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52

MARCH 2017

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THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL

Evolving Environments

DAS Rice says half-jokingly that if he were to apply for a job

with DS today, “they wouldn’t hire me.” When Rice joined DS 30

years ago, a typical agent class was made up of “about one-third

former military, one-third former police officers and one-third

people like me, who came out of grad school.” DS now hires a

larger percentage of people with military experience; and, while

that isn’t a bad thing, Rice wants to maintain the diversity of

experience that has made DS strong historically. The department

focuses on hiring a workforce that looks culturally diverse; but

Rice argues that for DS intellectual diversity is equally impor-

tant: “I want the best brain regardless of the husk they wear.” He

believes that the strength of DS lies in the fact that its personnel

come from a broad range of backgrounds.

Like the rest of the State Department, DS seeks smart, flex-

ible employees. But because their role within State is different,

their best employees are different, too. Regional security offi-

cers work within an environment that is constantly evolving,

depending on the changing threats at any given post, and Rice

says a good RSO is capable of solving problems in a way that

is “diametrically opposed to the regular Foreign Service.” The

State Department typically makes decisions on a consensus

basis, but in an emergency situation, “we don’t have time to

reach agreement. We take action.” A successful officer knows

when to make a decision independently and when to strive for

consensus.

The ability to lead is of vital importance. DS Agent and

Assignments Officer Greg Batman says assignment panels look

for people with a track record of leadership, and agents are

taught leadership skills from the beginning of their careers:

“Even in basic agent school, we’re looking for ways to get that

message across.” When they arrive at post, he explains, assis-

tant RSOs are often put in charge of a guard force of more than

100 members or a team of local national investigators. And “if

we’re going to put people in leadership positions, we need to

train them how to lead,” he says. Some agents argue that even

more training is necessary earlier in their career, noting that

mandatory leadership training required by the department

doesn’t start until the FS-3 level. While many in DS do well

with the “learn by doing” approach, it can overwhelm a first-

or second-time ARSO.

With DS mandating paramilitary training for all of its agents

regardless of their assignment, the skill sets of agents will nec-

essarily broaden and change. Some people aren’t happy with

this direction, expressing concern that the paramilitary aspect

of DS may become predominant. When she started 10 years

ago, one agent notes, “I didn’t recognize the militaristic aspect

of this career.” While she believes in the importance of this

training, she thinks DS needs to do more to support its staff

as the demands on them grow. “We’re seeing more temporary

assignments to high-threat posts making us more paramili-

tary,” she says. “But the military has a strong support system

for families. If that’s where we’re going, we need to have an

equally strong support system.”

Another agent agrees that the militarization of the organiza-

tion is important, but difficult for agents to manage. “I think

DS does an exceptional job of training and preparing us for the

multiple roles we have abroad,” she says. Still, she adds, “no mat-

ter how much you train me, my 5-foot self will never be ready for

combat. I didn’t sign up to be part of a paramilitary organization,

and I feel I have a different set of skills that would be of value to

this agency elsewhere, not just in places like Iraq.”

So how does DS train people so they can move from places

like Iraq to more traditional embassy settings, and back again?

Building a Better Agent

Everyone who has been through the 11-week Advanced

Tactics and Leadership Skills training course—which all agents,

from the most junior to DS seniors, are now required to take—

agrees that the training is an excellent primer for what to do in

an emergency. ATLAS replaced and expanded the two-week-

long high-threat training courses that were previously required

DS personnel advocate the need to assume reasonable,

informed risk, but only with the understanding that the

risk must be acknowledged, shared and taken in the best

interests of the U.S. government.