U.S. diplomatic missions overseas often hire local employees (called FSNs for Foreign Service Nationals, or LES for Locally Employed Staff) to perform non-sensitive administrative functions. Their jobs can range from low-level menial positions, such as switchboard operators, drivers, electricians and clerks to jobs with more substantial responsibilities like political assistants, economic specialists, trade assistants, visa supervisors and others. Smaller U.S. missions may be supported by half a dozen FSNs while large embassies can employ hundreds of them.
LE Staff constitute the largest category of Department of State employees. There are approximately 38,000 LE staff worldwide, plus thousands more LE staff for other federal agencies like USDA, DHS, DOJ, DOC and others. They are sometimes referred to as the backbone of the Foreign Service, as they keep U.S. missions around the world running smoothly, despite the regular turnover of American officers and specialists.
Every year around November, the State Department honors FSNs from the six regional bureaus, and selects an FSN of the year. The 2008 winners were selected from among 80 nominees by a panel of bureau directors but publication of winners is often delayed by a couple of months. You can read more about the top awardees in the February issue of the State magazine (pp20-23). Below are the FSNs honored.
Europe (EUR) and FSN of the Year- Inesa Nicolaescu
Inesa Nicolaescu, the trafficking-in-persons program manager at the U.S. Embassy in Chiçin˘au, Moldova, is the 2008 Foreign Service National of the Year. Nominated by the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, she was cited for “extraordinary accomplishments toward international anti-human-trafficking law enforcement and child sexual exploitation prosecutions.”
East Asia Pacific (EAP )- Voltaire T. Gomez
Voltaire T. Gomez, an investigator in the regional security office of the U.S. Embassy in Manila, is the FSN of the Year for the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs. He was cited for helping the embassy defeat terrorism and foster peace by “providing a secure platform to operate in some of the most precarious regions of the Philippines.”
Africa (AF)- Fiona Frances Hamid
Fiona Frances Hamid, a registered nurse at the U.S. Embassy in Khartoum, Sudan, is the FSN of the Year for the Bureau of African Affairs. She was cited for “serving dual roles as the embassy nurse and community liaison officer, and single-handedly providing community health services ranging from screening reimbursable medicines to aiding mission victims of a terrorist attack.” She responded to a fatal terrorist attack on two embassy employees on New Year’s Day 2008, giving her own blood and assisting the hospital’s trauma team. She knew the victims well, she said, since they were part of the “small, close family” that is the embassy.
Near East Asia (NEA)- Abderrahman Moussaid
Abderrahman Moussaid, senior FSN supervisor and investigator at the U.S. Consulate General in Casablanca, Morocco, is the FSN of the Year for the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs. He was cited for “on-the-spot assistance while under great personal risk to ensure the mission’s safety and security during a suicide bombing attack.”
Western Hemisphere (WHA)- Jean Hans LaForet
Jean Hans LaForet, warehouse and property supervisor at the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, is the FSN of the Year for the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs. He was cited for directing the move to the post’s new embassy compound “in an environment marked by the country’s worse civil unrest in four years.”
South Central Asia (SCA) – Rubayat Rahman
Rubayat Rahman, an FSN investigator at the U.S. Embassy in Dhaka, is the FSN of the Year for the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs. He was cited for his “commitment to promote security and deny terrorism in Mission Bangladesh, as well as heroism in the face of tremendous personal risk.” In July 2007, Rubayat was in a residence with an American embassy employee who lit a cigarette, leading to a gas explosion and fire. “I fell on the ground,” he said. “I heard her screaming and saw her hair and clothes were on fire.” He smothered the flames with his hands, used his cell phone to report the fire and then carried her out of the building. He reentered the apartment, located a fire extinguisher and attempted to put out the fire. Burned over 22 percent of his body, he was hospitalized for three months. He is still undergoing skin grafts, physical therapy and surgeries. He wears long gloves that cover his hands and arms and “probably will wear them the rest of my life,” he said. He said he doesn’t think he’ll ever be physically 100 percent, but “my heart is still 100 percent.”