Here’s to you, SPC Dennis Weichel – may we all be so lucky to be so mad!

Words borrowed from our blog pal, El Snarkistani who had no snark today. In his blog, It’s Always Sunny in Kabul Finding the silver(ish) lining in Afghanistan’s Emerald City, he writes about SPC Dennis Weichel, who died saving a young Afghan girl in Laghman on March 22. SPC Weichel, a 29 year old member of the Rhode Island National Guard deployed in Iraq as a member of 3/172 Det 2 Mountain Infantry seven years ago.  He reportedly arrived in Afghanistan only a few weeks ago as a member of C Company, 1st Battalion, 143 Infantry.  He was engaged to be married, and leaves behind his parents, fiancée and three young children.

Photo via HuffPo

How come we don’t spend more time trying to figure out what went right? How come we don’t try to figure out how to make more Weichels instead of how to prevent the Bales?

I’m not masochistic enough to do any in-depth research into how many hours of television have been devoted to SSG Bales.

I do know that Good Morning America has already spent quite a bit of airtime on the Bales’ case, from his financial past, to his injuries, to more unfounded speculation about his mental health. Over several days.

Weichel? 34. Seconds.

Toward the beginning of the clip, the phrase: “Now a story of uncommon sacrifice.”


As if this sort of selfless act is somehow…unusual.

That Weichel in a moment suffered a mental break that caused him to do something he and his comrades would never usually do.
If you do nothing else, remember Weichel. Forget Bales. There is good in us, America. Even here, what can often be a place where hope dies, crushed by the weight of a thousand good intentions, good can be done. Not long-term. Not sustainable, maybe, but…good.

I’ve come to the conclusion that “sustainable” is a buzzword created by those who’ve never had to watch someone bleed to death because they had the audacity to get a job with the only game in town. Since that job’s us, and people want us to go away…folks…get…dead.

I myself have used it. I think it has value, I do, but at the end of the day? It’s making sure a little girl gets to go home at least one more day.

So, SPC Weichel, here’s to you: insanely courageous bit of all that’s good in the world. I hope your brothers in arms make sure your children know this. Know that their dad, no matter what else may be true about him, cared enough about someone he didn’t know to pay that ultimate price. Someone who, maybe, for a moment, reminded him of one of his own.

Wherever you are, rest easy, soldier. You did good. May we all be so lucky to be so mad.

When El Snarkistani doesn’t make me laugh until I cry about Afghanistan, he makes me think and cry until my head hurts. But I still read him everyday.

Read in full here.

Major General Kevin McBride, Adjutant General of the Rhode Island National Guard, said in a written statement: “Tragically, Spc. Weichel has made the supreme sacrifice and at this time, we are mindful of the impact of that sacrifice on his family and friends. I pledge this command’s perpetual support to Spc. Weichel’s family; his children Nicholas, Hope and Madison and his parents Linda Reynolds and Dennis Weichel. We leave no Soldier behind…. and we will not leave Spc. Weichel’s family behind.”

I hope that is true.  Rest in peace, SPC Dennis Weichel.

Domani Spero



Video of the Week: Please Help Hannah

h/t to Jennifer Santiago and Cupcake Diplomacy:

If the video doesn’t play, click here and view in YouTube.

Here’s how to make a leave donation (Via Cupcake Diplomacy: less guns, more butter):

State Department Employees:

Email, fax, or mail form DS-1862 (found via intranet) to the address found in the leave donation request announcement found here. [Note: you must be able to access DoS intranet for this link to work]

Employees of other federal agencies:

Fill out form OPM 630b and then have someone from your agency’s HR sign and date the bottom part of the form.  You’ll need the name of the State Department contact in HR as well as some info about Hannah, but I’d rather not have that just floating around the internet so please email me at cupcakediplomacy AT gmail DOT com and I will get you the necessary info ASAP.

Related items you may need:

OPM: Voluntary Leave Transfer Program

Form OPM 630b (PDF)

3 FAM 3340 Voluntary Leave Transfer Program (For State’s Foreign Service and Civil Service Employees)

Please help if you can. Thank you!

Domani Spero

Jennifer Santiago: Lawyer, Reporter, Former Model, Now Diplomat – You Go Girl!

From best we could tell, the story has been online forever but got resurrected in Peter Van Buren’s blog, then got picked up by WaPo’s In The Loop column, and by The National Confidential puts it under its Weird news section.  The old but new again story is slowly ricocheting around the web until it gets booored.

Jennifer Santiago is a Foreign Service Officer with the U.S Department of State and is training with the 162nd A-100 Junior Officer Class at the Foreign Service Institute. In about a month, she will start her first overseas assignment at the US Consulate in São Paulo, Brazil.  You normally do not start your career in the Foreign Service with a “walk-in” appearance in Al Kamen’s In The Loop column. Despite her public blog, she did not actually do the walking in (and who does?).

Apparently, there are some sexy Jennifer photos from way back when.  And they are online. Really, who doesn’t have some sexy photos out there? Haven’t you seen mine? See below, painted by no less than the eccentric genius of the Venetian Renaissance, Lorenzo Lotto:

Artist: Lorenzo Lotto

For those who want to quibble, no, I am not naked; I am wearing a veil, a diadem and a pearl earring. And for the record, I am perfectly happy with this painting. The only thing that embarrasses me about this is that I clearly needed more Vitamin D!

And then there’s the sexy photo of Senator Scott “Centerfold” Brown, the senator representing Massachusetts in the United States Senate.  See, we are for one standard here. If men are allowed their youthful indiscretion, women are not exempt from the same standard. Now that you’ve seen the photos, let’s take a peek at Senator Scott’s photo.  Gosh! What an even tan!  And isn’t this just a poor copycat of my Venus and Cupid pose? Except for the strategic placement of the arm, of course, but then he did not have the little rascal peeing on him!

Cosmopolitan magazine's "America's Sexiest Man" contest

So anyway, back to Jennifer.  In her blog, without addressing the brouhaha, Ms. Santiago writes:

I have made mistakes in my past. Who hasn’t? But- I have come to live and love the fact that we are all flawed beings and as long as we strive to be better and learn from our experiences, all these mistakes are merely lessons. So- I forgive myself. And forgiveness is very empowering.
Yoga certainly helps mend the wounds.

So, while I appreciate and love the support of my family, friends, work colleagues, sometimes even total strangers, I also find peace in my practice. My favorite yoga quote (Betsy Cañas Garmon) says: ” I do yoga so that I can stay flexible enough to kick my own arse if necessary.”

With all the self-inflicted arse kicking I’ve done over the past 15 years, my skin has grown thick and numb to the attempts of others.

I do not know Ms. Santiago and have never meet her but I can only admire her zen and spunk particularly in her recent post.  This could not possibly be an easy time for her and yet, today, she writes about her A-100 classmate, Hannah who was recently diagnosed with a rare form of cancer and asks State folks to donate leave on Hannah’s behalf. Head over there and consider a donation if you are able.   Yep, that’s one classy lady.

So since Ms. Santiago had other lives (promotional/reporting stills are quite gorgeous) prior to joining the Foreign Service, I am posting below a link to a brief segment she did on during a visit to the Pelican Harbor Seabird Station. In Florida, this is where hundreds of pelicans, blue jays, masked boobies and other injured birds are rescued and nursed back to health. She chats with  the Director of the Rehab Center, Wendy Fox on internal and external injuries caused by fishing tackles. Via Miami’s PlumTV (not able to embed the video, please click on the image to view the video):

Secrets of Miami: Pelican Harbor Seabird Station

In “Diving Into the Wreck” the recently departed feminist and poet, Adrienne Rich writes about a dive into the dark, a metaphor for the depths of women’s experience:

I am here, the mermaid whose dark hair
streams black, the merman in his armored body
We circle silently about the wreck
we dive into the hold. …
We are, I am, you are
by cowardice or courage
the one who find our way
back to the scene
carrying a knife, a camera
a book of myths
in which
our names do not appear.

Sometimes the mermaid’s name appear. She even says, I’ll do my own arse-kicking if needed, thank you very much. And don’t you just want to say — me, too, dammit?!

Domani Spero

Officially In: Michele J. Sison, from Iraq to Sri Lanka and the Maldives

On March 26, President Obama announced his intent to nominate Ambassador Michele J. Sison as the next Ambassador to the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka and the Republic of Maldives. The WH released the following brief bio:

Ambassador Michele J. Sison, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service with the rank of Minister-Counselor, is currently the Assistant Chief of Mission for Law Enforcement and Rule of Law Assistance in Baghdad, Iraq.  From 2008 to 2010, she was Ambassador to the Republic of Lebanon.  She was Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates from 2004 to 2008 and Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of South Asian Affairs from 2002 to 2004.  Ambassador Sison’s prior assignments include:  Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan; Consul General in Chennai, India; Consul General in Douala, Cameroon; and Director of Career Development and Assignments in the Department of State’s Bureau of Human Resources.  Additional overseas assignments include roles at the U.S. Embassies in Côte d’Ivoire, Benin, Togo, and Haiti.

Ambassador Sison received a B.A. from Wellesley College.

U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon Michele J. Sison (second from right) inspects a new Harley Davidson police motorcycle with Lebanese ISF commanders at the U.S. Embassy Beirut, May 18, 2010. (State Department Photo)

If confirmed, Ambassador Sison would succeed career diplomat, Patricia A. Butenis who was appointed to Sri Lanka and the Maldives (based in Colombo) in 2009.  A brief piece in State’s Asian Pacific Heritage Month in 2010 says that Ambassador Sison is a proud Filipino-American, with family roots in Lingayen, Pangasinan, in the Philippines. Born in Virginia, Ambassador Sison earned her B.A. in Political Science from Wellesley College. She joined the Foreign Service in 1982. She is the recipient of numerous U.S. Department of State awards for exceptional service as well as the Presidential Meritorious Service Award.

Domani Spero

Related item:

President Obama Announces More Key Administration Posts | March 26. 2012

US Embassy Romania: New Embassy Dedication Ceremony

Via US Embassy Romania:

On March 22, 2012, U.S. Ambassador Mark H. Gitenstein officially dedicated the new Embassy in Bucharest, Romania. The ceremony included a ribbon-cutting and the unveiling of a plaque that has been placed on the main entrance to the Embassy. The keynote speaker for the event was Delaware Attorney General Joseph R. “Beau” Biden, III. Also speaking were Romanian Prime Minister Mihai Ungureanu, Senate President Vasile Blaga and the Managing Director of Operations for the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations Leo Hession. Young Romanian pianist Mihai Ritivoiu performed as well (Lucian Crusoveanu / Public Diplomacy Office)

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Links inserted above.

Adrienne Rich: “What Kind of Times Are These”

Rest in peace Adrienne Rich. She died on Tuesday  at her home in Santa Cruz, California.  She was 82. Here she is with her poem, What Kind of Times Are These



Officially In: Mark L. Asquino, from “J” Bureau to Equatorial Guinea

On March 16, President Obama announced his intent to nominate Mark L. Asquino as the next Ambassador to the Republic of Equatorial Guinea. The WH released the following brief bio:

Mark L. Asquino, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service with the rank of Minister Counselor, currently serves as the Executive Assistant in the Office of the Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights at the U.S. Department of State.  From 2010 to 2011, he served as a Senior Public Diplomacy Fellow at George Washington University.  Previously, he served as Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Sudan and at the U.S. Embassy in Kazakhstan.   Mr. Asquino has also served overseas in Caracas, Panama City, Madrid, Bucharest, Santiago, and Tashkent.  In Washington, he has served as the Principal Deputy Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization at the U.S. Department of State.

Mr. Asquino received his A.B. and Ph.D. in American Civilization from Brown University.

Mark Asquino, then Deputy Chief of Mission at the US Embassy in Khartoum during a ribbon-cutting ceremony (Photo from US Embassy Sudan/Picasa)

If confirmed, Mr. Asquino would succeed career diplomat, Alberto M. Fernandez who was appointed to the US Embassy in Malabo in January 2010. On March 26, Ambassador Fernandez assumed the position of Coordinator of the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications (CSCC), a new inter-agency entity based at the State Department.

Domani Spero

Related item:

President Obama Announces More Key Administration Posts | March 16, 2012

Photo of the Day: Walking Blue Condoms, We Need You in America!

The 100% Condom Use Campaign launch in Vietnam late last year was very festive, with banners, singers, and dancers. Best of all, there were walking blue condoms with Men in Black shades!  And there were white condoms in cute tiny blue shoes.  Really cute!

Condoms! They remind me of somebody …. somebody talking a lot about contraception and sexual ethics around the campaign trail:

“One of the things I will talk about, that no president has talked about before, is I think the dangers of contraception in this country […] Many of the Christian faith have said, well, that’s OK; contraception is OK. It’s not OK. It’s a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be.”

Rick Santorum
GOP Presidential Candidate

Via USAID Vietnam/Flickr

100% Condom Use Campaign launch, supported by USAID with PEPFAR funding (December 2011). Photo by USAID Vietnam/Flickr

Uh-oh! Uh-oh! These folks are getting a “license to do things in a sexual realm.” Thank god they’re Vietnamese!

Domani Spero

US Embassy Kuwait Celebrates 4th of July (in March) with Generous But Unnamed Sponsors

Our Ambassador to Kuwait, Mathew H. Tueller hosted the embassy’s 4th of July celebration during what is called the U.S. National Day on March 12, 2012. Below is an excerpt from his remarks:

[T]his Embassy is focused on strengthening the U.S.-Kuwaiti relationship by opening doors for the people of Kuwait.  Our Consular and Public Affairs officers organize events where we advise Kuwaiti students on study options in the United States.  Over 3000 Kuwaiti students studied in the U.S. last year and we hope to see that number grow.  Our Public Affairs officers plan regular speaker programs in which embassy staff lead discussions with Kuwaiti students on American culture and other topics.  We pride ourselves on the efficiency and courtesy with which our Consular Section processed more than 30,000 visa applications for Kuwaitis this past year.  Our Commercial Services and Economic Sections are focused on promoting expanded trade with your booming economy. My staff and I look forward to all the future opportunities we will have to strengthen relations with all of you, and with a Kuwait that is advancing confidently toward a better tomorrow.

Now, thanks to the generosity of all our sponsors, we have some marvelous American food and some wonderful Kuwaiti entertainment to share with you this evening.

The embassy has a Flickr account that has not been updated since October 2011. So we can only locate one photo of Ambassador Tueller cutting the gigantic birthday cake. A bad photo that looks like the folks in the picture have all been squeezed from the top.

Ambassador Tueller cutting the 236th Independence Day gigantic cake with a few buddies (Photo from US Embassy Kuwait)

Unfortunately for the sponsors, the US embassy forgot to mention all their names in the prepared remarks. It also failed to acknowledge them in the official USG website. So we have no idea who were these generous sponsors, except that they made it possible for the embassy to serve “marvelous American food.”

Two quick thoughts – one, was this celebration another exhibit of fast food nation?

Also, we feel bad for the lowest diplomat in the totem pole who will be tasked with recruiting sponsors for next year’s celebration.  If I were a sponsor, I would not/not consider this an excellent return of investment, would you?

Domani Spero

Proof of Special US-PAK Relations: Pakistan to consider change in building laws just for the United States

…to restrict the US Embassy in Islamabad from building what is reportedly a new seven-storey embassy.

Apparently, the seven-storey, excuse me nine-storey , oh, never mind — insert number of storey-building here is just too high, or too suspicious, or both and my, why do you need such a tall building to put in way too many people to oversee way too much aid money there?  Around the interwebs, concerns include fears that there will be spies eating potato chips at such a high perch, giving them something like a “whole of government” view of Islamabad.  If built according to plans, would the seven-storey US Embassy get the moniker as the tallest building in Islamabad? In which case, the surveillance aircraft the USG gave to Pakistan could be put to good use.

We have posted about the NEC construction in Pakistan previously, the following from the publicly available fedbiz:

Islamabad, Pakistan NEC:

The project will consist of the design and construction of a New Embassy Office (NOB), new office annex building (NOX), Marine Security Guard Quarters (MSGQ), general services offices and warehouse, central utility plan, site utilities and infrastructure, compound access facilities, and demolition of existing buildings on the US Embassy Compound in Islamabad, Pakistan.
Approximate Site: 168,000 square meters
New buildings area: 79,000 square meters
Estimated design-build cost: $530 – $630 million

Islamabad, Pakistan Housing:

The project will consist of the design and construction of a permanent staff housing buildings, recreation and support structures, central utility plan, site utilities and infrastructure, and compound access facilities on newly acquired property for the US Embassy Compound in Islamabad, Pakistan.
Approximate Site: 48,600 square meters
New buildings area: 75,000 gross square meters
Estimated design-build cost: $140 – $200 million

After the plan had been reportedly approved by the  Capital Development Authority, the chairman of the same agency is quoted in a local newspaper saying,  “As the construction of the new complex of US embassy is in its initial stage – its first storey is being constructed – the US authorities can be asked to follow our new guidelines.”

We do feel sorry for the contractor who will need a daily dose of migraine meds from this day onward…. because something else will surely come up. Walls too tall? Projected perimeter lights too bright … what else need new guidelines?

Wrecking ball at work during the demolition of...

Wrecking ball at work during the demolition of a old milling building in Dresden, Plauen district. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The report also quotes the US Embassy Spokesman, “The embassy is proceeding according to the approved building plan and has not received any notice that CDA is changing the plan.”

We have a bad feeling about this. What if the notice or whatever is sent via snail mail, and is taking the circuitous route from Islamabad to Washington via the Mariana Trench (oh, hello James Cameroon!) and six times back and around, they may need a wrecking ball for the top three floors of the building, by the time this is over ….

On the other hand —

… if the Government of Pakistan kept changing its building laws, perhaps somebody will put a light brake on this project, something that was utterly missing when we built the US Embassy in Baghdad.  After all, if the US Embassy in Baghdad ever transitions to what you and I would consider a “normal” embassy, what are they going to do with all that building space? (Al Kamen’s contest winners suggested turning it into something called the Fertile Crescent Community College or into “America’s Last Resort” with full spa experience). Perhaps we should be asking the same question in the case of the new US Embassy in Islamabad? When all the aid money is disbursed and when US military operation in Afghanistan winds down in 2014, what are they going to do with all that space?

Domani Spero