2017 Constructive Dissent and Exemplary Performance Award Recipients and Runners-Up

AFSA congratulates this year’s recipients of our awards for constructive dissent and exemplary performance!

 

Mariju L. Bofill, Cecilia S. Choi, Christina T. Le, and Thomas T. Wong

Asian American Foreign Affairs Association

William R. Rivkin Award for Constructive Dissent by a Mid-Level Officer

Mariju L. Bofill, Cecilia S. Choi, Christina T. Le, and Thomas T. Wong of the Asian American Foreign Affairs Association are recipients of the 2017 William R. Rivkin Award for their continued successes in improving transparency and clarity of State Department assignment restrictions, and in creating an appeals mechanism to review cases. Recognizing that the lack of clarity and transparency in assignment restrictions hinders the department’s efforts to utilize its diverse workforce and denies employees the opportunities to apply their language and cultural assets to advance the department’s mission, the former and current presidents of AAFAA consulted with the American Foreign Service Association, lawyers and senior department leaders in an effort to work within the system to advocate for change.

Mariju L. Bofill first raised the issue with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2009, after consultations with the department’s legal adviser. She passed the baton on to Cecilia S. Choi the following year. Ms. Choi worked with the Bureau of Diplomatic Security in an attempt to find a fair solution.

Thomas T. Wong presented a white paper to then-Deputy Secretaries of State Antony Blinken and Heather Higginbottom in 2015, requesting the establishment of an independent and timely appeal mechanism. He and Christina T. Le worked with Diplomatic Security through AFSA to negotiate the language for an appeals process for assignment restrictions. Ms. Le continued to raise assignment restrictions with the Deputy Secretary throughout 2016, long after the December 2015 deadline had passed to write new language into the Foreign Affairs Manual.

She also raised the topic with AFSA President Ambassador Barbara Stephenson, and regularly met with AFSA State Vice President Angie Bryan to discuss the issue. Ms. Le finally pushed for the publication of updated FAM regulations on assignment restrictions in November 2016. The FAM was updated to include language creating an appeals mechanism that ensures employees receive notification of the factual grounds for their assignment denial, are given an opportunity to address the security concerns, and are provided a second review of their case.

The AAFAA presidents have shown great dedication, patience and passion over the years to work respectfully within the system to get to a positive conclusion that will be beneficial to AAFAA members and other department employees.

Cecilia S. Choi is a Foreign Service officer at the Department of State. She currently serves as the director for trade and investment at the National Security Council. Her most recent overseas assignment was in Honduras, where she was the economic counselor. She has also served in South Korea and Turkey. Previously, Ms. Choi worked in investor relations at Thomson Financial in New York, where she advised Fortune 500 companies on how to promote their publicly traded offerings to institutional investors. Ms. Choi earned a master’s degree in development studies from the London School of Economics where she focused on cocoa production in Africa. She holds a bachelor’s degree in economics and international relations from Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, California.

Christina T. Le is a Foreign Service Officer with the U.S. Department of State, and a 2017 Next Generation National Security Fellow at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS). She has served in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), as the Philippines Desk Officer in the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs (EAP), and overseas in Greece and Mexico. Ms. Le previously held research positions at a microfinance non-profit organization and at the University of Chicago's Harris Graduate School of Public Policy, and served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Kyrgyzstan. She is a 2016 alumna of the International Career Advancement Program (ICAP). She graduated with honors from the University of Chicago with degrees in Political Science and International Studies. Ms. Le speaks Vietnamese, Spanish, Greek, Kyrgyz, and is currently learning Japanese for her next assignment.

Thomas T. Wong is an economic-coned officer assigned to the American Institute in Taiwan in Taipei, and will assume the political-military portfolio there in June 2017. His previous postings include Guadalajara and consecutive tours in Washington in the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs. While in Washington, Tom served two terms as president of the Department of State's Asian American Foreign Affairs Association from 2014 to 2016, and as vice president from 2013 to 2014. Prior to joining the Foreign Service in 2010, Tom worked in the private sector as a management consultant and also served in the U.S. Army. He has a B.S. from the U.S. Military Academy, and an M.A. from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. Tom is married to Suzanne Wong, also an FSO; they have two young children.

Mariju Bofill is currently the Information Officer at the U.S. Consulate General in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Mariju began her career at the Department of State in 2001 as a Presidential Management Fellow and joined the Foreign Service in 2004. Prior to arriving in Sao Paulo, Mariju was the Special Assistant to the Assistant Secretary of State for Legislative Affairs, who is responsible for coordinating all of the Department of State's activities with the U.S. Congress. Her overseas postings also include Paris, Guayaquil, Matamoros, and Athens. In Washington, Mariju was the Desk Officer for France, Malta, and Monaco, and a Staff Assistant for the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs. As a Presidential Management Fellow, Mariju served in various capacities in the Bureau of Counterterrorism, the Bureau of International Organizations Affairs and the Bureau of Nonproliferation. Ms. Bofill speaks fluent Portuguese, Spanish, French and Pilipino/Tagalog. She is accompanied in São Paulo by her husband and their sons.

 

Wendy Brafman

U.S. Embassy Kampala, Uganda

William R. Rivkin Award for Constructive Dissent by a Mid-Level Officer

Ms. Brafman joined the Foreign Service in 2005. She has served in Kinshasa, Cairo, Baghdad and Washington and is currently serving as Consular Chief in Kampala. She earned a B.A. in French and foreign affairs from the University of Virginia and a J.D. from the University of South Carolina School of Law. Before joining the Foreign Service, she was in private law practice, worked for a non-governmental organization in Kosovo and served as a congressional staffer. Her husband is also a Foreign Service officer. She speaks French and some Arabic.

Wendy Brafman is being honored for her work in redeveloping Uganda’s intercountry adoption process. The Consular Affairs Bureau’s established policy is to support intercountry adoption of orphans where there are no domestic options and it is in the best interests of the child. Since at least 2012, foreigners without any in-country residency requirement have been able to adopt children from Uganda by obtaining guardianship of the children from the Ugandan courts. Consular officers have expressed concern over these adoptions for several years, but without successfully persuading CA to change its position.

Upon her arrival in 2015, Ms. Brafman realized that the adoption system in Uganda was profoundly broken. Documentation was often fraudulent, questionable or nonexistent, the government was not enforcing its own rules and policies, U.S. citizens were being pressed to pay bribes, and children were being accepted for adoption and rushed through the system without due diligence. Adoption intermediaries were securing substantial fees this way.

Ms. Brafman had long faced substantial pressure to issue—expeditiously—dozens of immigration visas to adoptive children.

Ms. Brafman repeatedly raised her concerns about violations of Ugandan law and regulations with CA colleagues, initially through phone calls and later, increasingly, in front-channel cables. Through a series of 15 targeted cables, she steadily built the case about the preponderance of fraud and the fleecing of U.S. citizen parents occurring in Uganda, which ultimately persuaded CA to make the unprecedented decision to bar a particular adoption provider not only in Uganda but worldwide and to consider suspending adoptions from Uganda."

Thanks to Ms. Brafman’s perseverance and dedication, both vulnerable Ugandan children and U.S. parents are protected from those who seek to exploit the adoption process for their own ends.

Ms. Brafman joined the Foreign Service in 2005. She has served in Kinshasa, Cairo, Baghdad and Washington and is currently serving as Consular Chief in Kampala. She earned a B.A. in French and foreign affairs from the University of Virginia and a J.D. from the University of South Carolina School of Law. Before joining the Foreign Service, she was in private law practice, worked for a non-governmental organization in Kosovo and served as a congressional staffer. Her husband is also a Foreign Service officer. She speaks French and some Arabic.

 

Elzar T. Camper

U.S. Embassy Cairo, Egypt

F. Allen ‘Tex’ Harris Award for Constructive Dissent by a Foreign Service Specialist

Elzar T. Camper receives this year’s F. Allen “Tex” Harris Award for Constructive Dissent by a Foreign Service Specialist for his commitment to empowering and promoting Diplomatic Security to achieve its visa and passport security program mandate overseas. While assigned to U.S. Embassy Cairo as an assistant regional security officer for investigations (ARSO-I), Mr. Camper authored a dissent cable in direct reference to President Trump’s executive order on “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States.”

Mr. Camper was clear in his message he believed current interagency efforts to screen the majority of visa applicants were adequate; however, he clearly articulated his dissent against department policy, which he felt historically has not empowered and promoted Diplomatic Security to implement many of the increased screening objectives President Trump outlined in his executive order, as well as those outlined in 22 U.S. Code 4807: Establishment of Visa and Passport Security Program in the Department of State.

While many in the State Department focused on the ideal of fairness in regards to the executive order, Mr. Camper had the moral courage and intellectual ability to take an unpopular, though well-researched stance, highlighting current deficiencies in department policies that provided the president an avenue to question and criticize the department’s ability to adequately screen select visa applicants. Mr. Camper’s constructive dissent provided a neutral and objective viewpoint on a very controversial issue. He was aware of the risk, but remained confident that any potentially negative consequences were outweighed by the chance of a positive change in department policy.

Having the courage to engage and provide an opinion on high-level department policy is a decision Mr. Camper did not take lightly. He knew that every sentence and word would be scrutinized, and he meticulously prepared a sound argument. He provided policy recommendations to increase the department’s ability to achieve many of the requirements outlined in the executive order, knowing that simply highlighting deficiencies in policy would be a failed exercise without providing feasible, cost-effective solutions.

Mr. Camper’s recommendations had an immediate impact, and were used by DS as talking points during working group sessions between DS and Consular Affairs. In addition, DS used Mr. Camper’s recommendations when meeting with officials from the National Security Council to discuss future visa security initiatives. Mr. Camper not only provided well-researched recommendations, but also explained the possible pitfalls of having the entire visa security function outsourced to a third party agency.

Mr. Camper was born in Norristown, Pennsylvania, and earned his B.S in criminal justice with a minor in computer science from West Chester University of Pennsylvania in 2005. He also earned master’s degrees in software engineering and information science from Pennsylvania State University in 2012 and 2008 respectively. During his tenure in the Foreign Service, he served in the Bureau of Diplomatic Security’s Washington Field Office, as Branch Chief of Operational Threats and Analysis at Diplomatic Security headquarters, and at post in Karachi, Cairo and Kabul.

 

Dr. Henry Throop

U.S. Consulate Mumbai, India

Avis Bohlen Award for Exemplary Performance by an Eligible Family Member

Dr. Henry Throop is the recipient of this year’s Avis Bohlen award for exemplary performance by an eligible family member. Dr. Throop is an astrophysicist who works remotely as a contractor on several NASA-funded missions and research projects while at post with his family.

In addition, he also volunteers about 20 percent of his time each week to conduct unpaid science outreach to underserved students in his host country. Dr. Throop has inspired tens of thousands of students across Mexico, India and South Africa over the last eight years through more than 200 lively talks on topics including NASA’s New Horizons Mission to Pluto, astrobiology and the search for life on Mars. It’s not often that children from rural areas get to meet a “real NASA scientist”—much less one as enthusiastic and positive as Dr. Throop, who gladly pays out of pocket for dry ice to demonstrate how comets are formed, or cheerfully carries telescopes to offer tours of the night sky to an entire village.

Many students have stayed in touch with Dr. Throop after his visit to their school to ask for advice on pathways to STEM careers, and several are now studying astronomy or other hard sciences in the United States after following his advice.

At post in India, he has received over 100 requests for unpaid talks from schools and groups across the country. He has spoken at schools for disadvantaged students in low-income areas of Mumbai, delivered a lecture at the American Center in Kolkata, and reached hundreds of thousands of students through a TV appearance in Hyderabad. His walls are covered with drawings from children who have enjoyed his talks, and his Facebook feed is full of selfies taken with eager Indian students.

By building people-to-people ties, encouraging children to pursue STEM careers, and helping to develop the bilateral space-science relationship at each post, Dr. Throop’s volunteer work has directly supported the mission goals at each of his posts. His former colleagues at NASA are highly supportive, too. In fact, he has hosted a number of NASA visitors at post and taken them out to volunteer at schools, support science fairs and deliver science supplies to underserved children. His presentation on how to do science outreach in rural communities was a tremendous hit at the last meeting of the Department of Planetary Science, the largest professional meeting of astronomers in the U.S.

Dr. Throop is a prime example of a talented EFM who has continued to succeed in his professional career (as a researcher and professor) while also volunteering a significant portion of his time to advance the interests of the United States at each post.

Dr. Throop is senior scientist with the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Arizona. He has worked remotely from his postings in Mumbai, Pretoria, Mexico City and Washington D.C., , accompanying his wife, Foreign Service Officer Heidi Hattenbach, and their three children. His research focuses on the outer solar system, and he has published over 60 articles in scientific journals, on topics ranging from to rings of Saturn and Jupiter, to planet formation, to astrobiology, to searching for (and co-discovering) Pluto's smallest moon, Styx, in 2012.

Dr. Throop is member of the science team for NASA's New Horizons mission, which in 2015 made the historic first flyby of Pluto. He is a frequent consultant to NASA and the National Science Foundation, and his work has been featured in Science, Nature, Time, The Washington Post, and the BBC, and on the History Channel and National Geographic TV, as well in dozens of interviews from Johannesburg to Lima to Ljubljana.

 

Diane G. Corbin

U.S. Embassy Juba, South Sudan

Nelson B. Delavan Award for Exemplary Performance by an Office Management Specialist

Diane Corbin is the year’s recipient of the Nelson B. Delavan award for continually going above and beyond her responsibilities as an office management specialist. In July 2016, intense fighting broke out between government and opposition forces in Juba.

To assist in the crisis Ms. Corbin assumed the role of auxiliary consular officer, staffing the regular and consular duty phones for days on end, fielding hundreds of calls from American citizens worried for their safety. She worked tirelessly to collect and collate their information, which was invaluable when the time came to evacuate them from South Sudan. At the airport, she hand-wrote and re-wrote passenger manifests, and validated and protected U.S. citizen passport information.

Ms. Corbin's official role is OMS for the executive office, but that does not begin to describe the contribution she makes to the embassy and her role in advancing America’s foreign policy priorities. She is the gatekeeper for a very busy ambassador, and ensures that her appointments are prioritized and that she has all the material she needs to make her day run efficiently. She simultaneously takes care of several schedules, and as the only OMS in the embassy is the point of contact and source for information, guidance and encouragement for more than 200 American and local employees.

Ms. Corbin’s sense of community service came to the fore when the beloved Information Resource Manager, Andy Jordan, suddenly and tragically passed away at post. Ms. Corbin stayed with the body throughout the transit back to the United States. She looked after every detail, including ensuring that Andy was wearing fresh clothing when his family first saw him. She provided comfort and assistance to the family, and has maintained contact with them, helping to ensure all necessary paperwork for resources available to the family is properly processed.

Ms. Corbin's spirit of volunteerism is infectious. This is most visible in her commitment to a local orphanage. She organizes weekly trips for officers to volunteer, often goes more than once a week herself, and spent many hours making sure that every child at the orphanage had an unforgettable Christmas and felt special after receiving dozens of personalized gifts. These visits do wonders not only for the children, but also for the morale of embassy staff.

Ms. Corbin embodies the best of the Foreign Service. She is patient, selfless, and the consummate team player. Despite constant demands on her attention and time, she is always positive, accessible and friendly. When faced with unexpected or trying circumstances, Ms. Corbin always does more than what is required of her.

Ms. Corbin joined the Foreign Service as an OMS in September 2002. She began her career in the regional security office in Embassy Guatemala, followed by the political section in Embassy Panama, where she was asked to stay a third year as the ambassador's OMS. She did a short stint in Washington, D.C., and then went overseas again, assigned to Addis Ababa as the OMS for the deputy chief of mission. In Ethiopia, she was again asked to stay for a third year to work as the ambassador's OMS. After Addis she went to Embassy Santo Domingo as the OMS for the deputy chief of mission. Eighteen months into that tour, she left the island paradise of the Dominican Republic to work as the ambassador's OMS —the only OMS—in Juba, South Sudan.

She extended her tour in Juba to make it a 29-month assignment. Ms. Corbin has a total of over 30 years of federal government service, having served in six different agencies. She is the parent of two children. She is a New Englander, having lived pre-Foreign Service in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine. She is a huge Patriots fan, and can frequently be heard to say: Go Sox!

 

Judith Brown

U.S. Embassy Yaoundé, Cameroon

Nelson B. Delavan Award Runner-Up

Judith Brown is this year’s runner up for the Nelson B. Delavan Award. Ms. Brown has served with great distinction as office management specialist to the chief of mission (COM) at U.S. Embassy Yaoundé. She has managed, at times, the work of at least three people with intelligence, calm and strong interpersonal and job knowledge skills. She did so at a most critical moment for the U.S. Mission in its recent history—while the Republic of Cameroon fought against Boko Haram's atrocities in the Lake Chad Basin Region, leading to increased U.S. security assistance, including the deployment of U.S. troops and while the nation also faced the largest domestic crisis in its recent history with the uprisings of Anglophones in the northwest and southwest regions. When added to the everyday work of promoting security and good governance, managing pandemic health risks and promoting private sector investment, the pace of the office became frenetic. Thankfully, Ms. Brown was there to bring a Zen-like calm to the chaos.

She quickly adapted to her role and transformed the front office from a place of tension and drama to a place people actually enjoyed visiting to conduct country team business. The whole front office was transformed thanks to her ability to calm down stressed people and not allow frantic levels of activity to change her unfailingly pleasant demeanor. The ambassador was so impressed with the results of Ms. Brown's efforts that he asked her to stay on. After being permanently elevated to the role, she still often wore multiple hats due to a series of illnesses and family deaths that befell other office management specialists at post. Through it all, Ms. Brown has remained steadfast and positive.

She is the chair of the Inter Agency Housing Board and as such assures fairness to the point that not a single appeal has been raised to the front office level. She commands the respect of the management section sufficiently to be able to push them to meet people's needs. Ms. Brown also mentored new colleagues who arrived at post, developed tremendously positive relations with members of the country team and their staff members, knows most of the locally employed staff members by name, and understands that each has a key role in advancing the front office's priorities.

Judy Brown joined the State Department in May 2012. Her first post was Addis Ababa, where she worked as an office management specialist in the political and economic section. Following French language training, Ms. Brown was posted to Yaoundé, Cameroon. Judy also served two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Republic of Kiribati.

 

René Gutel

U.S. Embassy Beijing, China

Mark Palmer Award for the Advancement of Democracy

René Gutel is a co-recipient of this year’s Mark Palmer Award for the Advancement of Democracy for her continued efforts to ensure that the United States maintains a strong stance on important matters of principle while having a measurable impact on the Chinese government’s treatment of political dissidents. Despite the perception of many skeptics that China will not react to international pressure on human rights, Ms. Gutel’s efforts have proven that persistence and well-timed action can generate productive results.

The key to Ms. Gutel’s success has been collaboration, both with likeminded embassies in Beijing’s diplomatic community and within Mission China. Her advocacy for joint action led to a letter from likeminded ambassadors to Chinese leaders urging greater respect for human rights. This letter became the basis for a joint statement at the UN Human Rights Council that many in the human rights community called “precedent setting.”  Acting in concert with other countries has reinforced to Chinese authorities that the United States does not stand alone on human rights issues.

Meanwhile, Ms. Gutel combined her creative outreach to the diplomatic community and Mission China colleagues with the strong relationships she had built with China’s human rights community to succeed in pressuring the Chinese government to take action on human rights where and when they otherwise would not have. Family members have reported that their detained loved ones have received better treatment as a result of international attention to their cases, and lawyers have pointed to reduced sentences for human rights lawyers, journalists, and dissidents whose trials Ms. Gutel and her diplomatic counterparts have attempted to attend.

Ms. Gutel’s previous assignments include the U.S. Mission to UNESCO in Paris and the U.S. consulate in Shenyang, China. Before joining the State Department in 2010, she was a public radio journalist working at NPR member stations in Alaska, Pennsylvania and Arizona. Ms. Gutel graduated magna cum laude from Mount Holyoke College with a degree in French and Middle Eastern studies and later did post-graduate work at the University of California – Berkeley in comparative literature and journalism. She is married to poet John Tynan. They have two young children.

 

Ambassador Tulinabo Salama Mushingi

U.S. Embassy Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso

Mark Palmer Award for the Advancement of Democracy

Ambassador Tulinabo Mushingi’s Foreign Service career is filled with superlatives; among the most notable of his achievements was being instrumental in halting a coup while serving as ambassador to Burkina Faso and helping usher in the country’s first peaceful democratic transfer of power.

When protests turned into an uprising in October 2014, Ambassador Mushingi called for nonviolence and an adherence to a constitutional transfer of power. As the former president fled, Amb. Mushingi insisted upon three things from the new military figures in charge: 1) hand over power to civilian authorities, 2) reinstate the constitution, and 3) hold elections in 2015. His name the language fluency and power to tactfully deliver a direct message in a society where messages are often subtle and offered indirectly encouraged new people to get involved.

Ambassador Mushingi wanted the broad participation of all stakeholders—even those who supported the former president. Military authorities complied with his requests, and the country began preparing for elections. When the elite Presidential Security Regiment, loyal to the former president, made efforts to derail the march towards elections, Mushingi epitomized 21st-century diplomacy by setting up an office in his car and hitting the phones.

In September 2015, the RSP staged a coup d’état. Ambassador Mushingi decried the violent takeover and called for the immediate reinstatement of the transitional government. Instead of leaving, Amb. Mushingi remained in place by his phone. Making calls throughout the coup, he used his influence and exhausted every personal relationship to prevent the killing of civilians and a direct face-to-face confrontation between the RSP and the military.

In one negotiation, unruly demonstrators forced security to fire warning shots and negotiators to hide. Later, the embassy’s proof-of-life tweet showing the then-hostage prime minister calmed many preparing to take to the streets in revenge. Ambassador Mushingi also worked to prevent a possible extra-judicial killing of the coup leader and slaughter of his supporters.

Recognizing the importance of legitimate elections at this delicate stage, Amb. Mushingi renewed calls to carry on with the vote, never wavering from the third U.S. demand even while other diplomats discussed a delay. Finally, on Nov. 29, 2015, the country held open presidential elections, and a month later, the first transition of power from one civilian to another in its history.

Amb. Mushingi joined the Foreign Service in 1989. During a previous assignment to the Foreign Service Institute from 1989 to 1991, Mushingi successfully implemented concrete measures to diversify the faculty corps of one of the largest FSI language sections. He has worked for the Peace Corps in Papua New Guinea, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Niger and the Central African Republic. He has also been a visiting lecturer at Dartmouth College for many years and taught at Howard University. He was awarded a Ph.D. from Georgetown University and an M.A. from Howard University.

 

Maria Elena Barrón

USAID Mission Kathmandu, Nepal

Mark Palmer Award for the Advancement of Democracy Runner-Up

Maria Barrón is this year’s runner up for the Mark Palmer Award for the Advancement of Democracy for her work in assisting the government of Nepal to achieve historic milestones in its transition from a post-conflict monarchy to a stable democracy.

At Embassy Kathmandu, Ms. Barrón served as director of USAID/Nepal’s Democracy and Governance Office. Throughout her tenure at post, as a result of her unparalleled understanding of the political environment, Ms. Barrón played an instrumental role in interpreting the opaque political landscape and advising multiple ambassadors and other key decision makers about appropriate points of intervention to help the country achieve each of the peace process milestones.

Ms. Barrón also applied her visionary leadership and technical prowess to oversee the development and implementation of a fluid U.S. government strategy to support Nepal’s political transition throughout the years. Her steadfast commitment to the principles of democracy, human rights and governance has helped to set Nepal on course to becoming a full democracy and peaceful state.

With the support of her team, she delivered a complex portfolio of programs that have had tangible and far-reaching impact. Thanks to U.S. conflict mitigation investments, nearly 20,000 former Maoist combatants have been reintegrated into society, and communities once in conflict are now living in peace.

Ms. Barrón has been indispensable to Nepal’s political transition and development. She skillfully guided and shaped U.S. foreign policy, married development and diplomacy skills for a whole-of-government approach, leveraged other donor resources and the collective donor voice to amplify U.S. assistance and advocacy, and navigated the complex political structures to support Nepal through a defining moment in its history. In so doing, Ms. Barrón has left her mark on Nepal, making it a more stable and democratic nation, with robust democratic institutions and practices, respectful of rule of law and better positioned to exercise its economic potential.

Ms. Barrón joined USAID as a Presidential Management Fellow in 2001, and then joined the agency's Foreign Service in 2007. Previously, she conducted research and provided consultancy services in the United States, Barbados, China, Peru, and Israel via the United Nations, the Peruvian government, and local organizations. She was also a Peace Corps Volunteer in Togo and an evaluator for their small project assistance program. Ms. Barrón is from El Paso, Texas and holds a master of science in public policy and management from Carnegie Mellon University and a bachelor in fine arts in media studies from Syracuse University.

 

Aubrey Dowd

U.S. Embassy Dhaka, Bangladesh

M. Juanita Guess Award for Exemplary Performance by a Community Liaison Office Coordinator

Aubrey Dowd serves as the Community Liaison Office Coordinator for U.S. Embassy Dhaka. She supports the embassy community by providing fun and engaging recreation opportunities, advising the ambassador and country team on issues affecting morale and welfare, and advocating for the personnel and family members at post on a wide variety of issues common to Foreign Service members.

In her time at Dhaka, Ms. Dowd took the initiative to consolidate information from the human resources and management offices and created a comprehensive database of all personnel, which filled critical information gaps and allowed leadership to quickly answer specific questions related to our departing personnel and families. Ms. Dowd was also the lead point of contact for families who were stranded out of country during the summer holiday season and for those who had already started to move to their safe-haven locations. This provided embassy officers and families with regular updates and guidance regarding rules and regulations for travel and allowances. The Family Liaison Office and Office of Human Resources at the Department of State celebrated Ms. Dowd’s level of support and detailed communication during this time and her methods are now being used to develop best practices for similar situations worldwide.

Ms. Dowd also sat on a number of boards and participated in many meetings including the AEEA Board, Inter-Agency Housing Board, Post Employment Committee, country team, Emergency Action Committee and the Dhaka Wellness Committee, among others. During each meeting, she represented the needs and wants of the community and crafted mechanisms to relay critical information back to the greater community as necessary.

Ms. Dowd’s participation during key Emergency Action Committee meetings was critically important. In many ways, Ms. Dowd’s voice was one of the most important at the table as she represented the interests and concerns of community members during a time of crisis. Ms. Dowd also helped organize and participate in community brown bags to ensure preparedness, disseminate information and relay critical security information between post management and the community. When faced with a multitude of demands from the community, the regional security officer relied on the CLO to let him know which activities were the most important to the embassy’s staff and their families; Ms. Dowd’s feedback allowed him to focus limited security resources on those activities.

The feedback also allowed the deputy chief of mission to bring concerns, recommendations, and information back to the ambassador, helping to shape her recommendation for the future of the post going forward. Ms. Dowd was able to manage multiple competing priorities, executing all of her work on an exceptionally high level.

As authorized departure continued into late 2016 for Dhaka, Ms. Dowd recognized the importance of monitoring the health and welfare of all officers at post. Ms. Dowd worked closely with the regional medical officer-psychologist and regional medical officer to create and distribute a post morale survey in November of 2016. In addition to the survey, Ms. Dowd advocated for a separate survey to be created to encompass those EFMs who were evacuated during authorized departure. This unique survey gave family members a chance to share their experiences during the evacuation process.

Based on information from the FLO, Ms. Dowd was the first CLO ever to call for a survey of evacuated family members. The results from the survey will help the Embassy and the Department better facilitate future evacuations by evaluating the effect on family members before, during, and after a departure.

Aubrey Dowd has a B.S. in early childhood education from Augusta State University in Augusta, Georgia and previously taught kindergarten in Sierra Vista, Arizona; after-school and summer enrichment classes in Alexandria, Virginia; and was a child and youth program assistant for the Child Development Center at Fort Myer, Virginia. Aubrey plans to pursue a master’s degree in social work upon her return to the U.S.

 

Michael P. Murphy

U.S. Embassy Algiers, Algeria

M. Juanita Guess Award Runner-Up

In the words of his nominator, Ambassador Joan Polaschik, “Algiers has undergone a massive transition from a hard-to-fill post to one that is family-friendly, brimming with community and cultural activities, and attracting more bidders than ever. CLO Mike Murphy led the wave of change, demonstrating extraordinary leadership, dedication, initiative and imagination in building programming and the network necessary to support families in what used to be one of the department’s toughest postings.”

Unlike established family posts, Algiers had virtually no information on locally available nannies or preschools. A regular volunteer at the American Cultural Center, Mike Murphy used his connections there to identify capable young English speakers willing to work as nannies. He visited local preschools so he could better advise families of their options, and organized a playgroup for children from the diplomatic community, entertaining the kids himself with his guitar, and then recruiting another community member to take over the group’s leadership.

Mr. Murphy went to local stores to scope out and photograph locally-available baby supplies, information that enabled incoming families to prepare better for their postings. He led outreach in support of the new American school which opened in 2016, organizing an information session for the diplomatic community with a visiting overseas schools specialist, working with embassies to determine their potential enrollment and helping the school’s director organize an open house that greatly boosted the school’s profile. He also volunteered to orient the school’s teachers and include them in social events – not formally part of his duties but absolutely essential to the school’s success.

Working with the embassy’s human resources officer, Mr. Murphy created a wellness committee that created a hugely popular happy hour, among other activities, and established a channel for staff to work together to address morale concerns. The wellness committee’s success prompted the regional medical officer to include Algiers in the work plan for Embassy Rabat’s new wellness coordinator, ensuring that Mike’s great work will continue long after his departure.

Mr. Murphy also demonstrated strong leadership in recruitment efforts. Noting that Algiers was one of the few posts without a video in the Overseas Briefing Center, he led a collaborative effort to develop an engaging video that accurately captures the joys and challenges of living in Algiers and resulted in a marked uptick in bidders. Several people who accepted assignments at post said the video persuaded them to explore a possibility that they never otherwise would have considered.

Michael Murphy received a B.A. from the Loyola University in Baltimore, Maryland, and an M.S. from Troy State University Dothan, Alabama. He speaks French, Persian-Dari, Turkish, Hebrew, and is currently studying Arabic. He will dive into Sinhala when he arrives at his next posting, Sri Lanka, with his wife Carolyn S. Murphy, an FSO. He began his service as Community Liaison Office coordinator in 2015. They have previously been posted to the U.S. Mission to NATO. Before that, Mr. Murphy served for 22 years as a U.S. Army officer, retiring as a Lieutenant Colonel in 2013. He served overseas tours as an aviator and foreign area officer in Afghanistan, Israel, Iraq, Turkey, Germany and Egypt. He enjoys playing music, swimming and working with people.

 

John Wood

The Foreign Service Group – Texas (Austin, Texas)

Award for Achievement and Contributions to the Association

For many years, John Wood has been an indefatigable leader and member of The Foreign Service Group –Texas in Austin. Through his efforts, the group punches well above its weight when it comes to events, outreach and influence. In 2016, Mr. Wood’s group was by far the most active in placing letters to the editor highlighting Foreign Service Day in Texas newspapers. The group’s regular meetings bring Foreign Service luminaries and high-caliber academics for in-depth discussions.

It is impossible for AFSA’s 30-some professional staff members to know every single one of our 16,000 members. But there are very few members who are known by almost everyone who works at AFSA. Mr. Wood is one of those few people, because he is proactive, inclusive and brimming with ideas about how to tell the story of the Foreign Service to our fellow citizens.

His ideas are more valuable than he knows, because they come from someone who has been outside the Beltway bubble for a long period of time and is informed by the interests and world views of regular Americans in the heartland. This perspective is invaluable, and John is never afraid to share it, to AFSA’s great benefit.

Mr. Wood retired in 2001 from 17 years with the Foreign Commercial Service in Washington, D.C., Calgary, Mexico City, Mumbai, Bangkok and Seoul. He holds an MBA from the School of Business at Columbia University in New York City with a major in behavioral systems and international management. He earned a B.Sc. from the School of General Studies at Columbia University. In addition to being an AFSA member, Mr. Wood is a proud member of DACOR. He was born in Winnipeg and attended high school in Halifax, Nova Scotia.


Please click here for information on this year’s recipient of AFSA’s Award for Lifetime Contributions to American Diplomacy, Ambassador (ret.) Nancy J. Powell.