Page 38 - Foreign Service Journal - February 2013

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The Importance of Community
Views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the AFSA State VP.
AFSA continues to work with
the department to improve
policies for transportation
and evacuation of pets, and
their inclusion in post plan-
ning for crises and emergen-
cies. Some of our members
wonder why we focus time
and resources on such mat-
ters. Or to put it another
way: why should AFSA or the
State Department care about
pets, your spouse, your kids
or your 1968 mint-condition,
candy-apple-red Mustang?
To me, the short answer
to all of these questions is
the same: “Because it is in
the interest of the Foreign
Service to do so.”
A Foreign Service career
asks its members to spend
nearly their entire working
lives travelling from post to
post overseas.
There are other agencies
that ask their members to
live overseas for a two-year
stint here, or a four-year stint
there, followed by equal time
in the U.S. And others require
their members to change
duty stations, both in the U.S.
and overseas, regularly.
But the Foreign Service
asks more than any other
with regard to spending the
bulk of a career, and of a life-
time, moving between posts
that are truly foreign.
Moving from a military
base in Germany to one in
Kuwait is a big deal, and a
lifetime of doing so is ardu-
ous. But one is essentially
moving from one fairly large
community, with many of the
comforts, sights and sounds
of America, to another. Typi-
cally, one can go all day in
such places without having
to speak any language but
English. One can watch the
latest American TV shows,
eat lunch at Pizza Hut, shop
in stores that sell American
goods, send the kids on a yel-
low school bus to an Ameri-
can-curriculum school, and
get together with American
PTA members to talk about
how they’re doing. You can’t
do all of that in Ulaanbaatar,
or Ashgabat, or even Monte-
video. Many Foreign Service
families spend most of their
lives without ever experienc-
ing something most Ameri-
cans take for granted: an
American community.
Community is an
extremely important com-
ponent of morale, and, for
many people, a dealmaker
or breaker when choosing a
career. It is also, for lack of a
better way of putting it, one
of the things that keeps us
“American,” and helps us rep-
resent the American people,
when we are far from home.
Community provides consis-
tency in a career where many
things change frequently. It
helps our children grow up
American, with ties to our
own country, and plays a
healing role in making people
feel secure and helping them
deal with stress.
In the Foreign Service, we
make our own community at
every post we move to. Typi-
cally, it is small and transient,
and is rarely everything we
would want a community to
be. But it is what we have.
And it is all the community
the U.S. government can
ofer to a prospective Foreign
Service candidate, or a tal-
ented FS member it wishes
to retain.
Our community includes
family members. In AFSA
surveys, our members have
repeatedly indicated that
family concerns matter more
to them than any other con-
sideration in choosing a post,
or choosing to remain in the
Community also includes
the things that make a home
a home, the intangibles that
remind Americans overseas
of their homes back in the
States, such as the Mustang
you have taken with you from
post to post. And whether
one considers a companion
animal to be a family mem-
ber, a possession or merely
a fellow traveler, it plays an
enormous role in employee
satisfaction and morale.
Transporting pets, or
dealing with them in emer-
gencies, costs money. So
does transporting or storing
an employee’s household
efects. So do vaccinations,
school fees, bassinet ship-
ments and travel of children
of separated parents. The
government pays for all of
these things not because
it likes you, but because it
recognizes that recruiting
the best and the brightest
entails enabling people to
live all over the world with the
things that matter the most
to them.
If pets are what matter
most to a signifcant number
of Foreign Service members
and prospective candidates,
then AFSA, and the State
Department, should care
about pets. After all, they are
part of our community.
Our community includes family members.
In AFSA surveys, our members have
repeatedly indicated that family concerns
matter more to them than any other
consideration in choosing a post, or
choosing to remain in the Service.