A bit of a blur. We were 32, 16 men and 16 women. Some fresh out of college, some fresh out of graduate school, some, like me, in their mid-30’s and starting a second career. All very interesting people. Through the boring lectures, and through the regular nightly happy hours, we bonded (which was the A-100 purpose). To this day, eight years after retirement, I’m still in contact with A-100 buddies.
postscript #1. I later learned, through reading autobiographies and oral histories of diplomats, that A-100, the orientation course for new foreign service officers, was named for the room in the Old Executive Office Building where the course was once held. This predates the re-location of the State Department to its present location at 2201 C St NW and the relocation of the training function, Foreign Service Institute, to Rosslyn and later to the sprawling campus in Arlington.
postscript #2. I made a big mistake not negotiating my initial salary. I accepted the FS-06 step 1 they offered me, but I should have made a strong case for additional steps to reflect the four years I spent, post-graduation, gaining critical management and supervisory skills as a sea-going naval officer. The experience certainly aided and informed my foreign service career and added value to the contribution I was able to make at every grade level. It is a cautionary tale for any new FSO’s just joining the service, especially those with prior military service. The Foreign Service HR system was not equipped to automatically recognize the value of prior military service, and a few extra steps at the beginning can make a big difference in total earnings over the course of a 20-year career.
Between ConGen Rosalyn and the start of language training I had a six-week gap. My career assignment officer (CAO) found me a job “running clearances” in what was then IO/HW, Human Rights and Women’s Issues. In the pre-e-mail days, you actually had to carry drafts to various offices and wait while a responsible officer read it and made edits. It was a crazy time to be running clearances in the Department, what with the Bush-Clinton transition and all. And it was an interesting time to draft position papers for new political appointees and to put together the briefing book for delegates to the UN Human Rights Conference in Geneva. The Bush folks had packed up and the Democrats were taking over all the front offices after twelve years out of power. The Human Rights Conference delegation was still Republican-led by Amb. Ken Blackwell, a holdover from the Bush Administration. After completing the routine of getting clearances from the functional and geographical bureaus involved, I went to the various “front offices” for their approval and clearance. The new political appointees and their new staff assistants were pretty much clueless and would actually say stuff like “And what am I supposed to do with this?” I wondered what manner of organization I had joined. It turned out to be good practice, however. I would see two more transitions of comparable magnitude in foreign countries, the U.K. and Ghana, over the coming years.
GSO training was interesting though not much of it was actually useful. Consular training, interpreting ancient sections of immigration law was not really my thing, but I plowed through anyway and wrote a sonnet about it at the end. We composed haiku on the spot for our graduation ceremony (and you know I enjoyed that!). Two weeks of compressed area studies with weekly single days of visiting lecturers during language training served as my initiation into a sort of “cult” of African studies and Lusophone studies that would continue until today. We loved Dona Maria who wrote the Portuguese verb book. There were a couple others whose names I don’t remember. I do remember Dona Gloria. She was stern and tough but she was an excellent Portuguese instructor. Drill Sergeant Gloria. She would snap at us or roll her eyes when we mis-conjugated a verb. But we adored her in a Stockholm syndrome kind of way. And she knew everything about the place I had been assigned to, Bissau.
Part 1 – Foreign Service Exam and Oral Assessment
Part 2 – A-100 and reassignment training
Part 3 – Embassy Bissau – the first year
Part 4 – Embassy Bissau – the second year
Part 5 – The London Embassy
Part 6 – The Ops Center
Part 7 – Embassy Luanda, Angola
Part 8 – Embassy Accra, Ghana
Part 9 – Domestic Assignment – AF/EX
Part 10 – Epilogue: the final eight years
Part 11 – Bonus: Reflections on War and Peace in Iraq