Snapshot: Adult Foreign Service Family Members Overseas, Fall 2020

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Via State/FLO

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US Mission Russia: Mass Termination of Local Staff, Severe Reduction in Consular Services Effective May 12

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On April 30, the US Embassy in Moscow issued a Message to U.S. Citizens: U.S. Mission Russia – Reduction of Consular Services (30 April, 2021)

Reduction of Consular Services – Effective May 12, U.S. Embassy Moscow will reduce consular services offered to include only emergency U.S. citizen services and a very limited number of age-out and life or death emergency immigrant visas. These service reductions are necessary due to the Russian government’s April 23 notification of its intention to prohibit U.S. Mission Russia from employing foreign nationals in any capacity. Non-immigrant visa processing for non-diplomatic travel will cease.

Embassy Moscow will not offer routine notarial services, Consular Reports of Birth Abroad, or renewal passport services for the foreseeable future. If you are resident in Russia and require a new U.S. passport to remain legally present, or if you require an emergency U.S. passport for a demonstrable, life or death emergency (booking travel with an expired U.S. passport does not qualify) please send an email to moscowacs@state.gov and we will work to accommodate your request. Provision of emergency services to U.S. citizens in Russia may also be delayed or limited due to staff’s constrained ability to travel outside of Moscow.

If you are a U.S. citizen present in Russia and your visa has expired, we strongly urge you to depart Russia before the June 15 deadline set by the Russian government. If you plan to remain in Russia past this deadline, please visit your local Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) office to start the necessary paperwork as recently suggested by MVD.  Embassy Moscow is unable to answer any specific questions about Russian residency or Russian visas, as this process is managed entirely by the Russian government.

We regret that the actions of the Russian government have forced us to reduce our consular work force by 75%, and will endeavor to offer to U.S. citizens as many services as possible.

We understand that the Russian Foreign Ministry has already labeled locally employed staff working for the US Mission in Russia as “spies.” Given the LE staff currently imprisoned in Turkey, and the State Department’s inability to secure their release, this is worrisome. We hope to write a follow-up.
The last OIG inspection of US Mission Russia was conducted in 2013, a year after Putin’s return to office. At that time, State/OIG reported that across Mission Russia, employees “face intensified pressure by the Russian security services at a level not seen since the days of the Cold War.” The report also indicates at that time that the mission employed 1,279 staff, including 301 U.S. direct-hire positions and 934 locally employed (LE) staff positions from 35 U.S. Government agencies. These numbers are from 2013, so the count on U.S. direct-hire positions may have changed significantly given the diplomatic skirmishes the last several years. We’re not sure about the LE numbers either but we’re looking.
Note that the Embassy’s consular sections and general services typically have the most number of locally hired employees. With the mass termination of locally employed staff,  US Mission Russia will be on its own with no local staff support for visa services, American services, emergency services to American citizens, maintenance and repairs, procurement of goods/services, motorpool, housing, health unit, cashier, and on and on.

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#HavanaSyndrome: Directed-Energy Attacks Now Reported in D.C.

Once a year, we ask for your support to keep this blog and your dedicated blogger going. So here we are on Week #7 of our eight-week annual fundraising. Our previous funding ran out in August 2020. We recognize that blogging life has no certainty, and this year is no exception.  If you care what we do here, please see GFM: https://gofund.me/32671a27.  We could use your help. Grazie!  Merci! Gracias!

On April 28, NBC’s Josh Lederman reported that a group of Canadian diplomats have accessed Canada’s government of withholding information about new cases of brain injury resulting from “Havana Syndrome”.  The report also says that the diplomats are citing “unacceptable delays” on coordinating care for Canadians affected, including numerous children who were accompanying their parents in Cuba. “Who knows what the long-term impacts will be?” the diplomats wrote.
Who knows what the long-term effect will be for the employees affected and the family members who were at these posts? For the State Department, the magic number appears to remain at 41 for those officially diagnosed. We do not have the number of employees who were not officially counted but whose lives and health were upended by the Department’s botched response to these attacks. We do not even know how many Foreign Service kids were similarly affected by these attacks.  Given the Department’s poor track record of handing these incidents going back to Moscow in the 1970’s, we need to keep asking questions.  Congress needs to step up in its oversight.
Back in early April, one of the questions we asked the State Department is to confirm that the mystery illness has been reported domestically (WH staffer in Arlington, a couple at UPENN)?  The State Department refused to answer that question and all our other questions.  See the rest of the questions here: Havana Syndrome Questions @StateDept Refuses to Answer.  We added a submitted question: #17. Why not expand the mandate of Ambassador Spratlen to include instances of previous microwave attacks, since those episodes were handled so badly by the State Department? Here is a little background: https://shoeone.blogspot.com/2013/09/moscow-microwaves.html
CNN is now reporting that “federal agencies are investigating at least two possible incidents on US soil, including one near the White House in November of last year, that appear similar to mysterious, invisible attacks that have led to debilitating symptoms for dozens of US personnel abroad. Multiple sources familiar with the matter tell CNN that while the Pentagon and other agencies probing the matter have reached no clear conclusions on what happened, the fact that such an attack might have taken place so close to the White House is particularly alarming.”
So there. Now that this has become “particularly alarming,” maybe we’ll learn some more?
Pardon me, what do you mean  …. “NO”!?
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US Mission India Now on ‘Voluntary Departure’ for Family Members of USG Employees (Updated)

Once a year, we ask for your support to keep this blog and your dedicated blogger going. So here we are on Week #7 of our eight-week annual fundraising. Our previous funding ran out in August 2020. We recognize that blogging life has no certainty, and this year is no exception.  If you care what we do here, please see GFM: https://gofund.me/32671a27.  We could use your help. Grazie!  Merci! Gracias!

Update 4/29/21 at 8:23 PST : The State Department’s official word on US Mission India’s authorized departure via the DPB of April 29, 2021:

QUESTION: The – in addition to this aid, you guys put out this new travel notice, travel alert today, which mentioned the authorized departure for families of U.S. government personnel at the embassy and the, what is it, four consulates. I’m just curious. Is this by popular demand? Were there people – and I know you don’t want to get into numbers or anything, but were people wanting to leave and have people left already under this – the authorized departure?

MR PRICE: Well, thanks for that question. And I think it’s important to speak for just a moment about what this was and importantly what this was not. Out of an abundance of caution, the Department of State authorized the voluntary departure, so-called authorized departure, of family members of embassy – at the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi and the consulates throughout the country. Authorized departure doesn’t force anyone to leave; it doesn’t require anyone to leave. It gives these family members the option to depart if they wish. Departure, again, is not required.

There’s also been I think some misreporting, perhaps a misperception, that we provided revised guidance to private American citizens in India. That is not true. There was a pro forma reissuance of the travel advisory, the level four travel advisory that had previously been in effect, given COVID not only in India but also globally as well.

QUESTION: Yeah, but are people taking advantage of it? Were people wanting this, or was it just decided from here and from the ambassador or whoever the charge is that this would be a good idea? I mean, is there a rush to the exits?

MR PRICE: I don’t have the numbers. I’m not sure we’d be able to provide them, regardless, given —

QUESTION: I don’t want your numbers. I just want to know if people are taking advantage of this.

MR PRICE: Well, I think it speaks to the fact that we put the safety and health of our employees and their families, in this case – we prioritize that, and so that is why the department thought it prudent to give them the option to depart the country if they so wished.

 

This is a follow-up post to @StateDept Mum on US Mission India’s Covid Outbreak: Four FSNs Dead (Not Two), 100+ Positive Cases, What Else?
We’ve learned that four locally employed staff have died at US Mission India due to COVID, and not two as previously reported. One FSN died in November, and three have died during the current wave. We understand that there’s “a ton of infections” at US Mission India. While most of those ill are locally employed staff, there are some U.S. direct hire Americans who are also sick. There is speculation that most of the infection occurred before the vaccine became available at posts. We understand that Mission India has now gone back to Phase 1, mostly conducting work via telework. 
Late on April 27, we also learned that family members of U.S. Government employees  were approved for authorized departure, an order that allows for their voluntary evacuation from post. There was no official announcement of the order on April 27. 
Previously, on April 21, 2021, the State Department issued a “Level 4-Do Not Travel” advisory for India due to COVID-19, crime, and terrorism.
On April 23, US Mission India issued an alert that Flights Departing India Are Available:

 Flights to U.S. cities remain open.  However, those originating from India to Canada, the UK, UAE, and South East Asia (Singapore, Hong Kong) have been suspended.  United Airlines temporarily cancelled their flights on April 23 from Delhi to Chicago, Newark, and San Francisco due to technical difficulties.  United is working to restore service as quickly as possible.  Travelers should check with the airline for scheduling updates.  United Airlines’ codeshare flights on Lufthansa and United’s flights from Mumbai have not been impacted.  Delta’s codeshare flights from India on Air France and KLM also remain operational.  The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued a Level 4 Travel Health Notice and the Department of State has issued a Level 4 Travel Advisory advising against all travel to India.

Post has issued three health alerts since April 28:
Late on April 28, the State Department issued an updated Level 4-Do Not Travel advisory for India advising Americans “not travel to India due to COVID-19” and to “exercise increased caution due to crime and terrorism.” It also announced  that the Department “on April 28, 2021 … approved the voluntary departure of family members of U.S. government employees.” It advised that “U.S. citizens who wish to depart India should take advantage of available commercial transportation options. “
The SCA bureau is currently headed by Acting A/S Dean Thompson while the nominee for assistant secretary Ambassador Donald Lu awaits confirmation.
No nominee has been announced for U.S. Mission India as of this writing.  US Mission India is currently under the leadership of Chargé D’Affaires Donald L. Heflin with Brian Heath as Acting Deputy Chief of Mission. The constituent posts are headed by the following career diplomats:

 

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@StateDept Mum on US Mission India’s Covid Outbreak: Four FSNs Dead (Not Two), 100+ Positive Cases, What Else? (Updated)

 

Once a year, we ask for your support to keep this blog and your dedicated blogger going. So here we are on Week #7 of our eight-week annual fundraising. Our previous funding ran out in August 2020. We recognize that blogging life has no certainty, and this year is no exception.  If you care what we do here, please see GFM: https://gofund.me/32671a27.  We could use your help. Grazie!  Merci! Gracias!

 

Update 4/27/21 4:11 PST:  We’ve learned that four FSNs have died at US Mission India due to COVID. One died in November, and three have died in the current second wave. We understand that there’s “a ton of infections” at US Mission India. While most of those ill are locally employed staff, there are some U.S. direct hire Americans who are also sick. There is speculation that most of the infection occurred before the vaccine shots became available. The Mission has now gone back to Phase 1 mostly conducting telework.  We understand that family members are now on authorized departure but we have not seen the official announcement yet. 
CNN is reporting that a COVID outbreak at US Mission India has resulted in the death of two locally employed staffers, and over 100 positive cases “in recent weeks.” The report did not indicate which posts the outbreak occurred.
During the Daily Press Briefing of April 26, one of the reporters asked about the outbreak, and here is the official non-answer:
QUESTION: Can you speak to reports of a outbreak among U.S. diplomatic staff in India, say how many are affected, and if perhaps, considering that, the U.S. might be looking at authorized departure?
MR PRICE: So I’m not in the position to confirm any cases within our staff. Obviously, privacy considerations limit what we can say. But as I have mentioned during the course of this briefing alone, India is enduring a deeply concerning outbreak, and the entire country has been affected. We obviously do have a large diplomatic presence within India. It is tantamount to the deep engagement and partnership we have with India. But I’m not in a position to speak to any cases within our staff or embassy community.
During the COVID outbreak in January at U.S. Forces Korea, USFK reported:
“19 new infections at Yongsan between Jan. 5 and Thursday. It provided no further information about the five late Thursday. Of the remaining 14, four are Defense Department employees, six are contractors, two are spouses, one is a dependent and one is a South Korean taxi driver.”
Unlike DOD, the State Department almost always hide behind “privacy considerations” when asked to account for the welfare of its employees overseas. We can understand if Department officials do not want to talk about a potential authorized departure order but note that the other question asked was for the number of employees affected by the COVD outbreak at US Mission India. The reporter was not asking for identifying information; the question was not an invasion of  an infected employee’s privacy. We want to know how many employees and family members have been affected by the pandemic at US Mission India and wehat is State doing about it. If as reported, medical facilities have been running out of oxygen and ICU beds, are there medevac flights?

OPM: Under what circumstances should an agency communicate to its employees that there is a confirmed case among one or more of its employees (without identifying the person/specific office)? View

The most recent publicly available information on staffing is from 2018. It indicates that the U.S. diplomatic mission in India which consists of the embassy in New Delhi and consulates general in Mumbai, Chennai, Hyderabad, and Kolkata, employed more than 2,500 U.S. and foreign nationals. As with other diplomatic posts, several agencies are represented at the mission, including the U.S. Commercial Service, the Foreign Agriculture Service, and elements of the Departments of Defense, Justice, Homeland Security, Treasury, and Health and Human Services.
The 2018 report also indicates that almost 40 percent of mission staff worked at the four constituent posts, and the Consuls General were in charge of staffs ranging from 183 in Kolkata to 391 in Mumbai. That means Embassy Delhi has about 60% of the total staff or around 1,500 U.S. and foreign nationals. These numbers do not include family members and members of household at Mission India.  However, we estimate that the number of family members/MOH at post could not be over 533. The Family Liaison Office’s data from Fall 2020 indicates that there are 533 family members “at post” for the South and Central Asian Affairs bureau which covers India plus 12 other countries.

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PSA: How to Get a Protective Order in Fairfax County, Virginia #DomesticViolence

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Also see News4: How to Get a Protective Order in Fairfax County.
Domestic and Sexual Violence 24-Hour Hotline 703-360-7273; TTY 711

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A Cautionary Tale: Divorce, Death and Survivor Benefits

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Via Beckstead v. Office of Personnel Management, 2020-1884 (Fed. Cir. Jan. 7, 2021) (MSPB Docket No. DE-0831-20-0119-I-1):
The court affirmed the administrative judge’s affirmance of OPM’s final decision denying the petitioner former spouse survivor annuity benefits. The court found that the survivor annuity election made during the petitioner’s marriage with the decedent terminated upon their post-retirement divorce and, despite the decedent’s receiving notice as required by statute of the election rights and obligations, no valid election was made or valid court order was issued granting the petitioner a former spouse survivor annuity.
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Background: Mrs. Beckstead was married to Lynn Beckstead (“Mr. Beckstead”) on February 4, 1965.
In 1971, Mr. Beckstead became a federal employee covered under the Civil Service Retirement System.
In 2007, he applied for retirement and elected a survivor annuity for his spouse, Mrs. Beckstead. Each year after Mr. Beckstead’s retirement, the Office of Personnel Management (“OPM”) sent him an Annual Notice of Survivor Annuity Election Rights (“Annual Notice”).
On December 3, 2009, Mr. and Mrs. Beckstead divorced. A state court in New Mexico issued a Default Decree of Dissolution of Marriage (“Divorce Decree”), which stated in relevant part that Mrs. Beckstead was entitled to:
Exactly one half (1/2) of any and all retirement benefits, 401(k) or other retirement account of [Lynn]. Such account(s) to be divided by Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO). 
SAppx. 10. The Divorce Decree did not specifically provide for a survivor annuity, and no QDRO was issued while Mr. Beckstead was alive. Following the divorce, Mr. Beckstead did not notify OPM of the divorce and he never made a new election of a survivor annuity for Mrs. Beckstead.
Mr. Beckstead died on July 9, 2018, and Mrs. Beckstead applied for survivor annuity benefits thereafter. OPM informed Mrs. Beckstead that her application could not be processed because her Divorce Decree did not include the referenced QDRO.
On January 18, 2019, more than seven months after Mr. Beckstead’s death, the New Mexico state court issued a QDRO. SAppx. 24–26.
On March 19, 2019, OPM informed Mrs. Beckstead that she was not entitled to survivor annuity benefits because the QDRO was issued after Mr. Beckstead’s death. OPM then reconsidered and reversed its decision on the basis that the agency had failed to properly notify Mr. Beckstead of his rights to preserve the survivor annuity benefit after a divorce. SAppx. 32. Upon further review, however, OPM concluded that Mr. Beckstead had received notices informing him of his rights, but he did not elect a survivor annuity for Mrs. Beckstead after their divorce. Thus, on December 6, 2019, OPM confirmed its initial finding that Mrs. Beckstead was not entitled to former spouse survivor annuity benefits. SAppx. 35–36.
Read in full here (pdf).

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Former FS Employee and Spouse Sentenced For Counterfeit Goods Trafficking

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On December 20, 2019, we blogged this: @StateDept Employee and Spouse Indicted for Trafficking in Counterfeit Goods from U.S. Embassy Seoul.  On March 18, 2021, USDOJ announced that the former employee and his spouse were sentenced for their roles in a conspiracy to traffic hundreds of thousands of dollars in counterfeit goods through e-commerce accounts operated from State Department computers at the U.S. Embassy in Seoul, Republic of Korea. Below via USDOJ:

Former State Department Employee Sentenced to Prison for Trafficking in Counterfeit Goods from U.S. Embassy

A former U.S. Department of State employee and his spouse were sentenced today for their roles in a conspiracy to traffic hundreds of thousands of dollars in counterfeit goods through e-commerce accounts operated from State Department computers at the U.S. Embassy in Seoul, Republic of Korea.
Gene Leroy Thompson Jr., 54, and Guojiao “Becky” Zhang, 40, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to traffic in counterfeit goods on Dec. 20. 2020. Thompson Jr. was sentenced to 18 months in prison and three years of supervised release. Zhang was sentenced to three years of supervised release, the first eight months of which will consist of home confinement. Thompson Jr. and Zhang were also ordered to forfeit a combined total of $229,302.
According to court documents, Thompson Jr. was an Information Programs Officer employed by the Department of State at the U.S. Embassy in Seoul, Republic of Korea, a position that required him to maintain a security clearance. Zhang resided with him in Seoul. Between September 2017 and December 2019, Thompson Jr. and Zhang sold counterfeit goods on a variety of e-commerce platforms. Thompson Jr. used his State Department computer at the embassy to create numerous e-commerce accounts, including additional accounts under aliases to continue the conspiracy and avoid detection after several e-commerce platforms suspended the couple’s other accounts for fraudulent activity. Zhang took primary responsibility for operating the accounts, communicating with customers, and procuring merchandise to be stored in the District of Oregon. Thompson Jr. and Zhang also directed a co-conspirator in the District of Oregon to ship items to purchasers across the United States.
Acting Assistant Attorney General Nicholas L. McQuaid of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division; Acting U.S. Attorney Scott Erik Asphaug of the District of Oregon; and Assistant Director Ricardo Colón of the U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) made the announcement.
The case was investigated by the DSS Office of Special Investigations with assistance from the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. The case is being prosecuted by Senior Counsel Frank Lin of the Criminal Division’s Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section, Trial Attorney Jay Bauer of the Criminal Division’s Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Amy Potter of the District of Oregon.

 


 

 

AAFSW Announces Winners For the Secretary of State Award for Outstanding Volunteerism Abroad (SOSA)

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The Associates of the American Foreign Service Worldwide (AAFSW) recently announced the awardees for the Secretary of State Award for Outstanding Volunteerism Abroad (SOSA). The official awarding ceremony typically occurs sometime in fall. We will keep an eye out for that later this year. The 2020 SOSA Winners and Honorable Mention Awardees are as follows:

AFRICAN AFFAIRS: Michelle Collett (Libreville, Gabon): 

Michelle advanced the goals of environmental protection and awareness both inside and outside the Mission. To protect sea turtles and their habitats, she organized a group of volunteers to regularly patrol the local beach every day during the nesting season of September to March. Michelle arranged training from the Wildlife Conservation Society for her volunteers and set up communication between guards and residents of local homes and businesses to inform them of the volunteer conservation efforts and to gather their firsthand information of beach wildlife nighttime activities. She also acted as a liaison with the federal government environmental agency, a trash company, a recycling company, and schools to organize beach trash cleanups. In addition, Michelle coordinated a speaker program at a local military English school, providing native English speakers to make presentations and grade the students’ final presentations. During her three years in Gabon, through church, school, and community events, Michelle volunteered as a soccer coach, music instructor, choir director, and drama teacher. Additionally, Michelle won the J. Kirby Simon grant to install a well, build bathrooms, and construct water storage for an orphanage and children’s shelter whose residents were using the same stream for bathing, drinking, and waste disposal. Finally, Michelle played a pivotal role in helping family members in the Mission community stay informed about local, national and State Department updates during the early days of COVID-19.

EAST ASIAN AND PACIFIC AFFAIRS: Jane Thompson (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia)

Drawing on her experience in early childhood education, Jane created and presented numerous programs at the international school and local Malaysian schools aimed at children with special needs. Topics included sleep, brain development, parenting skills and setting positive boundaries. She helped organize an Embassy program on autism and rare medical conditions to raise awareness and highlight the work of Malaysian NGOs. Jane wrote and implemented grant proposals through the Simon Kirby Trust to provide resources for refugees. With a team of fellow volunteers, Jane created play-based learning kits and first aid kits to distribute to refugee mothers and provided first aid training to young refugee families. She further volunteers with UNHCR to improve training programs for refugee women on education, hygiene and domestic violence. During the COVID-19 stay-at-home orders, Jane coordinated numerous activities to maintain community morale, including online yoga classes, virtual Embassy trivia nights, and virtual story time for children. She also set up a virtual children’s town hall to answer young children’s questions about the lockdown.

EUROPE AND EURASIAN AFFAIRS: Mikell Reed Carroll (Zagreb, Croatia)

Mikell volunteered with the agency Refugee Aid Serbia, through one of its facilities, The Workshop, a place that provides hope to refugees through education and recreation.  Volunteers there teach English, Serbian, German, French and math. They also offer special outings and workshops on music, art, science and other subjects, open to all ages. Mikell led donation drives in 2017 and 2019; for items desperately needed by refugees at the camps and for educational materials for The Workshop. She collected and personally delivered more than $10,000 USD in donations of clothing, educational materials, toys, books and winter items.  A number of the winter items were hand knit by a group of senior citizens in Mikell’s hometown, at a senior center where she has volunteered for nearly a decade. She told them about the project and asked them to knit children’s winter hats, mittens, scarves and blankets, and they produced hundreds of handmade items that helped to keep refugee children in the Western Balkans warm.

NEAR EASTERN AFFAIRS: Kimberly Arsenault (Amman, Jordan)

Kimberly volunteered for 20 hours each week with the Hope Workshop, a Collateral Repair Project, which is a craft collective providing refugee women (Iraqis, Syrian, Yemeni and in-need Jordanian women) the space to collaborate, create and socialize while earning additional income for their households. In 2019, she raised approximately $20,000 for Hope, helping with sales and inventory control at local craft bazaars. Kimberly is also highly active within the Embassy community. She organized a soccer program for 50 embassy children ages 5-14, and arranged games with a local soccer league, as well as an adult tournament that brought together 70 Embassy players. Kimberly assists her post’s Community Liaison Office with initiatives such as art events and game nights. Kimberly also founded a parents’ chat group to keep Embassy parents informed and providing a place to ask questions.

SOUTH AND CENTRAL ASIAN AFFAIRS: Brendan Melchiorri (Islamabad, Pakistan)

As a volunteer, Brendan took responsibility for a four-month-long initiative to raise morale and increase team spirit at post. He created the Consular Cup, a series of innovative competitions inspired by the Hogwarts Houses in the Harry Potter book series. With participants sorted into one of four teams based on a personality quiz designed by Brendan, over 120 Foreign Service personnel and local staff from nearly all sections of the Embassy joined together to win points in dozens of events, including volleyball matches, trivia nights, dodgeball tournaments, art contests, crossword puzzles, and kickball games. Participants also earned points for hosting their own competitions, inspiring members of the community to showcase their own unique talents. The Consular Cup significantly improved overall morale at a critical-threat post with over 1000 employees and generated camaraderie between the many different offices of the Embassy. Participants are now continuing the initiative by leading their own events, amplifying Brendan’s morale building efforts and underscoring the sustainable nature of the project.

Megan Johnson (Islamabad, Pakistan)

During her two years at the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, Megan worked tirelessly to create and expand opportunities for Embassy employees to stay fit and healthy. An avid triathlete, Megan was the co-race director of two triathlons, including a 5K, 10K and children’s race. These events drew hundreds of diplomatic participants, volunteers, and spectators, boosting the spirit of collaboration among diplomatic missions. Megan also encouraged Pakistani participation, including young girls who have fewer opportunities to swim, bike and run than boys the same age. She coordinated with Embassy security and like-minded missions to create more options for cyclists to bike beyond the small Diplomatic Enclave while carefully managing the need for safety and security. This led to a regular cycling group of 15+ cyclists for weekly rides. She established relationships with local bike shops to provide resources for bike repair and purchasing. Megan also co-chaired the Federal Women’s Program, organizing regular professional development sessions and events that included members from other diplomatic missions to foster women’s empowerment at post and within the diplomatic community.

WESTERN HEMISPHERE AFFAIRS: Moises Mendoza (Matamoros, Mexico)

Moises carried out an intensive research project to illuminate the nearly 200-year history of U.S. Consulate Matamoros. Partnering with a local university, he identified and organized primary- source resources to allow other researchers to launch their own investigations into the Consulate’s role in the region. To assist and protect his fellow Consulate community members, he designed a smartphone add-on that overlaid color-coded green and red zones over Google Maps to instantly alert personnel and family members when they strayed out of the designated “green zone” and provide directions on how to return.  This tool was adopted widely in the Consulate community. Moises also noticed a void in medical care at the Consulate, due to local limitations and the lack of a post medical office. In response, he took evening classes to become an emergency medical technician and CPR instructor.


The AAFSW selection committees also decided to add an Honorable Mention category to further recognize nominees. The 2020 Honorable Mention Awardees include:

AF Melody McCambridge (Gaborone, Botswana)

Melody worked with the Government of Botswana, the private sector and the local community to build a community library, which serves as a gathering place for the community and a learning center for children. Melody took responsibility for fundraising and managing the funds to strategically purchase relevant resources for the library. As a volunteer, she taught others to use available resources to deliver the government-managed curriculum in an engaging and effective manner. Melody used texts from the new library to establish an English-language learning program with exercises in letter knowledge, phonemic awareness and fluency. In addition, she helped bridge socioeconomic divides by organizing weekly events in which private school students read together at the library with the underserved students of Bosele.

EAP Quinzy Johnson (Seoul, Korea)

Upon his arrival in Seoul, Quinzy immediately undertook efforts to find a way to help the city’s most vulnerable people. He regularly volunteered to distribute food to over 2100 homeless people at a shelter, as part of a monthly program organized by the Embassy. Forming a corps of more than 10 volunteers to provide continued support, he trained new recruits and expanded and improved the services at the shelter. As a board member for the Embassy Employees’ Association, he led several initiatives, such as partnering with vendors near the former US Army base on joint ventures that would bring income to them while benefiting the Embassy community. For the Embassy Fleischmeister Association, which hosts biannual events open to the local community, he raised funds, managed events, cooked and served food, and planned the ceremony. He helped raise more than $2000, which was donated to the Korean Breast Cancer Foundation.

 EUR Angela Spellman (Yerevan, Armenia)

Angela’s commitment to the Mission community spans the range from the Community Liaison Office (CLO) and the Marine Security Guard detachment, to the adults in the Mission, as well as all of the Eligible Family Member kids. If the CLO has an event or needs an extra person, dish of food, or a sponsor, Angela is the one person who always steps in before she is even asked. Every week, Angela volunteers at the Sister of Charity orphanage to assist with over 15 children with severe physical and mental disabilities. On other days, Angela can be found at the QSI International School, volunteering, chaperoning school trips, or substituting for a teacher. She has never missed a Parent Support Group meeting, to inform QSI of the post community’s needs and help ensure that they are met.

WHA Georgina Allen (Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic)

Georgina was an early member of the Santo Domingo Volunteer Club, which focuses on literacy, education, and crafts projects with children in the local community. She expanded the volunteer recruitment program, created a club website which allowed people to sign up online, and launched other creative initiatives for people to learn more about the new club and ways to help. She drafted a proposal for the J. Kirby Simon Foreign Service Trust, securing a grant of $1,500. This money was used for art supplies, learning resources, and even expansion of the club’s space, providing more room in which to play and learn while also enhancing physical security. She raised a further $400 while helping to publicize the club’s activities and recruit new volunteers. She also volunteered with an organization focused on empowering some of the poorest Haitians, using her expertise in business operations to analyze various business models, including required startup funds needed from donors, levels of complexity, sustainability, and various risk factors. She wrote detailed proposals for the founder, which shaped the direction of this innovative and important organization serving Haitian women.

The original announcement is available here via AAFSW.

 

 

 

@SecBlinken’s Memo on COVID-19 Vaccinations and His Commitment to @StateDept Employees

Last week, Secretary Blinken sent a memo to State Department employees titled, “COVID-19 and My Commitment to You.”
The memo notes that “Our first priority must be to take care of our people—the more than 76,000 women and men who carry out the work of the Department in good times and tough times.”
He addressed the vaccination question:
“I know that many of you are asking, “When will I be vaccinated?” “When will my family be vaccinated?” My team and I want to get you and your families vaccinated as soon as possible—and we want to make this process as transparent as possible, so you have a better sense of how long it will take. We won’t stop until the entire workforce has the opportunity to be vaccinated. I wish this process were faster, but rest assured that we are pushing hard, and we will get there.”
The memo further notes that the State Department has “deployed nearly 80 percent of our received vaccine allotment to our overseas workforce” to-date. “Everyone at a given post is offered the vaccine at the same time. As the national supply increases, we will keep making the case for the State Department to receive our full allotment—as the lead foreign affairs agency and an integral member of the national security community with employees deployed in every corner of the globe, often in harm’s way,” Secretary Blinken wrote.
In his memo, Secretary Blinken also said, “we commit to keeping you informed with regular updates in the weeks ahead.”
He also encouraged all employees “to use leave to rest and recoup—and to seek help when necessary” and urged the need “to care of ourselves—and each other.”
Finally, Secretary Blinken said that he reminded the leadership team that we have no greater responsibility than the health, safety, and wellbeing of the people we’ve been entrusted to lead. Collectively, we are doing everything we can to support our entire workforce. We will get through this. And until then, let’s be sure to show one another the consideration, respect, and kindness everyone deserves. That’s how we will emerge from this crisis a strong—maybe even stronger—team, just as we’ve done in the face of other challenges throughout our long history.”
Also see @StateDept’s Vaccination Efforts For Overseas Posts Under Fire, a Test for @SecBlinken.