August 1997. I arrived at Ops. George Kent, Lisa Johnson and Mike Keller had already reported for duty. Julie Adams, Lara Friedman and Mari Dieterich were ending their tours. Scott Boswell came the following year. It was a 63rd class reunion. We had a swell time and I got good material for my continuing mystery murder novel. Who dunnit? Nobody knows. The buck never stops. It never even slows down in this city.
This chapter is decidedly shorter than the rest, because, you know, if I told you, would you like it? Would you like it if I told you? Making the sausage is never pretty. Collecting raw data for policy makers is even worse. Blood all over the decks. Plus, if I told you I’d have to kill you! No, just kidding . . .
A highlight of my Ops Center tour, without a doubt, was working the Bissau evacuation. It was one of those rare and incredible moments of being in the right place at the right time with the right information. Listening in on a Task Force conversation (as was our jobs to do), I heard then A Assistant Secretary Pat Kennedy talking with then CA Assistant Secretary Mary Ryan about sending a small boat up a particular river to extract the embassy staff. I knew that river and I knew the boat landing. I interrupted, with some initial reluctance if not trepidation, to tell them that the river was a tidal river and that when the tide ebbs the river turns to little more trickle through the muddy bottom.
Fishing those inland rivers in Guinea-Bissau with Mike Lukomski endowed me with a special knowledge that we were able to put to good use in the embassy staff evacuation. And coming from London where I occasionally “hung out” with my Navy brothers, I knew who to call at the Navy Base across the street from the embassy to get local tide charts for any location on the Atlantic (we learned to do tide charts manually in Naval ROTC. I imagine it all is done with computer programs now). A rented boat entered the river at high tide and met the embassy staff at the small boat landing we used to call the Swedish Camp. The staff trekked through the woods, with baggage and a few pets, for the rendezvous and all departed without incidence. Some folks say our efforts at Ops saved people’s lives.
Another height was working the overnight of the Kenya and Tanzania embassy bombings, a sad event where many lives were lost, an event I would revisit often in a future PMO assignment. I recall it was a long shift, beginning at midnight and lasting until around noon the next day. There was a lot of work to be done.
Bidding time came again. I should mention here that I gave some thought to leaving the Foreign Service during that Washington year. Domestic assignments can do that to you. I prepared a resume, contacted search firms, and attended preliminary meetings with counselors. There was a big push at the time to place people in association positions and Washington, DC has “beaucoup” associations and association-like organizations. An old guy I trusted convinced me to stay with the Government until I could “cash in” on the time I spent in the military. It wasn’t the last time I would think about leaving.
Most of my Ops colleagues were bidding on desk officer jobs. I looked at some as well, and inquired about a PMO job in the Africa Bureau. The AF bureau deputy director Nancy Serpa told me I would need to manage a post overseas before I could be a good post management officer in the AF Bureau. (Such standards, unfortunately, no longer exist). I took the bait and submitted a bid for the FS-02 admin officer job in Luanda (really should have been FS-01. I bet it has been upgraded by now), a two-grade stretch, knowing full well that if I put it on my bid list, there was a very strong possibility I’d get it. What the heck, I figured, they had already taught me Portuguese. Why not use it again? After delivering a cryptic handwritten note from SS/EX Director Dick Shinnick (a friend and mentor at the time who would later betray me) to the AF/EX Director Steve Browning, and after enduring long interviews in AF/EX the morning after a long night shift on the watch, AF accepted my double stretch bid and assigned me to Luanda as administrative officer.
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