THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL
The diversity of cultural backgrounds, experiences and language skills among DS ranks
is a key to the bureau’s success in safeguarding U.S. diplomacy around the world.
Rhonda (RJ) Bent Rabetsivahiny is a Diplomatic
Security supervisory special agent who joined the For-
eign Service in 2002. She has served overseas in Paris,
Antananarivo and Tegucigalpa, as well as in multiple
domestic assignments, including the New York Field Office, Secretary
of State’s Protective Detail and her current assignment in the Office
of Domestic Facilities Protection.
n the U.S. law enforcement community, Diplomatic
Security has a reputation for being a bit of a melting
pot. Unlike other law enforcement agencies that hire
for a narrowly defined skill set, DS needs and attracts
people from a variety of backgrounds. Given the
enormity of the DS mission—to provide a safe and
secure environment for the conduct of U.S. foreign
policy—as well as the geographic range of its respon-
sibilities, DS special agents cannot easily be catego-
rized. Although DS attracts large numbers of applicants with law
enforcement or military backgrounds, agents come from diverse
cultural backgrounds and bring a wide range of experience.
DS special agents must be truly dedicated to the job, and to
their country. Therefore, one of the requirements is to hold U.S.
citizenship. Within DS ranks, there are numerous agents who
are immigrants or children of immigrants. Their multicultural
backgrounds contribute to making DS a stronger, more dynamic
organization. At the same time, the DS career path allows them
to best utilize their rich cultural backgrounds, experiences and
foreign language skills on a daily basis.
DS agent immigrants, or children of immigrants, came to the
United States by many routes, and for many reasons. Some came
as refugees; some were adopted by American families; some
sought better opportunities. In other cases, their parents bravely
made the sacrifices of immigrating in order to give their children
a better life.
DS StoriesIn May 1982, at the age of 15, Tony Hornik-Tran escaped from Vietnam, accompanied by his brother. The two sailed to the
Philippines on a fishing boat. There he spent 11 months in refu-
gee camps, finally making it to the United States, where he was
adopted by an American family. In the span of just two decades,
he went from being a refugee to a DS special agent and diplomat.
Brianna May was adopted from Colombia when she was 8
months old. Her father, then a DS agent, was serving there during
the Pablo Escobar period. He and his wife were one of the first
families to adopt a child from Colombia. May explains that both
the U.S. ambassador and his wife were very involved in her adop-
tion process. The ambassador’s wife even accompanied May’s
parents to the orphanage to pick her up. “I thought the ambassa-
dor’s wife was actually my grandmother,” May says, because she
was in all of the adoption-day photos.
In 1949, Christopher Gu’s maternal grandfather, who worked
for a British shipping company, was at sea when the communists
assumed control of China. Unable to return home, he eventually
made it to New York City and began working in the restaurant
business. In the 1970s, Gu’s grandfather and a few fellow ship-
BY RHONDA ( RJ ) BENT RABETS I VAH I NY