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R
eturning to State for Foreign Affairs Day 2012 was both
familiar and strange. It was great catching up with old
friends and discovering I had not forgotten how to navi-
gate the halls. However, listening to Under Secretary for
Management Pat Kennedy’s briefing on the “State of State”made
me realize how much has changed since I retired at the end of
2009. The fundamentals of diplomacymay still be the same, but
how we carry it out is not exactly the same.
AFSA President Susan Johnson’s May 2012
Foreign Service
Journal
column, “Time for FSOs to Stand Up for the Foreign
Service,” touched a chord for many of us. When I joined the
ForeignService in1983, theU.S. InformationAgency still followed
the practice of rotating junior officer trainees through each sec-
tion of the embassy. My time spent in the U.S. Agency for
InternationalDevelopment, themilitary sales office,management
and all the other sections of the embassy, was an extraordinary
learning experience. It also acceleratedmy understanding of the
breadth anddepthof thework of themission. Shortages of bud-
get, staffingand time ended the apprenticeship juniorofficer trainee
tour: and it’s not coming back.
Now,manyposts have activeprograms togive entry-level pro-
fessionals an opportunity to learn something of our craft outside
their current jobdescriptions. However, somepostshave less active
programs or no program at all. Those
assigned toWashingtonmay or may not
havementors or, if they do, theirmentors
may not have the time for mundane questions about FS life.
The
Washington Post
used to publish an advice column for
apartment renters. The first time I read it, I was appalled at how
basic it was —how to furnish an apartment, how to buy clean-
ing products. Then it dawned on me: so many young profes-
sionals startingout are far fromhome andhavenever lived inapart-
ments. Suddenly the column didn’t seem so useless to me.
The Foreign Service is like that for newhireswhodonot have
the benefit of family or friends who served before them. It’s one
thing to pass the tests and read the blogs, but even the most gift-
ed graduate of the Georgetown School of Foreign Service might
lack some basic overseas life skills.
Thinking about Kennedy’s remarks and Susan Johnson’s call
for reconsiderationof professional education and training, I won-
der ifweneedsomethingnewanda littledifferent: avolunteer corps
of retirees servingasmentors tonewFSemployeesandfamilymem-
bers. Wemightnot beable to talkabout current careerpathstrate-
gies, but we can offer some common-sense advice. If you like the
idea of a volunteer former FS mentoring corps or you have a
better idea, please let me know at
megilroy@gmail.com.
V.P. VOICE:
VP RETIREES
BY MARY ELLEN GILROY
Something New and Different
Views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the AFSA RETIREE VP.
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F OR E I GN S E R V I C E J OU R N A L / J U L Y - A UGU S T 2 0 1 2
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W
hilewe face some of the biggest challengeswehave seen
in 20 years, I would like to take a moment to pat our-
selves on the back. The effectiveness of AFSAover the
last couple of years, under the leadership of President Susan
Johnson, has been extraordinary. We have a strong organization
running a surplus, and our membership has reached 16,000 —
the largest in our history.
We have recently shownhowpointed and effectivewe canbe
by sending more than 3,000 letters that helped United Airlines
see the error in its pet policy, andhavemade very significant strides
in protecting the professionalism of the Foreign Service. Under
Executive Director IanHouston’s able leadership, AFSA has put
together an excellent speaker series that allows us topromote our
cause and rank among the “heavy hitters” in the foreign policy
field.
On Capitol Hill, we have defended the first two tranches of
theOverseas Comparability Pay, protecting the 16 percent salary
increase for regular FSOs. On the FCS side, our diligent action
on theHill with our stakeholders over the last two years is most-
ly responsible for an extra $25million in funding. We established
a strong director general position inAm-
bassadorChuckFord andwe have helped
strengthen our personnel and budget.
Muchof this is thanks to the strongand
inclusive leadership that Pres. Johnsonhas
shown, always thinking not only of the
voice of State but also of the smaller agencies. Sometimes I won-
derwhywe canmanage this but State andFCSmanagement can-
not seemtowork as a unit. As I said inmy last column, the “eco-
nomic statecraft” of State has sewn confusion, andmanagement
failed todemonstrate teamwork across our agencies. Can’tman-
agement at least make sure that cables that go out to the world
on commercial issues are cleared by both agencies? I remember
when that used to be a common courtesy.
All that said, at home in the International Trade Agency at
Commerce, we face the biggest challenge to FCS since our cre-
ation: a proposed reorganization that could dismantle the
Commercial Service. (Gird your loins, as we will need to make
some big decisions on this one). Still, it is heartening to think,
as we face challenge after challenge, we are an organization with
proven effectiveness and real power. So for themoment, at least
let us count our blessings.
V.P. VOICE:
FCS
BY KEITH CURTIS
Counting Our Blessings
Views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the AFSA FCS VP.