US Mission China: Gong He Fat Choi! Happy Year of the Dragon!

Today is the start of the year of the water dragon (23 January 2012 – 9 February 2013). Happy Year of the Dragon!

Foreign Service Overseas Crisis Readiness Online Course

FSI’s Transition Center and the Leadership and Management School have put together this short course intended to help U.S Government families and members of household prepare for a crisis overseas. It covers preparations to be done prior to departure for post, and upon arrival at post. It also describes the responsibilities of post personnel who have roles during crisis response and have audio clips from recent evacuees.

The online course includes five modules, a summary and review questions in each module. I find the review quiz pretty tame with softball questions but it may still be useful to take them. (Example: You’re going to Kingston, Jamaica, an island with a warm climate, should you pack sweaters and a warm coat?) 

The course is not embeddable so you have to check it out here:


Planning Ahead Overview
A Post
You and the Mission
Evacuations: What They Mean for You

Planning Ahead: Your Personal Plan

At the conclusion of the brief course, there is a useful template for creating a Personal Crisis Preparedness Plan (see pdf below).  There is also an option to print out the materials. Make sure you check out the “Resources” tab at the bottom of the screen. 

Personal Crisis Preparedness Aid (pdf)

Go-Bag List (pdf)

You never know when a crisis might strike, especially overseas. Preparedness is half the battle, so check this out when you can.

Quickie: Ding Dongs and Danger Pay in Kosovo

Via, another piece from David Seminara, former FSO, now photojournalist based in N. Virginia who contributes to The New York Times, The Chicago Tribune, ESPN, and other publications and sites.

Once the war in Iraq broke out, I would sometimes feel a tinge of guilt over the fact that we could collect the same level of danger pay in Kosovo that our intrepid colleagues in Iraq were getting. But in the Foreign Service, compensation is often based more on the ability of an embassy’s management officers, who compile the reports that result in adjustments to things like hardship, danger and cost of living allowances.

For example, when I arrived in Skopje, we were receiving hardship pay of 15% above our salaries and no one complained about this until we discovered that Sofia, our neighbor to the East, had just been bumped up to 20%.

“Sofia?” we cried. “They have Dunkin Donuts for Christ’s sake!”

If our Munchkin’ eating colleagues in Sofia were getting 20, we thought we deserved 25. An informal task force was developed to try to document why we too deserved more money. The key was to make the place sound as dreadful as possible, and as the resident amateur photographer, I was asked to do my part by taking photos of stray dogs, litter and peeling Communist apartment blocks. The uglier, the better. A good management officer can make Paris sound like Mogadishu and thanks to the efforts of our task force, we were soon bumped up to 20%.

The flip side is that some dysfunctional posts had no clue how to document hardship- real or imagined. After Skopje, I was posted to Port of Spain, which, by my account, was much more of a hardship than Skopje, but was classified as a 5% post, largely because we had Roy Austin, a political appointee and friend of George W. Bush as ambassador. Mr. Austin believed that everything was just fine in Trinidad, much to our chagrin.

Read in full here.

You remember Port of Spain, right? We even wrote a tanka about it.  Why?  Well, because it’s an exceptionally good study on why the appointments of political ambassadors should be handled with extra care. (Read That Did Not Work Out Very Well, Did It? US Embassy Port of Spain Sets Record/s)

Port of Spain, by the way, is stuck at 5% as a hardship differential post.  It is  pure coincidence, of course, that no management officer in Port of Spain has fully completed a tour in 19 years and that our Bush ambassador there during Mr. Seminara’s time was replaced by an Obama political ambassador in 2010.

US Embassy Vietnam: CODEL McCain – Jan 18-20, 2012

U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam David B. Shear with U.S. Senators John McCain, Joe Lieberman, Sheldon Whitehouse and Kelly Ayotte, as well as
representatives of Hoa Lo Prison in Hanoi during the congressional delegation’s visit to Vietnam.

Photo from US Embassy Vietnam
Touring the Hanoi Hilton which has been converted into a museum,
Senator McCain points at a photo taken after he was captured in 1967.
Photo from Senator McCain/FB
The Senators visiting
Truc Bach Lake in Hanoi – where Senator McCain landed
after being shot down in 1967 .
They are standing in front of the monument to his capture.
Photo from Senator McCain/FB
Senator McCain with Ambassador Shear at Truc Bach Lake.— in Vietnam.
Photo from Senator McCain/FB