The following is an excerpt from Life After Jerusalem, a blog by a lesbian American Indian Foreign Service officer:
None of the stories I have seen on the event (such as this one in the Washington Post and this one in the Washington Blade), which I am the first to admit is a wonderful thing and evidence of how far we have come, mentioned this absence. Which I take as evidence of how far we have to go.
When the Department recently appointed an LGBT envoy, which to its credit is a career FSO (as is only one of the out gay Ambassadors), it appointed another white man. I was told at the time that there just aren’t any lesbians or people of color who rank highly enough to be considered. And that seems to be true. I can find no lesbian or out person of color who has made it to the ranks of Senior Foreign Service.
Of course, rank didn’t stop the Department during Secretary Rice’s tenure from appointing several men to the position of Deputy Assistant Secretary (DAS) who were only FS 02s in rank (for reference, FS 02 is the Foreign Service equivalent of a Lt. Colonel. Senior Foreign Service is the equivalent of a general. The highest ranking out lesbians that I know of in the Department are FS 01s, or Colonels, higher ranking than those men who were made DASes). And those men did not return to their mid-level positions afterward. In fact, two became Ambassadors, another an Assistant Secretary.
So really, the Department could appoint a career lesbian or out person of color if it really wanted to.
One of our favorite FS bloggers is Kelly from Well That Was Different. She has spent the last 25 years living and traveling in Latin America, Africa and Europe with her FSO spouse. Kelly recently wrote a blogpost on spouse employment in the Foreign Service. We excerpted the following with her permission. We should add that she is not/not an employee of the State Department, so hold your bite, you silly tigers. If the somebodies from the alphabet soup offices read this, we suggest full, undivided attention.
Any spouse can tell you about jobs that are advertised, but actually “reserved” for the spouse of a certain officer. Or jobs that are not advertised at all, even though they should be, because someone has already been handpicked for the job. Any spouse can tell you about jobs that were assigned to someone who might not even have arrived at post yet, who might even be on their first FS tour, who simply kicked up more of a fuss than others. Any spouse can tell you about positions that were mysteriously created out of thin air for male spouses who “have” to have a job (sorry, but it happens).
So, let’s not pretend that this system is working as advertised. If it did, then frustration probably wouldn’t be as rampant among the EFMs who choose to participate in it. Spouse employment is always named as the number one morale issue in the Foreign Service. There are valid reasons for this—and they can’t all be blamed on shrinking budgets or post 9/11 security requirements.
A good friend who was once an EFM and is now an FSO says that you have to choose. If you are serious about having a “real” career as the spouse of a Foreign Service Officer, the only option is to become an FSO yourself. If you don’t do that, then forget about having a linear, highly remunerative, career. It’s not a popular point of view, but I have to say, based on over 25 years of experience, that I agree with her. Repeatedly having to compete for scraps at every post is just not a satisfying trajectory. I have noticed that it seems to make a lot of spouses pretty unhappy.
Only 2,736 eligible family members (EFMs) are working within U.S. missions overseas (pdf). As of November 2014, 64% or 7,449 family members overseas — out of a total of 11,620 — are not working.
Family Member Employment, State Department, Nov 2014 (click image for larger view)
I went and look at the FLO website just now. Good heavens, the Global Employment Initiative (GEI) is still on! That exciting program “helps family members explore employment options and opportunities, and provides career development services.” Want to know how effective is that program? Me, too!
Madam le Consul started blogging at The Consuls’ Files — ‘bringing humanity, common sense, realism and humor to the work of the US consul’ — in May 2009. By October that year, she was gone, chewed to death by bureaucratic tigers. She later came back for sporadic posts.
Today, she told me she’s officially back. And she just revised her 1,000-word disclaimer to 15 words! Her first blog post: Yes, You’re King of the World. She writes:
Madam would like to think that US chiefs of mission will always set the best possible example for their underlings – an example for said underlings to aspire to, be proud of, and remember with fond admiration. Sadly, the newest crop of inspection reports confirms that far too many ambassadors are instead still playing the role of the biggest kid on the block – or the biggest frog in the puddle. […] It appears that, still, a knuckle slap by inspectors may or may not lead to a leash-jerk by the appropriate bureau, which may or may not lead to improved behavior, which may or may not last longer than it takes to write a reassuring email and then forgetting about it. But at the same time, all ordinary, well-behaved, well-trained, doing-the-best-they-can FSOs know that they will be the ones who will suffer if they try to follow the rules when the boss’s boss doesn’t want them to. A single sentence in an EER review statement can doom a good officer to years of undeserved 03-dom.
Ah well, as Madam has often said, we don’t do our jobs for thanks. And yet, to all those good officers who do their best under pressure to not do their best from those who should be setting the highest-quality example but instead can’t be bothered, thank you.
Pardon me? There are folks hyperventilating already in the next corridor? My web doctor says they need to go get a brown bag. Check out The Consuls’ Files and welcome Madam back to the blogosphere!
Here is Doug Frantz, the Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs via nextgov.com:
“Social media is an interactive platform, so if you wait to come back to the State Department to get clearance on how to respond to a question over Twitter it will take days if not weeks and the conversation will be over,” Frantz said. “So you want people to be engaged. You want them to be willing and able to take responsible risks…Don’t take a big crazy risk and try to change our policy on Iran, but if you’re behaving responsibly, we can expect small mistakes.”
In many ways, the department is vulnerable to those risks whether or not officials are actively engaging on social media.
Frantz cited the case of a diplomatic security officer and his wife who were expelled from India after making derogatory comments about the country on their personal Facebook pages. “I tell people never tweet anything you don’t want to see on the front page of the Washington Post,” Frantz said.
We should be impressed at this enlightened approach of employees being allowed to afford small mistakes. Except that elements of the State Department continue to harass Foreign Service bloggers who write in their private capacity on blogs and other social media sites. Remember my Conversation with Self About Serial Blog Killers and the 21st Century Statecraft? Different folks get on and off the bus, but this is just as real today.
Harassment, as always, is conducted without a paper trail unless, it’s a PR nightmare like Peter Van Buren, in which case, there is a paper trail. So an FSO-blogger’s difficulties in obtaining an onward assignment has nothing to do with his/her blog, or his/her tweets. Just bad luck of the draw, see? Oh, stop doing that winky wink stuff with your eyes!
Anybody know if there is an SOP on how to intimidate diplo-bloggers into going back into writing in their diaries and hiding those under their pillows until the year 2065? Dammit! No SOP needed?
So, no witnesses, no paper trail and no bruises, just nasty impressive stuff done under the table. Baby, we need a hero —
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?
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.
The American Foreign Service Association released the following statement urging the State Department to move swiftly to ensure equality of all FS families in light of the June 26, 2013 SCOTUS decision on DOMA:
AFSA welcomes today’s Supreme Court decision declaring the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional.
AFSA President Susan R. Johnson said “AFSA has long advocated for full equality for the same-sex spouses of our Foreign Service employees. Much progress was made during Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s time in office as far as access to benefits is concerned. Given that he was one of only fourteen Senators to vote against DOMA in 1996, we know Secretary of State John Kerry is committed to full equality. Now it’s time to finish the job on a federal level.” She added: “We urge the Department of State, USAID and the other foreign affairs agencies to move swiftly to ensure full equality for all Foreign Service families, including health, pension, and immigration rights.”
AFSA urges a quick resolution of any outstanding bureaucratic issues that may hinder any legally-married same-sex couples from having immediate and full access to over 1,100 federal benefits. Our LGBT Foreign Service personnel perform admirable service on behalf of this country all over the world, and their full right as Americans should now be recognized as quickly as possible.
“To fully implement the requirements and implications of the Court’s decision, we will work with the Department of Justice and other agencies to review all relevant federal statutes as well as the benefits administered by this agency. We will work to swiftly administer these changes to ensure that every employee and their spouse have access to their due benefits regardless of sexual orientation both at home and abroad.”
To our blog pal D and his beloved somewhere in Asia, and to 4G and her house full of love, we’re sending you hugs and kisses. To a friend and his family somewhere in the far continent, you can come home again, dude!
There was a memorial service held at the State Department today for Anne Smedinghoff. According to Life After Jerusalem, the ceremony was closed to the press at her family’s request. If you are part of the State Department community, you can watch it via BNET at bnet.state.gov/meetings.asx or later on BNET’s Video-on-Demand archive.
For so many, there’s been a “there but for the grace of God go I” sentiment in how everyone saw in Anne’s idealism and her courage just a little bit of who we’d all like to be, and more than a little bit of a reminder that in this dangerous world that calls on foreign service professionals, the risks are always with us.
What I hope we can do this week is celebrate Anne’s life together. So this Thursday, May 2, I ask you to help remember Anne by joining me and Anne’s family – Tom, Mary Beth, Mark, Regina, and Joan – at a memorial service that will celebrate her and honor her ideals.”
There were others at the memorial with speaking parts but only the one by Tara Sonenshine, the outgoing Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs has so far been posted online:
I’d like to thank Under Secretary Kennedy and Father Moretti for their moving words. I’d also like to extend a warm embrace to Anne’s family, friends, and colleagues; and to the mother of Kelly Hunt. Also to Steve Overman, Jeff Lodinsky, and the other U.S. civilians hurt in this incident; and to the families of the three servicemen just mentioned by Under Secretary Kennedy, who also lost their lives.
We have heard, and we will hear, much about Anne as a person. I want to talk about Anne as a member of the public diplomacy family.
You may read the text of the full remarks here. No photos or video appear to be available to the public for this memorial service.
Also just to note that Jeff Lodinsky was wounded in the Kunar suicide bombing incident last year, not the Zabul incident that killed Anne Smedinghoff. This is the first time we’ve heard about Steve Overman. We don’t know if he was wounded in Kunar or in Zabul. We think he might be with USAID but could not get confirmation on that.
Two Foreign Service bloggers are currently in the running for the op-ed category in BlogHer’s Voices of the Year initiative.
One is Donna S. Gorman of Email From The Embassy for her piece from September 13, 2013 simple titled, Here in Jordan.“I wrote this post after an attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi left 4 Americans dead, including our Ambassador to Libya. I wanted to give a voice to those who died that night, so that Americans back home would understand the enormity of the sacrifice our diplomats – my friends, colleagues and loved ones – make on their behalf every day.” Excerpt below:
It was a scary, scary night, followed by many sad and scary days after the incident was over. It ended with blood spilled, and cars crashed, and magazines emptied. It ended with us being evacuated from post, not sure if we’d ever be allowed back. It ended with me finally truly understanding what kind of life we were living, when everything can change without a moment’s notice, when the people you love are out there, somewhere, doing things you can only imagine, to stop the bad guys from hurting the good guys. It ended with me realizing that my husband could have died, could still, at any time, die, because of the work he does, because he chooses to run into situations from which other people run away.
The other blogger is Jen Dinoia of The Dinoia Family for her piece on May 16, 2012 titled, Wanted: Stories of the ‘Real’ Foreign Service. This is that blog post about her blog not being FS enough (remember nipplegate?): “I was asked to be on an official Department of State blog roll three years ago. Last year, I was unceremoniously bumped off and learned it was because I discussed my experience with breast cancer (reconstruction, actually) in too much detail and it was not relevant to FS life. The blog post is my rebuttal and opinion on why I feel it is extremely relevant.” Excerpt below:
Sunday evening, when I noticed the blog missing, I wrote to the online specialist who had contacted me way back when. The next day I heard from a new community specialist. I was told in no uncertain terms that my blog does not have “content relevant to the U.S. Foreign Service”. When I replied back with a description of the content that is more than related, I received a response from yet another new person. The response from that person?
Hopefully, you can understand that some topics covered in your blog are very personal in nature, e.g. nipple cozies, and wouldn’t necessarily resonate with the majority of potential candidates who are interested in learning about the FS life overseas. Through our years of recruitment experience, we found that FS prospects want to learn more about the work that’s conducted, the people and cultures with whom they will interact, the travel experiences, and the individual stories our employees* have to share.
I don’t know why I was bothered when Secretary Kerry refrained Saturday from naming Ms. Smedinghoff in his statement on her passing (if it did not bother you, that’s okay). Perhaps I should blame it on OC, perhaps not. But one only die once … I was looking for an appropriate acknowledgement of the sacrificed made in Zabul on Saturday.
The attack occurred on Saturday, April 6 at around 11:00 in the morning in Afghanistan. That’s about 2:30 am in Washington, D.C. About ten hours after the attack, around noon in WashDC, the State Department released a statement from Secretary Kerry without naming the diplomat killed in Zabul Province of Afghanistan.
How do you properly acknowledge in public the sacrifice of somebody when she is but a third person singular pronoun?
She was everything a Foreign Service officer should be: smart, capable, eager to serve, and deeply committed to our country and the difference she was making for the Afghan people. She tragically gave her young life working to give young Afghans the opportunity to have a better future.
An older version of the WaPo report, no longer online says that the State Department did not identify the deceased to give the family time to notify other family members. But if that were so, why did State release a statement in a rush instead of waiting until the following day? Was the need to put out a statement ten hours after her death so urgent that it was deemed acceptable to reduced her to a pronoun?
State could have waited until Sunday to released a complete official statement, but it did not. The last time a civilian employee was killed in Afghanistan was on August 8, 2012. On August 9, then Secretary Clinton released a statement on USAID Foreign Service Officer Ragaei Abdelfattah. When four Americans died in Benghazi, the official statement which identified Ambassador Stevens and Sean Smith came a day after the attack, but two casualties were not identified until much later.
Secretary Kerry was in Istanbul on Sunday when he publicly identified Ms. Smedinghoff for the first time:
“And I think there are no words for anybody to describe the extraordinary harsh contradiction of a young 25-year-old woman with all of the future ahead of her, believing in the possibilities of diplomacy, of changing people’s lives, of making a difference, having an impact, who was taking knowledge in books to deliver them to a school. And someone somehow persuaded that taking her – his life was a wiser course and somehow constructive, drives into their vehicle and we lose five lives – two Foreign Service, three military, large number wounded, one Foreign Service officer still in critical condition in the Kandahar hospital because they’re trying to provide people with a future and with opportunity.”
It is a confrontation with modernity, with possibilities, and everything that our country stands for, everything we stand for, is embodied in what Anne Smedinghoff stood for, a 25-year-old young woman, second tour of duty, been a vice consul in Caracas, Venezuela and then off to an exciting, challenging, unbelievable undertaking in one of the toughest places on earth.
I’ll come back to that in a separate post later.
Ms. Smedinghoff was on Twitter, on LinkedIn, also on Facebook. I was tempted to use her photo for this post, but it doesn’t seem right to use the photographs from her social media accounts now that she’s dead and couldn’t object. Perhaps she wouldn’t have minded .. but what if she did mind … the dead cannot speak up … so I walked away from the photos.
Do you remember when you were 25? When you were young and brave and full of wonder and hope about conquering the world of possibilities?
Since the beginning of 2013, excluding this latest attack, 24 Americans have died in Afghanistan, the highest total among coalition forces. The average age of those killed is 28. Since 2001, there had been 3,279 deaths in Afghanistan. Of that 2,198 were Americans. On the same day that Ms. Smedinghoff was killed, a DOD civilian employee also was killed. And, in a remote corner of eastern Afghanistan, a battle and airstrike left nearly 20 people dead, including 11 Afghan children and a U.S. advisor.
Herbert Hoover said that “Older men declare war. But it is youth that must fight and die.” Sometimes you’re not even fighting, but still you die. And old men give speeches and get lost on the road to ending wars.
Then you read something like this: Leaving Corruptistan: Washington Favors Exit over Fight with Karzai. And you want to throw all your shoes at the somebodies. Is that infantile reaction? Well, probably yes, but you’ll do it anyway because not doing anything, anything at all, no matter how pointless just seem worse. And no, you’re not throwing your shoes because we’re leaving the sinkhole kingdom, er, republic …
* * *
Below are some blog posts collected from around the Foreign Service on the passing of Ms. Smedinghoff.
As part of the Department of State’s redesign, the blog may get a new name. Department employees worldwide apparently submitted more than 370 submissions for a new name for the blog. Last week, the public was asked to select one name from the top four blog names suggested by the employees:
Unclassified: The State Department Blog
Matters of State
We don’t know if everyone who posted in the comments section of DipNote all voted but we noticed that a good number of them also posted their own blogname suggestions. A few samples below from the public’s abundant imagination:
Lol in Virginia writes: Spin Department or Propaganda Machine
Scott P. in Massachusetts writes: New Blogt Name — State of Affairs @StateofAffairs
Christy M. in New York writes: Try: 1)”QODUS” for The Quarter of Diplomacy in United States; or 2)”DOQUS“ for Diplomacy Operation Quarter of United States; or 3) USDOQ for United States Diplomacy Operation Quarter; or DUSQ for Diplomacy United States Quarter; or USDOQ for United States Diplomacy Operations Quarter
Mike S. in Pennsylvania writes: “State It” Sometimes in naming you need to start all over. None of the lowest common denominator proposed names has any life or zing. It promises that the blog might be the same. Please find a name with zip such as the above suggestion or another submission.
Frank D. in New York writes: How about “Lies My Government Told Me”?
Edwyne R. in Texas writes: Blues News
Tom in Colorado writes: View Abroad
P. Kumar in Virginia writes: My Suggestion for the Name of the State Dept Blog: StateSide
Cristian in Romania writes: Blogmerica
Katherine in the U.S.A. writes: Foggy Bottom would be hilarious, though Unclassified would draw more folks in…
A.Y.C. writes: Peter Van Buren!
Willie W. in the U.S.A. writes: “Gayanashagowa” (the “Great Law of Peace”) Origin: Six Nations of the Iroquois (Haudenosaunee)
Erin S. in Virginia writes: Diplo-phone: like megaphone!
Michael in the U.S.A. writes: US DiploBlog
Donald M. in Virginia writes: Theres an old saying, “if it works don’t fix it” whats wrong with the current blog name? I like it and its fitting for what it does.
Betty D. in Idaho writes: BLOG FOG
W.W. writes: I would call it : UncleSam International
Eric in New Mexico writes: “USDOSFAB” ??
We thought that last one, USDOSFAB good as in USDOSFabulous. No such luck, it turns out that simply means, “United States Deptartment Of State Foreign Affairs Blog.”
BuzzState, featuring “15 Cats That Look Like Heads of State”
Diplomatic Pouches from Last Night, including this submission: “LOL I am so baked right now, XOXO – Ambassador Rudolf Bekink, Royal Netherlands Embassy”
Sttdprtmntr, which is American policy expressed entirely in GIFs
Hillary’s Livejournal, with the top entry: “Waiting for the Senate to confirm my successor. Mood: pensive.”
Even Twitchy got into the act, collecting suggestions from Twitter just for fun:
@BryTupper “State of Disbelief”
@rellis168 How about naming it Dodge Ball?
@theGrudgeRetort The Onion @StateDept
@Crapplefratz “The Daily Stand-Down”
The names are certainly … um interesting, but they pale in comparison to the ones from 2007. Don’t know who came up with these but way back when DipNote was just launched, the Top Ten Rejected State Department Blog Names apparently surfaced online. Published here by FishbowlDC and here by The Beltway Confidential. Please don’t fall off your chairs.
10. Blackwater Serenade
9. Condi Meant (First Post title: “Condi Fiddles while Nick Burns”).
8. Kinky Boots (First Post title: “The Twee Communiques”).
7. I Can’t Believe It’s Not Rumsfeld! (First Post Title: “Allegro Con Dolcezza!”)
6. Bottom-up Reconciliation (whoops! That was supposed to be in the “Top Ten Rejected Larry Craig blog names”).
4. The Crocker Barrel (First Post: “The Global War On Errorism”)
3. The Wolf o’ Wits
2. Laying The Morning Cable (First Post: “I’ve Got Your Long Telegram Right Here, bub!”)
What colorful names! DipNote may not rock your world but it could have been a lot worse.