FSJ: Tandem Couples — Till Reassignment Do Us Part, the 30th Annual Edition

Posted: 4:02 am ET

The current issue of the Foreign Service Journal includes a piece on tandem couples in the State Department. The article is written by  FSO Fred Odisho who joined the Foreign Service as a political-coned officer in January 2014. He has been separated from his tandem spouse for their first four years in the Foreign Service, and he is looking forward to reuniting with her in the summer of 2017 for their second assignment.  His co-author is USAID FSO Whitney Dubinsky who joined the Foreign Service in 2010 through USAID’s Development Leadership Initiative. Her spouse joined the Foreign Service “after two years of being unable to find meaningful employment at post.”

Excerpt:

Representative of the larger society, Foreign Service families come in all forms, each with its own unique challenges. The dynamic of the modern family has changed dramatically over the past 30 years. The percentage of family members working outside the home has steadily increased. More and more possess professional degrees and experience in a variety of fields. Not surprisingly, they possess traits similar to those of their Foreign Service spouses. In the face of these changes, have Foreign Service policies supporting the modern family kept pace?

For tandem couples—the term for families in which both spouses are members of the Foreign Service—the answer to this question is a resounding no. Little has changed since The New York Times published an article in 1986 titled “State Department; Till Reassignment Do Us Part?” describing the challenges facing tandem couples of that era. Being able to be assigned together was and still is the greatest challenge plaguing the members of any tandem couple. The threat of having to split up their family and children remains ever-present.
[…]
Tandem couples are not trying to circumvent the worldwide availability requirement. They acknowledge that directed assignments are not limited to entry-level employees but are also possible for mid-level and senior-level employees, as witnessed during the wars of the past decade. They understand and accept that they, like all their peers, may have to shoulder one of these directed assignments that may necessitate serving in an unaccompanied capacity.

In fact, one could argue that the unofficial motto of most tandems is, “It’s not a matter of where we serve … so long as we can serve together.” Just like everyone else, we signed up for worldwide availability, not worldwide separation—especially separation that is not directed and is based solely on the luck of the bidding draw.
[…]

The Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review says that the federal government takes “work-life balance seriously and will continue to support our employees as they balance their commitment to service with personal wellness and family life. Work-life balance is critical to retaining the best talent.” It is time for senior management to not only say these words but to take substantive action.

Read in full: Tandem Couples: Serving Together, Apart via the Foreign Service Journal’s July/August 2016 issue.

 

Related posts:

Related items:

 

 

 

Ron Capps: Seriously Not All Right, Five Wars in Ten Years (Excerpt)

Posted: 5:23 pm PT

 

Ron Capps is a U.S. Army veteran and a former Foreign Service officer. He served in the military from 1986 until the early 1990’s. In 1994, he moved to the Army Reserved and joined the Foreign Service. His FS assignments took him to Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Kosovo, and Rwanda. Between 1996-2002, he also deployed as an intelligence officer in Uganda and Zaire for the U.S. Army.  According to his online bio, after the September 11 attacks, he served with XVIII Airborne Corps and the Defense intelligence Agency in Afghanistan as a soldier. Later, he was also deployed to Darfur and Chad as a soldier, and Iraq and Darfur (again) as a Foreign Service officer. “Throughout his career of service, Capps was often working in close proximity to murder, rape, and genocide. He suffered from regular and intense nightmares; he was diagnosed by an Army psychiatrist with PTSD and depression, and prescribed Prozac. In 2006, he nearly committed suicide. He was medically evacuated from service by the Regional Medical Officer of the State Department.”

He retired from government work and pursued a Master of Arts in Writing from Johns Hopkins University in 2009. In 2012, he founded the Veterans Writing Project, a non-profit organization that hosts free writing workshops and seminars for veterans and service members, as well as their adult family members.  VWP is a 501(c)(3) non-profit. You can support the group with a tax-deductible donation or through the Amazon Smile program.

Ron Capps is the author of the book, Seriously Not All Right: Five Wars in Ten Years, which details his own experiences with PTSD.  To mark June as PTSD Awareness Month, we’re sharing an excerpt from Mr. Capps’ book with you (courtesy of Amazon Kindle).

Via Amazon/Kindle

Click on image to read an excerpt or buy the book  Book cover via Amazon Kindle

 

Related posts:

AmConGen Dhahran’s 7 Second-Video Freaks Out Folks Who Do Not Get the Foreign in the Foreign Service

Posted: 3:42 am ET

The United States Consul General in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia is career diplomat, Mike Hankey. He was assigned to post in  July 2014 accompanied by his wife and their two sons.  According to his official bio, he joined the Foreign Service in 2001, and has “led teams to build deep and productive ties with political, economic and media partners across the Middle East, Africa and South Asia.”  His bio says that in Egypt “he advanced the President’s agenda to engage Muslim communities” and “promoted economic development in northwestern Iraq, American consular and commercial interests in Yemen, and media professionalism in Nigeria.”

Mr. Hankey received his Bachelor’s Degree in international affairs and journalism from George Washington University and his Master’s Degree in second language education from Indiana University. He speaks Arabic.

Like most Foreign Service families, Mr. Hankey and his family are “all in” in their current post in Saudi Arabia. That means they went out and explored their “host country” and did not hide in their USG-provided housing commuting only to the office and back and eating only Pizza Hut and KFC.  USCG Dhahran’s FB posts include photos of them in a camel farm, attending a festival, wading in a wadi and camping in a desert. And oh goodness, eating foreign food — they cooked sheep in the sand!

But how awesome is that?

On June 5, US Embassy Riyadh tweeted a 7-second Ramadan greeting featuring Mr. Hankey and his two young sons wearing the traditional Saudi male dress — a white colored Thobe (thawb), an ankle length garment with long sleeves and tunic shape, and a headdress (a large square cloth, white or red called the Gutra, a small white cap that keeps the Gutra in place called the Tagia, and a black cord called Igal that keep the whole thing in place). See more here.

 

First the good news! Yes, there is a Twitter account that tweets only Great Government Tweets!

Here are some local reactions appreciative of the gesture:

Here are some reactions from folks who apparently do not get the foreign in the Foreign Service.  Hometown diplomats, you’ve got your jobs cut out for you.

By the way, eating haggis doesn’t turn one Scottish.

Speaking a foreign language is not un-American.

Wearing foreign clothing is not dangerous to one’s health or sense of well being.

Here’s a bonus, Americans diplomats in Pakistan learning the Paktun dance moves.

 

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US Embassy Burma: Amb Marciel Presents Credentials, Monks Protest Use of Word #Rohingya

Posted:1:52 am ET

 

Meanwhile — local monks protested at the U.S. Embassy in Rangoon for its use of the word “Rohingya” in its statement (PDF) about the events in Rakhine State:

The U.S. Embassy is deeply concerned about recent events in Rakhine State. We were saddened by the news about those who tragically lost their lives after a boat capsized near Thae Chaung in Sittwe Township on April 19 and we extend our condolences to the families of the victims, who local reports state were from the Rohingya community. Restrictions on access to markets, livelihoods, and other basic services in Rakhine State can lead to communities unnecessarily risking their lives in an attempt to improve their quality of life.

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Turkey Warns UK Diplomat Over Selfie, Summons German Diplomat Over #ErdowieErdowoErdogan Video

Posted: 3:34 am ET

 

The British Consul-General to Istanbul Leigh Turner (@LeighTurnerFCO) tweeted these on March 25:

 

Apparently, that selfie with Cumhuriyet journalist Can Dundar did not sit well with Turkey’s President Recep Tayipp Erdoğan:

 

And then there’s this:

According to the Guardian, Germany’s ambassador to Turkey, Martin Erdmann, was summoned to the foreign ministry in Ankara last week and asked to justify the contents of the short video made by Extra 3, the popular satirical television program.  “We demanded that the programme be deleted,” a Turkish diplomat told Agence France-Presse on condition of anonymity.”

The video is still online, now has English and Turkish subtitles, and over 2.5 million hits on YouTube. Newsweek reported on Tuesday that the song’s title and melody are inspired by German pop star Nena’s 1984 love song “Irgendwie, Irgendwo, Irgendwann” (Anyhow, Anywhere, Anytime). The rewritten lyrics in English is available here, but you don’t need German to get this:

 

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DOD to Evacuate 670 Military Dependents, 287 Pets From Turkey — How Many @StateDept Evacuees?

Posted: 2:16 am ET

 

 

Via DPB of March 29, 2016:

QUESTION: All right. Okay. Moving on just to the announcement from you guys on the – and the DOD today on Turkey and the ordered departures. Your colleague at the Pentagon has spent the last several minutes answering – or saying that there was no specific threat that has led to this and that it was just decided out of an abundance of caution that you should go ahead and – my question is: If there was no specific threat, why do it now?

MR KIRBY: That’s a great question. So my colleague is right. The decision to do this, first of all, wasn’t taken lightly. It was done after careful thought and consideration and interagency coordination, I might add. And I think it’s very much a result of our ongoing assessment of security conditions there in Turkey and in recognition of the threat environment in Adana, specifically in southeastern Turkey from a regional perspective. So the why now is I think – when you talk about the now – rather than talk about the now in terms of today or the last few hours, try to keep in mind that this was really a decision that was several weeks in the making in terms of assessing the security situation there, which undoubtedly – and you guys have reported on the terrorism threat that has existed there, the recent attacks. Secretary Kerry alluded to some of these attacks yesterday in the camera spray with the Turkish foreign minister. So this was a decision that, again, was, I think, several weeks in the making.
[…]
QUESTION: And with all that, the brains in this building and the Pentagon decided that today, right in between – right just before a President Erdogan visit, is the day to do something that you could have done last week or the week before or even next week. Does that —

MR KIRBY: We – I – look, I can’t dispute the conspiracy theorists, that they might think that there was more to it than this, that this was some sort of —

QUESTION: I would hope you do want to dispute.

MR KIRBY: I am.

QUESTION: Oh.

MR KIRBY: I mean, I can’t dispute that there are people that think that way.

QUESTION: Will think that. All right.

MR KIRBY: But I certainly can dispute the actual allegation. I can tell you, having watched the process churn now over the last several weeks, that this was done with the – with deep consideration and careful thought, interagency communication. And again, this is not the kind of decision that we take lightly. We take it very seriously. And so therefore want to do it in an appropriate, measured, deliberate fashion, and also do it at what we believe is the right time. And we believe this is the right time to do this.

QUESTION: Last one. The Pentagon was quite specific about the number of people that this was going to affect. Actually, they were even – they were quite specific about the number of pets that it would affect. How many people will this affect in terms of the State Department?

MR KIRBY: It is a small number of family members. I do not have an exact figure, but we can see if we can —

QUESTION: Oh, I know. I know you won’t give them to me. I just want to know why the Pentagon is so willing to talk about this, down to cats and dogs and little bunny rabbits, and you guys, for some reason, have a different – you’re more important, so you don’t have to —

MR KIRBY: I wouldn’t —

QUESTION: — you don’t have to give numbers about how many.

MR KIRBY: Now, Matt, I don’t —

QUESTION: That’s – so that’s the – that’s my question. Why?

MR KIRBY: The question or —

QUESTION: No, no. That’s my question. Why won’t the State Department do what the DOD did and give specific numbers?

MR KIRBY: As I understand it – and I’m happy to research this after the briefing. As I understand it, we don’t typically offer —

QUESTION: I know. This is my —

MR KIRBY: — details on the number of dependents and family members —

QUESTION: Yeah, that’s my – that’s my question.

MR KIRBY: — at any given station for security purposes. And we have – I can’t – but having worked in both institutions, I recognize that the State Department has a different threshold for security concerns about dependents and family members.

QUESTION: Why? That’s my question. Why? Why won’t you —

MR KIRBY: Okay. Well, I’ll see what I can do to find a better answer for you on why, but we aren’t going to release an exact number. And I don’t —

QUESTION: Well, I know you’re not. But I’d like just to —

MR KIRBY: And I don’t know that the Pentagon actually said how many bunnies they have.

QUESTION: They said something like 278 pets.

MR KIRBY: Okay.

QUESTION: Okay. Now I don’t know if they broke that down into goldfish or squirrels.

MR KIRBY: Well, your question alluded to hamsters and bunnies, and I just want to make sure that we’re clear on that.

QUESTION: Actually, it just – just bunnies.

MR KIRBY: Just bunnies, okay. (Laughter.) All right.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) discussion. Can I just – (laughter) – I think that should go down in history. (Laughter.) (Inaudible) between the Pentagon and the U.S. on travel alerts. Was that made independent of each other or are they related?

MR KIRBY: The – I’m sorry, the?

QUESTION: The decision by – the announcement by DOD on the drawing down —

MR KIRBY: No, this was a coordinated —

QUESTION: It is a —

MR KIRBY: This was a coordinated decision and a coordinated announcement. We were in lockstep with the Pentagon as we arrived at this decision.

QUESTION: Was there anything that triggered the specific discussions that something needs to be done to take security to the next level?

MR KIRBY: I think, again, without getting into specific intelligence issues, and certainly – and I want to again echo what I said to Matt earlier. I mean, this wasn’t the result of a specific threat to a specific institution or locality or by a specific group. This was based on an analysis over the last several weeks, certainly, of the security situation in Turkey, which undoubtedly – and you guys have covered this yourselves – has become more dangerous, particularly in southeastern Turkey. So it was based on a running analysis of the security threat there, an analysis that we share with the Pentagon about the level of potential danger here. And again, this was a decision made out of an abundance of caution to keep people as safe as possible.

Note that a 2010 OIG report of US Mission Turkey indicates that the U.S. Consulate in Adana is a small post with four direct hire employees.  OIG reported at that time that Adana was getting its first public affairs officer (PAO) in 2010 and its first RSO was to to arrive in 2011 following language training. A lot of regional developments have happened since then so post’s staffing complement of 6 direct hire employees may have already been overtaken by events. There was also local employee hiring for a Branch Office in Gaziantep (located closer to the Syrian border) in 2014, but we don’t have publicly available information regarding that presence at this time.  As for Izmir, the following is a snippet from the 2010 OIG report:

The American presence in Izmir in Western Turkey has changed markedly over the years. An American consulate existed in Izmir from 1803 to 1993. When it was closed for budgetary reasons, a consular agency was established. That agency was closed in 2002, when an American Presence Post was opened. The 2004 OIG in­ spection team recommended that the American Presence Post be closed as it was not clear what the post contributed to mission objectives. The American Presence Post was closed in 2005, and a consular agency was reestablished. What remains in Izmir today is a combination of U.S. Government personnel and activities that achieves the bare minimum of what could be possible in this dynamic port city, the third larg­est in Turkey. A consular agent occupies comfortable leased space in a commercial building. There are no outward signs that identify this facility as belonging to the U.S. Government. The consular workload is modest. Where needed, the able consular agent calls on the aid of the British consul, who has a long history in Izmir.

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WaPo: Anxious about Trump? Try being a foreign ambassador. Or imagine ….

Posted: 1:44 pm EDT

Via WaPo:

Donald Trump’s unorthodox campaign is causing growing anxiety over how U.S. trade, military and diplomatic policies would change if he were elected president, according to ambassadors from every continent.

Diplomats from many of the United States’ closest allies said there has not been a U.S. election since World War II in which representatives of foreign nations have felt so completely cut off from a leading presidential candidate or so unsure of his view of foreign policy.

“Scary. That’s how we view Trump,” said one ambassador whose country has a close relationship with Washington. “Could we depend on the United States? We don’t know. I can’t tell you how the unpredictability we are seeing scares us.”

Several quotes in the article from unidentified ambassadors. If they’re anxious, we’re wondering how our own diplomats are doing? Our career foreign service employees must not only commit to worldwide availability and flexibility in assignments but must also commit to public support of U.S. government policies regardless of the administration in office.

It’s no longer funny to think about a potential Trump administration. To borrow a pal’s quote, “can you imagine delivering a demarche in Mexico City about the new, beautiful wall?”  

 

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U.S. Embassy Rangoon: Ambassador Derek Mitchell Concludes Burma Assignment (Updated)

Posted: 2:58 am EDT
Updated: 12:38 am EDT

 

On March 15, Secretary Kerry issued a statement officially congratulating Htin Kyaw on his election as Burma’s next president. The Aung San Suu Kyi’s confidant is the the country’s first civilian president in five decades.  According to NYT, Aung San Suu Kyi is barred from the presidency by a clause in the military-drafted Constitution that forbids people with foreign relatives from holding the office. She has two sons who are British, as was her husband, Dr. Michael Aris who died in 1999.

On the same day, Ambassador Mitchell and his wife, Min also officially concluded their three and a half years in Burma, according to the embassy’s FB page, “at the same place where they started, with a visit to Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon.”  Ambassador Derek Mitchell served as a special representative to Myanmar (Burma) from August 2011 until he was appointed ambassador in June 2012. President Obama visited Burma, the first by a sitting U.S. president in 2012 and in 2014. hosted then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during her visit in 2011, and President Barack Obama in his 2012 (the first by a sitting U.S. president) and 2014 visits.   Correction: Michael E. Thurston was the Chargè d’affaires to Burma in 2011/2012 and was the top representative in country when then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Burma in 2011. Apologies for the error.

The new Ambassador to Burma Scot Marciel was sworn-in by Secretary Kerry early this month.

 

 

Below is the U.S. Embassy’s Thingyan video from 2015 featuring Ambassador and Mrs. Mitchell with the mission staff and some photos:

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Related item:

Ambassador Mitchell’s Speech at MISIS (February 22, 2016)

 

WH Petition: Latest Attack Against Wally Brewster, the US Ambassador to the Dominican Republic

Posted: 1:58 pm EDT
Updated: 5:16 pm EDT

 

An anonymous petition currently posted at the White House We The People portal is asking the Obama Administration “to remove the U.S. ambassador in the Dominican Republic, James W. Brewster for primarily promoting in his official duties an LGBT agenda inconsistent with the Christian cultural values and tradition of the Dominican Republic.” The petition has  above 25,000 signatures as of last night and needs over 74,000 by April 7, 2016 to reach the petition threshold which would then require an official response from the White House.

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And here is a counter petition supporting the ambassador.

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Maybe the White House can officially respond with this video:

The removal petition is just the latest in a series of attacks that Ambassador Brewster has faced since he was appointed U.S. Ambassador to the Dominican Republic in 2013.  After his nomination was announced, the AP reported that religious groups in the country said they are outraged by the nomination of a gay U.S. ambassador to the conservative Caribbean country.  DR Bishop Pablo Cedano was quoted in the media saying that if Brewster becomes the U.S. ambassador, “he is going to suffer and will have to leave.

After Ambassador Brewster’s arrival in country, a diplomatic event in honor of Dominican Republic president Danilo Medina was cancelled.  Ambassador Brewster’s husband was reportedly not invited to that event because he was not considered a “wife.” Consequently, several diplomats reportedly refused to attend and the event had to be “suspended.” (See Meanwhile in Santo Domingo: Ambassador Brewster’s Husband Not Invited ‘Cuz He’s Not a “Wife”).

This week, the Washington Blade reports:  Cardinal Nicolás de Jesús López Rodríguez of the Archdiocese of Santo Domingo has repeatedly used anti-gay slurs to describe Brewster. A group of Dominican intellectuals and religious leaders in January urged President Danilo Medina and the Dominican Ministry of Foreign Affairs to declare the out U.S. ambassador as “persona non grata” because of a U.S.-backed initiative they contend seeks “to turn our adolescents gay.”

Yesterday, Senator  Dick Durbin (D-IL) tweeted his support saying Ambassador Brewster is “doing exceptional work under difficult circumstances.”  U.S. Ambassador to Chile Mike Hammer also tweeted his support:

Previously in January:

Last December:

Last year, Senator Durbin also wrote and appealed to the Pope about the hostile public remarks against Ambassador Brewster made by Cardinal Nicolas de Jesus Lopez Rodriguez of the Archdiocese of Santo Domingo:

Ambassador Brewster is from my state of Illinois and he is a personal friend.  I supported President Obama’s selection of Ambassador Brewster and he was sworn into his position in my Senate office.  Ambassador Brewster is gay and was married under the laws of the United States to his partner, Bob Satawake.

Even before Ambassador Brewster’s arrival in Santo Domingo in 2013, Cardinal Rodriguez launched a personal attack against him with public statements quoted in the popular press.  The Cardinal used the hateful slur “faggot,” which he continues to use to this day.  In a recent interview Cardinal Rodriguez again described the Ambassador as a “faggot” and falsely claimed the Ambassador was setting out to promote “faggotry” in the Dominican Republic.  The Cardinal described the Ambassador as a “wife” who “should stick to housework.”
[…]
The Church’s teachings on gay marriage are well known but the Church also teaches us to show tolerance for those with different sexual orientations.  The intolerant public statements of Cardinal Rodriguez are inconsistent with that clearly stated value.

Since your selection as Pope, you have shared a message of compassion, tolerance, and love.  I remember distinctly when you spoke to us at the joint session of Congress in September and reminded us of our responsibility to “defend and preserve the dignity of your fellow citizens in the tireless and demanding pursuit of the common good.”

This can’t be easy for Ambassador Brewster, his husband or the mission.

These persistent attacks are hard to watch but imagine what it must be like for LGBT members in DR and in many parts of the world.

A Dominican LGBT rights advocate told the Blade, “This is only a reflection of the homophobia that continues to exist in this country,” Ramírez told the Blade. “If this is what the ambassador of the United States is facing, you can only imagine what common GLBT people who don’t have a political agenda are up against.” 

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AAFSW Book: Raising Kids in the Foreign Service (Edited by Leah Moorefield Evans)

Posted: 12:10 am EDT

 

This is AAFSW’s latest book for families. Titled “Raising Kids in the Foreign Service,” it has 31 essays and a resource list written by family members and officers. It has chapters on education, transition, tandem parenting, mindfulness, clutter, and a wide variety of topics important to parents living abroad. We understand that Patricia Linderman shepherded the book with Leah Evans from idea to publication.  You may read an excerpt below courtesy of Amazon Kindle:

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You might want to check the other AAFSW books: The Foreign Service Companion: Moving Your Household Without Losing Your Mind by the Associates of the American Foreign Service Worldwide and Kelly Bembry Midura and Realities of Foreign Service Life, Volume 2 by Patricia Linderman and Melissa Brayer Hess.

The Associates of the American Foreign Service Worldwide (AAFSW) was established in 1960 and was responsible for the creation of the Family Liaison OfficeOverseas Briefing Center, and the Foreign Service Youth Foundation.

By the way, Nicholas Kralev’s America’s Other Army: The U.S. Foreign Service and 21st-Century Diplomacy has also been updated and released on second edition, so check that out, too.