.


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51st State Department/AAFSW Annual Art and Bookfair


For over 50 years the families of Foreign Service Officers have been bringing bargains and fun to the public and the State Department. There are thousands of used books of all kinds – foreign language, history, diplomacy, children’s, politics, etc. The Collector’s Corner has rare and valuable books, with a special collection this year of books belonging to Henry Kissinger, some inscribed, donated by the Nixon Library.

The Art Corner has carvings, ceramics, paintings, fabrics, collectibles from all over the world and the Stamp Corner offers international stamps, coins, paper money and post cards.

Two weekends, October 15-16 and October 22-23 from 10 am to 4 pm in the Diplomatic Exhibit Hall of the US Department of State, entrance on C Street between 21st and 23rd Street, NW, Washington, DC (the side of the building that faces the Lincoln Memorial). Bring a photo ID. It is within walking distance of the Foggy Bottom Metro.

Opening hours are:

Sun Oct. 16, 10 am to 4 pm, public welcome.

Monday-Friday Oct. 17-21, 11 am-3 pm, building pass holders and guests. (Family members may enter with a diplomatic passport or escorted by a building pass holder.)

Saturday-Sunday Oct. 22-23, 10 am-4pm, public welcome.

On the last day, October 23, books are HALF PRICE.

Visa, Discover, Mastercard, checks and cash accepted. Proceeds benefit community projects and scholarships. For more information, call 202-223-5796 or visit



The wonderful folks of AAFSW not only sponsors projects and scholarships, they are most often there when you go back to the D.C. area and there’s no one else to call.  An acquaintance once was pregnant and alone in the D.C. area (husband decided to return to post prior to baby’s arrival) and one of her friends asked help on her behalf from AAFSW.  The pregnant lady was not even a member. The ladies of AAFSW not only visited her, but also offered to drive her around, and volunteered to be on call should she need help when labor starts. Fantastic and amazing!

These folks rock!  If you’re in the area, please stop by and support AAFSW.

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The Secretary of State’s SOSA Awardees 2009

GlobeImage by _fLeMmA__ via Flickr

The annual AAFSW/Secretary of State’s Award for Outstanding Volunteerism Abroad (SOSA) recognizes the outstanding volunteer activities of U.S. Government employees, spouses, family members over the age of 18, and members of household who are living and working overseas.

A recipient is chosen from each of the Department of State’s six geographical bureaus. Each winner receives:

  • A cash award of $2,500.
  • A pin commemorating the annual AAFSW awards ceremony.
  • A certificate signed by the Secretary of State.

2009 SOSA Award Winners

Read more about the 2009 SOSA Award winners and see photos and slide shows of their projects at the Associates of the American Foreign Service Worldwide

The 2008 winners are here.

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AFSA Election Engagement Needs a Makeover

Completed AFSA ballots should already be received at the designated address COB June 11. According to the AFSA Elections Committee instructions, on June 12, 2009, the Elections Committee will count the ballots at AFSA Headquarters and declare elected the candidate receiving the greatest number of votes for each position. In case of a tie the election will be decided by a coin toss in the presence of the candidates concerned or their representatives. The committee will inform candidates individually of the election results by the swiftest possible means and will publish the names of all elected candidates in the next issue of the Foreign Service Journal and via the AFSA e-mail listserve. The elected candidates will take office on July 15, 2009, as provided in the bylaws.

I supposed this is a good time as any to propose areas for improvement for the next AFSA Election.

Online Videos

It’s about time for AFSA to create its own channel at YouTube. The channel could be used for normal AFSA business, such as appearances in Congress, but also during elections. Candidates who are overseas should be able to send their campaign video to AFSA or upload it directly to YouTube. With current technology, this should not be impossible. Having videos hosted by YouTube also help ensure that the media format is viewable just about anywhere with an Internet connection.

Town Hall Meeting

Election candidates must commit to attending the sole town hall meeting during the election. During this election, there were candidates who were unable to attend the meeting due to other concerns. The way I see it, if somebody is campaigning to represent your interest, he/she must at least show that he/she will be present. The town hall meeting should be announced three weeks ahead of time to give everyone a chance to put it in their schedules and make arrangements to attend.

Endorsements by Incumbent AFSA Governing Board Members and Staff

The AFSA election guidelines say that “AFSA staff has been directed to avoid any action that gives advantage to one candidate over another, and to deal with candidates as instructed by the Elections Committee. Also that “AFSA representatives at posts abroad, when acting in their capacity as AFSA representatives, must scrupulously avoid actions tending to favor one candidate over another.”

The AFSA Election Committee should probably clarify the endorsements by incumbent AFSA Governing Board Members of one slate over another. If an AFSA official endorses a candidate in his/her personal capacity, does it mean that the official cannot use his/her AFSA title? Does it mean that an AFSA official cannot send email with his/her title while campaigning for or endorsing a slate or group of candidates? This need to be clarified as using the AFSA title unavoidably lends the perception that it is an official and not a private endorsement.

AFSA Election page in Facebook or…

AFSA sends out one Special Election Edition of AFSANews. But it is printed material and not online. I understand the need for the printed edition, considering that in many places we still have dial-up connections, but AFSA can expand its member engagement by putting this out in Facebook or in a similar social media platform like Ning. Another option is to tie up with and use its Livelines forum for a limited discussion on AFSA issues. Although Livelines has a lot of family members, there are also active FS officers and specialists in the forum, and it is a large group. Another alternative is to run an election chat in for a limited time. These options should give AFSA members multiple options to stay engage on the issues.

AFSA Elections Forum

I have this for last because there are a few items on the Forum that are troublesome: 1) A lot of the campaigning and discussions do not seem to be happening in the forum but down the halls, and corridors, chanceries and via emails. Slates and independent candidates must commit to using the online forum. Due to the wide dispersion of AFSA voters, this is only one of the few options for discussion of relevant issues affecting the Foreign Service that is transparent and inclusive. I also hope that the forum can be updated so the messages appear in threaded format, making it easier to follow a conversation online.

2) Lack of participation. The Clean Slate forum did have some discussions about mandatory retirement age and WAE, while the Team AFSA forum seems to be overrun with discussion about campaign tactics. The other thing that is surely a turn off to voters is Team AFSA candidate for president telling forum participants asking about priorities “I invite you to visit our web site at” Why would AFSA members visit the forum if all they’d be told is to look it up in a website? Candidates must commit to responding to inquiries and campaign issues posted in the forum instead of sending them off elsewhere with a link. This is the only way AFSA can improve participation in this forum.

3) Shenanigans in the AFSA forum. Truth to tell I kept returning to it because it seems to have its own story to tell. I’m not sure what AFSA can do to clean this up for the next round. Perhaps an appeal from the candidates running at the top of the ticket to keep this forum real but dignified?

First there was “Joe Voter” who posted:

Subject: Who’s running?
From: “Joe Voter”
Date/Time: Thursday, 07 May 2009 – 11:25 PM

I believe as a State Dept person, a great
deal of issues needed to be addressed
during the election. I have received the
pamplets, I have received the SPAM and I
have heard from the candidates, It’s
imperative and obvious that some have some
(CLAEN SLATE) gone “overboard” with the
money, the time and the effort – Do they
work?. Does CLAEN SLATE work for the
Depertment of State or are they free lance?
They spend an increadible amount of time
and $$ wanting to win but do they deserve
it? Money isn’t enough. Go independents and
those running agiainst Mr. Hirsch and

A few days later when I came back there was a post from Mrs. Joe Voter!

Subject: Hey look – Joe the Plumber, oops Voter is here!
From: Mrs. Joe Voter
Date/Time: Tuesday, 12 May 2009 – 02:06 AM

I’ve been looking all over for you, Joe. So
this is where you’ve been lurking. Would you
come home already? The kids are hungry! What
— somebody “overboarded” you? Is that why
you can’t spell correctly anymore? Just quit
lurking there and come home already, ok pumpkin?

There were multiple posts from “Tim Johnson,” including the one below:

Subject: Who are you fooling?
From: Tim Johnson
Date/Time: Friday, 08 May 2009 – 03:35 PM

Who are you fooling? Kelly Brikhmonf, Shawn
Mangiacotti, Steve Pretzman, Janice Hopkins
and Alex Copher, whose anti-CLEAN Slate
hate mail was entered above, cannot be
found either in the GAL or in AFSA’s
membership roster. I invite anyone with
access to State’s E-mail system or AFSA’s
roster to look them up. They may or may not
be real people, but they don’t work for the
State Department and they are not AFSA
members. I would be willing to bet that
they don’t even exist.

My! My! Would these be called “ghost” voters? And just when you think, it could not get any hotter there’s this new post below. Apparently there is more than one Tim Johnson in the Department. Look it up in the GAL and let me know if this is not true. This tells you just how important reputation is in this universe.

Subject: A Message To The Forum
From: Timothy R. Johnson
Date/Time: Tuesday, 19 May 2009 – 04:31 PM

My name is Timothy R. Johnson. I am a
Foreign Service Officer currently studying at
FSI and on my way to Moscow this Fall. I was
recently made aware of this discussion forum
by a professional colleague. I am writing
now simply to say that I am not the same
individual who has posted here in the past as
“Tim Johnson”. Therefore, all views
expressed by that individual, both past and
future, are his own and should not be
attributed to me. Thank you.

Then somebody took “Tim Johnson” to task for being “rude and unfair.”

Subject: Thanks Susan
From: Jarrod Frahm
Date/Time: Thursday, 07 May 2009 – 10:48 PM

AFSA Presidential Candidiate:

I see an awful lot of hate eminating from
the other folks (slates and independents).
You have truly managed a respectful
Regardless what what some have said, I
believe you are straightforward, honest and
have made a concerted effort to be fair and
helpful. I met you twice and you have been
fair and thanks. The CLEAN SLATE and Tim
Jonhnson seeems rude and unfair. Thanks
Johnson and I hope you win. I will vote due
to people like Mr. Johnson

But wait! Then the real Jarrod Frahm showed up in the forum:

Subject: Forum Games
From: The REAL Jarrod Frahm
Date/Time: Tuesday, 02 June 2009 – 11:29 AM

I have not endorsed either slate of
candidates nor have I previously addressed
any issue or experience in these forums.
Anyone who claims to be me is committing
identity fraud.


Ayayay! Then there’s this post from Bill Sutherland:

Subject: Tex – You ROCK
From: Bill Sutherland
Date/Time: Thursday, 07 May 2009 – 11:32 PM

Your are the cement that binds AFSA. You
have been attacked by some as old and
already have the “Tee shirt”. Poppy cock!
You keep fighting and thanks.


Oopsie! A Bill Sutherland showed up and renounced the prior post!

Subject: I did not write the above!
From: Bill Sutherland
Date/Time: Wednesday, 27 May 2009 – 05:56 PM

My name is Bill Sutherland. I just want to
state for the record that I did not write
the posting shown above. I know Tex Harris.
He has not stood for anything in many
years. I would not vote for him. I would
not endorse him. And I did not write the
posting shown above.

Bill Sutherland

You see how confusing this is? Remember what they say about a food fight? The AFSA election should not be a virtual food fight. Whoever wins in this election, I hope the new Board starts rethinking about the rules that govern the election and its engagement with the membership. There’s every reason to do so — diplomats do not look good in a food fight!

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The Secretary of State’s SOSA Awardees

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