Insider Quote: AIP Fatigue and a Little Hostility

The following is an extract from an interview conducted by the U.S. Institute of Peace for its lessons learned project from the PRTs in Iraq and Afghanistan.  The previous years, USIP did similar interviews as part of its oral history project. The interviewee, a State Department Foreign Service Officer, was the team leader of PRT Wasit, Iraq, from March 2010 to March 2011. The interview notes say “He understood the PRT mission to be one of serving as a mini-consulate while pursuing capacity building in governance, rule of law and agricultural development. He was the last team leader as the PRT was closing out soon after his departure.”

Q. In closing let ask you if there any other comments you want to make? Any ideas that you want to share about your experience with the PRT, how it worked and how it could have been made more effective or how other PRTs in other countries could be made more effective?

Senior Agricultural Advisor for the Wasit, Iraq Provincial Reconstruction Team George Stickels from Arlington, Va., surveys a field in the Al Abara village in the Badra District of Wasit, Iraq to see where a center pivot irrigation system should be placed into the field to help in the growing of crops, Nov. 20, 2010. The Wasit PRT and 1st Squadron, 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment are in Iraq in support of Operation New Dawn.
(Photo by Spc. Charles Willingham via dvidshub.net)

A. What a great management/leadership experience! [But] our system is bad when it comes to vetting people for assignments like this. I think that old adage about playing nicely with others is particularly important in a high pressure, kind of “out there” assignment like a PRT. It’s not a place to send screw-ups, it’s not a place to send people looking to rehabilitate bad careers. I think it’s important to be choosy even when there are assignments where you are maybe a little desperate about “will I get this job filled?” So I think that is important, I think the people who can deal with the pressure, who have got a good sense of humor, who are versatile, who like working with the military, who can function well in a environment where State is a tiny minority, all of that is important and I think that improves the effectiveness of your PRT.

I don’t know whether this is what you are after, but I thought the financial incentives were quite good and certainly worthwhile. I thought the system did a horrendously poor job of taking care of many of us with follow on assignments. I’m very happy with my follow on, ultimately, but I spent an inordinate amount of time during my tour chasing a follow on assignment. I mean time that was robbed from me focusing on PRT-related stuff. That is not something specific to Iraq tours; I think that speaks more to the general breakdown in our assignments process.

A more general observation, not PRT specific – I think we are at a real crossroads in these sorts of assignments. I think there are those of us — a third or a quarter of the Foreign Service — who have done them. And I think there are a lot of people who haven’t, don’t want to, don’t want to be reminded that there are those of us out there who’ve done them, don’t feel like they should be disadvantaged in any way because they haven’t done them, or don’t want to do them. I sense there is a what I like to call AIP (Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan) fatigue out there and even a little hostility towards those of us who have done these assignments. I’m not necessarily advocating — because I know there are some people who aren’t that good at doing these assignments and I don’t want to advocate that we should all be given our absolute priority assignments and our top two choice assignments and instant promotion—but I think this is a stated top priority goal of the Secretary of State and reiterated by the DG (Director General) and that is not always reflected in the way the system reacted to those of us who’ve done these assignments.

— Foreign Service Officer (Interview #152)
Team Leader of PRT Wasit, Iraq (2010-2011)
Excerpt from Iraq/Afghanistan Provincial Reconstruction Teams: Lessons Learned, USIP
Interview date: April 15, 2011

We certainly can understand the AIP fatigue but have you heard about that “little hostility” he’s talking about?  You’d think that if there is some kind of hostility or resentment, it would come from those who have been pressed for more than one tours to Afghanistan, Iraq or Pakistan, instead of the other way around.  All assignments are voluntary, of course, even those who are left with no other option on their lists but Iraq, Afghanistan or Pakistan. Or the reverse hostility is for getting first dibs on assignments (AIP assignments have its own cycle), getting priority/onward assignments, breaking current assignments to relocate to any AIP posts, etc.etc.?

Are there really folks who “don’t feel like they should be disadvantaged in any way because they haven’t done” the war zone tours?

Domani Spero

2 responses

  1. Maybe there should be a little resentment from some quarters. The AIP posts aren’t the only places where FSOs put, or have put, themselves at risk to serve their country. Yes, we should honor and reward the service of FS personnel serving in AIP. But let’s not forget those who serve, or served, in other war zones.

    Not to be morbid, but has anyone compared the mortality rate for USG personnel in stationed in Ciudad Juarez to those in Kabul and Baghdad? What “incentives” do we give people currently in the Mexican border posts or Yemen (where its so dangerous that Embassy personnel are not allowed to sleep in their homes)? Or until recently in Libya and Syria?

    How about officers who’ve served in Angola, Congo, DROC, Cote d’Ivoire, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Mali, Chad, Sudan, Somalia, Zimbabwe etc. Sierra Leone and Liberia were particular garden spots. Remember when President Taylor’s troops strafed Embassy Monrovia? How about the 50 mm shells embedded in the Ambassador’s desk in Freetown after the AFRC coup (or was it the Nigerian invasion, or the RUF coup, or the Strasser coup)? We had FS personnel staffing a makeshift Embassy in Sierra Leone when DOD would not let its people visit on TDY because it was too dangerous.

    Bosnia. (Just the word is enough.)

    When I was in Angola, our DOD colleagues were getting combat pay; that wasn’t too long after UNITA attacked the Embassy compound. When we hitched rides into the interior on 40 year old C-130s chartered to WFP, the pilots corkscrewed into landings to make it harder for anyone with a SAM to take aim.

    And what about the FS personnel who’ve lost family members, including children, because of medical, safety, traffic conditions in third world posts. When we honor service at AIP above all else, we diminish the sacrifice of those who put themselves, and sometimes their families, at risk to serve the USA in other dangerous places.

  2. You are correct that the “reverse hostility” relates mainly to perceived favoritism in assignments/promotions (less about curtailments – although that exists). Yes it is real – although expressed more in the abstract than towards any individuals.