Insider Quote: Everything Rushing at You at 110 Miles an Hour

Below is an excerpt from a USIP interview on lessons learned from the PRTs in Iraq and Afghanistan. The interviewee, a Foreign Service Officer, served as the senior public diplomacy (PD) officer at Baghdad PRT, Iraq, from November 2009 to November 2010.

Q. Are there any other comments you would like to share about your experience at the PRT, how it worked, and how it could have been made more effective?

A. I don’t think I’ll ever have another experience in the Foreign Service quite like it. I know it’s not normal State Department life. In some ways there were good aspects to it, and in some ways I always felt a fish out of water. Some of the anti-State biases that you would see, I didn’t let them bother me, but other people were bothered by them. Those who had DOD and different military backgrounds would get frustrated by us and our consensus style of approaching a problem, rather than a top-down style.

The only other thing I would say about it is to compare it to my first tour in Africa where we were junior officers supervising other junior officers and doing consular work and economic work without a lot of supervision. Everything was just rushing at you at 110 miles an hour, and you’re doing the best you can to handle the problems as well as you can within regulations that you’re presented. Invariably you missed things and picked things up and developed bad habits. Then you go into a second tour in (a western European country) where your local staff had been there 30 years and they know the FAM (Foreign Affairs Manual) better than you do, and they know exactly how everything should be done, and you unlearn your bad mistakes, and you correct things you were doing wrong and you do certain other things better and broaden your experience.

To me the PRT was kind of like that first experience, where everything is coming at you at 110 miles an hour, and you have colleagues that don’t know what public diplomacy is, who didn’t have an officer at their PRT asking them “What are you doing?” so that we can help promote it or talk about it, either back home or in the local media. They didn’t know what to think of me. I was an alien to them – “Leave me alone and let me do my projects and stop bothering me.” It took a while to develop those relationships.

Just the work itself is different, and so going forward to another assignment in an embassy with a normal structure and a public affairs officer and two assistants working, I think I’ll unlearn my bad mistakes and bad habits and see things in a more normal environment, but I’ll always have a favorable view of my time in Iraq. It had its frustrations, but I think in the end it was rewarding and I’m glad I went.

— Foreign Service Officer (INTERVIEW #128)
Senior Public Diplomacy (PD) Officer
Baghdad PRT, Iraq (November 2009 to November 2010)
Interview date: Jan. 20, 2011 PDF

Domani Spero