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Equal Support and Equal Recognition
Views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the AFSA State VP.
The deadly attacks in Libya
have focused attention on
the fact that the Foreign
Service is not the cakewalk
it is occasionally lampooned
as being. It is difcult, taxing
and increasingly dangerous
Foreign Service mem-
bers work side by side with
military colleagues in remote
outposts in Afghanistan
and Iraq. They are our eyes,
ears and spokespersons in
places like Pakistan, Somalia,
Sudan, Yemen and Algeria.
They are the face of America
to nearly every nation on
earth. And in most situations,
they, not the military, are
the primary target of acts
of aggression against the
United States.
Nearly a year after the last
members of the military left
Iraq, FS members remain. As
we rebuild Iraq and Afghani-
stan, FS members are the
ones who travel from village
to village, town to town, to
lead and guide that work.
Our colleagues have
dedicated their lives to the
service of our country. And
incidentally, many have done
so after completing many
more years of service than
the usual four-year stint most
military service members
serve. In the past 30 years,
88 Foreign Service members
have died in that service. As a
percentage of total numbers
serving, a higher percentage
of Foreign Service members
died in the line of duty than
military members over the
same period.
As is the case for our
colleagues who serve in the
military, we deserve a safe
environment in which to
work. What the military calls
“force protection” serves a
purpose. Protecting the lives
of those who serve enhances
the efciency of the mis-
sion. It enables the recruit-
ment of the best employees.
And it enables them, once
recruited, to do their jobs.
A similar business case
can be made for respecting
the special circumstances
under which we live and oper-
ate in doing those jobs. The
Service Members Civil Relief
Act was designed to enable
service members to serve
without having to divide their
attention between the battle-
field and the home front.
It allows extensions and
waivers of some civil respon-
sibilities, while ensuring that,
no matter where service
members might serve, they
are recognized as residents
of the United States.
The act applies to the mili-
tary, the National Oceanic
and Atmospheric Administra-
tion and the Public Health
Service (the latter two having
military origins), but not
to the only other commis-
sioned service—the Foreign
Service. As a result, AFSA
has to regularly intervene in
cases involving FS members
unable to get a mortgage or
refinance a home, nor get
in-state tuition in the states
to which they regularly pay
state taxes, because they are
allegedly “not resident” in the
United States.
Recognizing that FS
members serving overseas
nonetheless maintain home
roots in a U.S. state, and
allowing them to serve in as
much safety as our country
can provide, should not be a
partisan issue, nor viewed as
less important than provid-
ing that same support to the
The deaths in Benghazi
led Capitol Hill to pass
two “sense of Congress”
resolutions recognizing the
contributions and sacrifices
we make. But actions speak
louder than words.
Congress speaks through
funding, and it is time for
them to bring our embas-
sies overseas in line with the
security standards estab-
lished by the Inman Commis-
sion in 1985. We should not
have to wait, year after year,
for armored cars, or housing
compound walls that can’t
be driven through, or basic
security for the schools our
children attend. Particu-
larly in times of budgetary
restraint, Congress should
consider that it is cheaper
to prevent attacks than to
rebuild after they occur.
Congress also speaks
through laws. AFSA should
not have to be the sole
advocate for FS members
unable to finance a house in
the U.S., or threatened with
jail for missing jury duty, or
unable to get in-state tuition
for their children, because
they are overseas, on orders,
in service of the American
people. Why not include the
Foreign Service in the Service
Members Civil Relief Act, or
create something similar,
to recognize our ties to the
country we serve?
All who serve the Ameri-
can people overseas, whether
in uniform or in civilian
clothes, deserve equal sup-
port and equal recognition.
We are all doing what we do
in order to make America
safer and stronger.
Congress speaks through funding, and it
is time for them to bring our embassies
overseas in line with the security
standards established by the Inman
Commission in 1985.