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Maintaining Career


This system manages to address

structural staffing imbalances without

negatively affecting the career prospects

of Army officers who spend their first

three years “out-of-cone.” That it is able

to do so is primarily due to the Army’s

more regimented training and assign-

ments process.

Practically, it isn’t hugely important

whether an Army officer served in their

assigned branch as a lieutenant. This

is because on promotion to captain all

officers must attend the comprehen-

sive Captains Career Course of their

assigned branch.

As a result, any advantage the

non-detailed officers may have had in

job experience is ameliorated by the

uniform education all officers receive

at the career course. It also helps that

there is widespread acceptance that

serving in the combat arms is excellent

preparation for service in any branch of

the Army.

There is an obvious parallel between

the view that the combat arms are

central to the Army’s mission and that

consular work lies at the heart of ours.

In extremis all Foreign Service officers

become American Citizen Services

officers, and a strong argument can

be made that an out-of-cone consular

tour is the best way of satisfying visa

demand, introducing new officers to the

Service and building esprit de corps.

The important role a consular tour

plays in the last two points is of par-

ticular importance given our Service’s

dearth of lengthy professional training.

However, in the same way that some

Army officers think the branch detail

program exists because infantrymen

make better intelligence officers, some

in the Foreign Service consider the

consular requirement a policy that was

adopted because it makes for better

officers in the other cones.

Eating Our Seed Corn

This may often prove true, but the

underlying thinking is specious. Both

programs were developed to address a

staffing challenge and not primarily as

a professional development tool. While

the experience of serving out-of-cone

or out-of-branch may be positive, it is

incidental to the primary purpose of

such assignments.

This is an important point to keep

in mind when considering how the

Foreign Service handles entry-level

consular assignments. Skyrocketing

demand for consular adjudicators has

led to officers entering the mid-level

ranks without in-cone experience,

something our assignment process

(and arguably our promotion process)


More importantly, a new mid-level

officer ought to be able to perform at

the mid-level. For a tenured FS-4 or new

FS-3 (the rank equivalents of an Army

captain and major) this entails many

cone-specific tasks and may include

supervising locally employed staff and

direct-hire employees, or managing a

small section.

It goes without saying that in an ideal

world officers would first gain exposure

to their cone prior to entering a man-

agement position. In fact, if there is to

be a prerequisite in our current model

of officer development, this should be

it. By denying officers a chance to learn

their trade at the entry-level we retard

their professional development and

undermine the distinction between

the entry and mid-level ranks. It is the

human resources equivalent of eating

our seed corn.