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Sunday, November 13, 2011

20 years in the Foreign Service – First ten years

Disclaimer:  The events in this narrative are all true and in many cases, names have not been changed to protect the innocent or the guilty.  If you enjoy reading this blog, please consider joining or leaving a comment.  And please re-visit.  The narrative will grow from day to day as details come back to me.  Finally, stay tuned for the second ten years, whose outline I hope to post before the new year.  Thanks!

Prelude: How I came to take the Foreign Service Exam and my pre-dawn arrival in Atlanta for the Oral Assessment.

The LUCE was scheduled to do law enforcement ops with a Coast Guard detachment in the Caribbean during the period when the Foreign Service Exam (FSE) was scheduled.  I talked with my Executive Officer and together worked it out with the ship’s education officer to receive the test and administer it to me underway.  At least that was what they promised me.  They lied.  So when I checked with the XO a week before deploying, he offered me the following deal:  I could stay in port and TDY to the civil engineering detachment for the six weeks deployment period, freeing up a spot on the watchbill for one of the newer officers.  Sounded like a good idea to me, since I had already completed all my quals.  Knowing the XO, it was probably a trick.  But it served my needs, so I took him up on it.

I spent a month working up a database of Mayport Naval Base contracts and warranties on emergency sprinkler systems (a bit boring, but it saved the government a ton of money to get systems repaired on existing warranties, vice re-contracting and paying each time something broke.  It would be excellent training for my GSO future).   Then, the second month, I inventoried each emergency hurricane kit (and there were hundreds of them on base, all of which were missing key pieces of equipment).  At night, I read Economist.  I read Scientific American.  I read the Atlantic Monthly. And I took sample GRE exams under time, all in preparation for the FSE.  On the appointed Saturday, I took the exam.  It seemed easy.  I actually left early.

USS Luce DDG-38 Decommissioning, 1991

The LUCE returned, and the crew had had a lot of fun in the Caribbean.  Life and work returned to normal.  A few months later, I heard from State that I had passed the written exam and should make an appointment for the Oral Assessment.  I chose to take it in Atlanta, a four hour drive from Jacksonville.  My ship only allowed me one day off: we were working up for some type of inspection.  So when I got off at 6pm, I headed home, showered, and hit the road.  I stopped outside Savannah en route, to say hello to old ROTC buddies at Fort Gordon, then, around 10pm, hit the road for Atlanta.

I ran into a heavy thunderstorm, and of all times, my windshield wipers broke, so I had to pull over to the side of the highway to wait out the storm.  I resumed the trip around 1am, arriving at the hotel, way out on the Atlanta beltway, around 2:30am, totally exhausted.  I set the alarm for 5am, and left at a quarter to 6 to find the assessment site in downtown Atlanta.

I made it through the Oral Assessment.  I passed.  They told me they really liked my biographic statement.  I’ve always enjoyed biographies, since Governor’s School.  Why not make mine special and authentic? Here is a link to my 1991 Oral Assessment Bio

A year passed. Two months at Stanford in the summer AEA program, ten months at Washington University in St. Louis doing graduate work and one month on Naval Reserve duty in Guam.

A-100

63rd A-100 Class

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 and we avoided becoming alcoholics!

postscript.  I later learned, through reading autobiographies and oral histories of diplomats, that A-100, the orientation course for new foreign service officers is named for the room, in the Old Executive Office Building, where the course was held.  This predates the re-location of the State Department to its present location at 2201 C St NW.

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 HR system is not equipped to automatically recognize the value of prior military, and a few extra steps at the beginning can make a big difference over the course of a 20-year career.      

Post A-100

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 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, 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 appointees and their new staff assistants would 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.

Language training was fun.  Dona Gloria was stern and tough but she was an excellent Portuguese instructor.  Drill Sergeant Gloria.  And she knew everything about the place I had been assigned to, Bissau.

Bissau, Guinea-Bissau

August 1993.  Off we went to Bissau.  The first sign of the culture shock I was to experience came at the airport in Lisbon.  On Sunday evenings at the Lisbon airport, flights depart to all the former colonies, Praia, Bissau, Maputo, and Luanda.  My God!  I had never seen so many Africans all together in one enclosed place.  And the boxes.  And the crates.  And the colors.  And the long lines.  It all made me dizzy.

We arrived in Bissau around midnight.  My new boss and his wife met us on the tarmac.  It was raining cats and dogs — the middle of August and the height of the rainy season.  They gave our passports to some strangers called expeditors and whisked us away.  What about our luggage, we asked?  “Oh don’t worry, it’ll come later with your passports.”  Right.  We arrived at the Embassy residential compound.  It was quaint, in a word — four American-looking houses on the side and two colonial mansions in the middle.  Cute.  Quaint.  The next morning the culture shock continued.  My boss drove me to work and as I looked to the right and the left going down the Bissau’s main avenue all I could think of was Dodge City.  You know, the one with Sheriff Dillon and Festus and Doc.  We arrived at the “Embassy.”  What a dump!  What a dump!  I kept shaking my head and blinking my eyes and looking again, thinking that perhaps, what I thought I was seeing would change.

Bissau had its first parliamentary elections and its first ever presidential election on our watch.  The coup leader/dictator resigned from the military and ran as a candidate.  Our embassy sponsored (staged may be more appropriate) a pre-election mixed doubles tennis tournament.  President Vieira, paired with the wife of the leading European retail expat, won the tournament, proving that he was virile and healthy.   The first round of the election was inconclusive; a formidable Kuumba Yala candidacy shifted the balance of the first round by capturing the Balanta vote.   Ambassador McGuire encouraged President Vieira to stay the course and let the full democratic process play out.  He listened and eventually won the election in the second round.  Observers said the election was free and fair.

Coat of Arms of Guinea-Bissau

Conditions got better.  We built a new, prefabricated chancery, State Department’s first, just across the street from the housing compound, and in a record time of nine months.  My first assignment was to remove the squatters from the land the local government had given us across the street from the housing compound.   Getting the people to re-locate was easy; getting rid of the snakes, especially the black mambas, was much more difficult.  I found a tiny, abandoned kitten on the site and took it home and nursed it back to health.  We named her Manuela, after one of the maids in the compound.  Manuela bore two litters, from which we provided kittens to Peace Corps volunteers throughout the country. 

In Bissau, the rainy season is followed by the cricket season.  During the cricket season, there are crickets everywhere, almost like a biblical plague.  After some complaints by compound residents, we had the gardeners apply a local product to “neutralize” the screaming crickets.  One day, Manuela got a hold of a cricket that had already been treated.  She acted a little strange the rest of the evening.  We found her the next morning, stiff and cold.  We buried Manuela in the words at the back of the compound.

I hired casual laborers to “harvest” the bat dropping out of the attic of the old chancery as we were moving out.  I saw it on one of my inspections of the building, and had heard somewhere that bat droppings make excellent fertilizer.  Bats are true herbivores, after all.  We ended up with enough of the stuff (boxes and boxes of it) to fertilize the whole of the new embassy compound grounds with some left over.  The gardeners, God bless them all, planted new grass, one stem at a time, under a hot summer sun.  In a few weeks the newly planted embassy lawn was a rich and luscious carpet of green.

Negotiating the closeout of the old chancery building was fraught with coincidences.  I started in earnest negotiations with the landlord, Carlos Gomes, Sr., the richest man in the country who was in the middle of a Ross Perot-type campaign for the presidency.  For weeks he baffled me with stories about the Bissau’s former colonial grandeur, about his ancestors and the role they played in the country’s development, and about his own role both in the independence struggle against the Portuguese and in the struggle for free enterprise against the first communist government after independence.  I listened and learned.  At length, we got down to brass tacks.  He pulled out the original lease from 1975 and pointed to the sentence that read words to the effect that if the US Government ever departed from his building, it would restore the building to whatever specifications the landlord required.  I gasped, not believing that a foreign service contracting officer would sign such a lease.  

After some wrangling and horse-trading, we agreed that each party would hire an architect to cost out the restoration work, then use the two figures provided as initial offers.  Then, in a stroke of pure luck, the TDY Admin Officer and I stumbled upon the landlord’s architect, at a bar, crying in his beer because the mean old man refused to pay him for his work in estimating restoration costs (the landlord was too busy running for president to focus on such a mundane issue).  We hired him, had him work up for us a counter proposal, and, to make a long story short, it ended up saving us about half a million dollars in restoration costs.  We paid the architect’s fee.

About the same time, the warehouse landlord (a different landlord altogether) asked for $150,000 in restoration costs (same type lease.  What were they thinking about in 1975?).  Fortunately for us, we learned that Coca-Cola of Spain was moving into town and looking for a warehouse.  They bought out the lease, restoration costs and all.  The gods were with us.

A get together and a chance photo at the Residence

Other conditions got worse.  Mefloquine didn’t agree with me and I stopped taking it.  I caught malaria.  I caught malaria twice.  The sudden curtailment of the admin officer pushed me into his position.  I doubled up on my one-a-day vitamins for a while as the work wore me down.  After acquiring a taste for the local food and the local intestinal parasites, I lost about 30 pounds in a way I had not anticipated.  Nevertheless, this cloud had some silver linings.  Friday poker night on the compound was always enjoyable.  I met the Cuban cigar, Cohiba, in Bissau and we became lifelong friends.  I learned to dance a modified kizomba.  Going fishing with the USAID Director Mike Lukomski introduced me to Guinea-Bissau’s inland rivers, knowledge that would come in handy sooner than I expected and in ways I could not have imagined.  Weekend-long bicycling treks through the backroads of the coastal region with Fulbright scholar Walter Hawthorne gave me a deep appreciation for the “terra” and the “povo.”   Day trips to see the “Homem Grande” in Caliquisse exposed me to a different, a hidden knowledge.   The FSN’s were troopers who always came through in the clutch.

Map of Guinea-Bissau

A chapter is required on my journeys to Caliquisse and meetings with the Homem Grande.  “Homem Grande” in Portuguese means great man.  But in Guinea-Bissau, Homem Grande means the big voodoo/spiritual/mystic guy, and Caliquisse is the capital of the spirit world.  Now I was not particularly a believer in this stuff, though I did read a book on Santeria as an undergraduate that led me to make a pilgrimage the above ground crypt of Marie Laveau in pre-Katrina New Orleans.  Glad I made that pilgrimage then, because I doubt those sites still exist!  Anyway, returning to the original subject, a warehouse theft that we couldn’t solve resulted in my boss’s decision to consult with the Homem Grande to find out who was ripping us off.  My boss was a very religion guy, very observant, but he had this obsession with, how can I say it, “local culture.”  So one Saturday, five or six of us piled into two vans and headed to Caliquisse to visit with the local oracle.

After a huge midday feast at the home of a local merchant, Silvestre was his name, I think, we picked up gifts for the Homem Grande, rice, live chickens, a baby pig (leitao), and several bottles of cana (a Cape Verdean sugar cane liquor) and started on a trek into the bush.  When the road ended, we continued driving until we reached a clearing, then the guide took us by foot several hundred yards to a wooded area where we found a large tree with a hollowed out base, one of those ugly trees that grows the delicious cabaceira, a white tangy powder in a large green pod.  There, we awaited the arrival of the spirit man.

The spirit man greeted us and offered us a sip of cana from what appeared to me to be a very questionable container.  I very politely declined.  Through a translator, we explained that we needed to know who was robbing our warehouse.  My boss believed our warehouse employees were guilty, but I maintained they were innocent and that it was clearly an “outside” job.    The spirit man nodded, took another sip of cana and pulled a long rusted knife from a sheath.  I thought to myself, “Oh shit, he’s gonna kill us!”  But the knife wasn’t for us, it was for the hen we brought, the galinha de terra, the reading of whose entrails were to provide the answers we traveled to Caliquisse to seek.

With a quick snap of the wrist, he decapitated the chicken, while holding its still twitching body in his left hand.   Then, with a smaller knife, he cut open the chicken’s underside.  Here, he began the close reading.  Looking carefully at the chicken’s ovaries (I found that out later), he revealed to us that bandits were entering the warehouse through the roof, and that it was definitely an outside job.  I took a deep breath of relief; my staff was not involved at all!  Then he asked us if we wanted to know anything else!  My boss and the OBO project director asked if they would have sons.  He said yes, sons for both.  But in exchange, both would be required to bring their sons back to Caliquisse for a visit.  He looked my way, but I kept my mouth shut!  (I had attended a lecture earlier given by a lady named Crowley (can’t remember her first name) on the practice of making deals with the Spirit world.  To break a promise is very bad ju-ju.  better not to make it.)  The translator advised us that once we uncovered the plot and learned the truth of the robberies, we would be required to return to the Homem Grande and bring more rice, more cana, and more chickens.  Satisfied, we piled into the vehicles and returned to Bissau.  Little did I know, this would not be my final encounter with the Guinea-Bissau spirit world!  Here is a link to a poem I wrote about Bissau: http://poemsbyray.blogspot.com/2011/08/my-return-to-mother-africa.html

Eid al Fitr at the Bomba, 1994

The locals, employees and contacts, adopted me as one of their own.  They exposed me, through weddings, funerals, and late night parties, to the full cultural panorama of life in Guinea-Bissau. My favorites were the baby-naming ceremonies and the end of Ramadan Eid al-Fitra celebrations.  The Peace Corps volunteers who came around on weekends from the interior of the country became lifelong friends as, after their service in Bissau, they navigated their way through life transitions, careers, family, etc.  A photo from the Eid in 1994.

We transitioned from the horrid location downtown to the new Embassy compound in Bairro de Penha.  We managed to preserve the cashew trees on the compound, guaranteeing a supply of delicious cashew fruit and nuts.  We also managed to preserve a supply of poisonous black mambas on the compound lawn.

In July, 1994, shortly after the move to the new embassy compound, we got a call about trouble in a neighboring country.  Well, sort of “neighboring.”  When Gambian troops returned home to Banjul, Gambia, after a peacekeeping stint in Liberia, the troops, led by an unknown Lt Jammeh, ran into a bit of “disrespect” from airport officials.  In response to the airport slight,  Jammeh and his crew plotted and carried out a coup d’etat.  The Wikipedia article says “In July 1994, the Armed Forces Provisional Ruling Council (AFPRC) seized power in a military coup d’etat, deposing the government of Sir Dawda Jawara. Lieutenant Yahya A.J.J. Jammeh, chairman of the AFPRC, became head of state.”   When the coup occurred, the deposed president was out taking a maiden voyage on a navy patrol craft provided to the Gambians by the USG.  We maintained VHF radio contact with the president’s party from Bissau.  Sir Dawda Jawara didn’t returned to Banjul until several years later, when a more enlightened President Jammeh decreed that all former presidents  would be maintained and taken care of by the State for life.

When the time came, my CAO, Nick Williams, asked me where I wanted to go next.  His predecessor, Kathy Peterson, who suggested I consider bidding Bissau in A-100, promised me a good follow-on assignment if I did well in Bissau.  I thought, “Go for it now!  It’s your only chance.”  I asked for the London, CON/POL rotation.  My second choice was GSO in Nassau.  He said he would work on it.  I got the London assignment.

Add a bit here about the reunion during this period with Jan.  We met in Nuke School in the late 70’s and first reunited at the Submarine Base in Bangor, Washington in ’82. It was a short-lived romance and we broke up.  We reunited for the second time in ’91 when I was in grad school in St. Louis and she was in law school in Seattle.   Jan traveled with me to Bissau in 1992, but left twice to return to law school.  She eventually completed law school and landed a job back in Seattle.  We parted amicably.  Here is another Bissau poem:  http://poemsbyray.blogspot.com/2009/12/natural-forces-or-notes-to-former-lover.html

London, United Kingdon

October 1995.  The consular year in London was uneventful.  The Government shut down for a few weeks and the section bosses all took free leave.  Junior officers were, of course, declared “essential personnel.”  In my spare time I started a mystery novel about odd third-country national visa applications, strange travel patterns and a vice-consul who took his work home with him one time too many.  The novel never saw the light of day, but the draft still lives on my hard drive!  I continued doing NIV interviews in the morning and eventually took over the Volume Visa Unit in the afternoon.  Toward the end of my consular “sentence” I headed the E Visa section in the afternoon.  My boss warned me I was spending too much time on NIV interviews and wrote in my EER a backhand slap that I would make a fine political officer.  My excuse about gathering information for my mystery novel obviously neither amused nor impressed him. Luckily I got an early release and transition to the political section as scheduled.

Work in the political section was a blast. A great team: Jim Young covered Africa and Labour, Matt Tueller covered the Middle East and the Lib Dems, Charlie Peacock did PolMil, Blair Hall covered Northern Ireland and the Tories, and as the junior officer in the shop, I had Latin America, Scottish and Welsh national parties, international organizations, and global issues.  We had outstanding leadership in deputy Marcie Ries and Mike Habib.  I went to the Foreign Office each week to explain why the USG chose not to pay its annual UN dues.  On alternate days I went to the Foreign Office to explain why the USG had a right to refuse visas to influential British subjects who invested in expropriated properties in Cuba.  My boss called it carrying dirty water.  And I got to write the annual Human Rights Report.  Gathering the material and writing it was fun, but the clearance process was a real killer, no pun intended — I found it curiously strange that so many people of color were dying in custody in UK jails and prisons. Even more curious was the contorted criteria required for reporting those deaths in the annual report.

Going by overnight train to Inverness, Scotland for the Scottish National Party (SNP) conference was a joy.  Surprisingly enough, at the conference in Scotland I met descendants of my Maxwell (paternal) and Hairston (maternal) ancestors.  Cousins.  White cousins.  SNP members, at the time, were a curious blend comprised of KKK-types at one end and Weathermen at the other and everything in between.  What a bunch!  I remember writing a cable describing my meeting with the SNP leader, Alex Salmond.  He reminded me of a Southern Baptist preacher I had grown up knowing, one hand thrusting the Bible into space, the other holding a white handkerchief to wipe his sweaty forehead — one foot planted in the muck and mire of our temporal abode, the other foot already in Zion.

But back to real politics.  I covered Scottish and Welsh devolution issues back in London and spent some time chatting with the then Shadow Secretary for Scotland and Wales, George Robertson.  He later became Defense Minister in the first Blair administration and was later tapped to be NATO Secretary-General.  Wow!  How fortunes change!  When New Labour won the election, after 18 years in opposition, we scrambled.  I mean, it wasn’t like we didn’t know Blair and company would make a clean sweep.  I drafted a cable detailing what would happen in the event of a tie in the parliamentary elections.  The Queen gets to choose if there is a tie; but in fact, it wasn’t even close.  As the junior officer of the section, I drew the straw to draft the Tory condolence notes.  “The US Government is so sorry you lost, buster.  See ya, but I wouldn’t want to be ya.”  What a chore.

Along the way, I was coned Admin (this was the “unconed” era.  For a short span of years, FSOs entered without a conal designation and bid their cone in their second tour.  Coming into the service directly from the first year in a PhD program in Economics, I assumed I would go for Econ.  But the fun I had doing GSO work in Bissau, coupled with the lack of fun I saw econ officers having in London conspired to persuade me to bid Admin), and I thought it made sense to chat with the Admin folks at post.  The Admin Counselor, Lynn Dent, took me under his wing and remained a mentor throughout my career.  He walked pass my office one day and said something about bidding on the Ops Center.  I took him up on it and while in Washington that fall, stopped by the Ops Center for an interview.  The rest is history.

Wedding at the Westminster Registry Office, 1997

A word is in order here about meeting Filomena, our courtship and marriage.  Filomena and I met a month or so after I arrived in London, November 1995.  We started dating the following February and shared most of our weekends together thereafter.  It was fun, we shared similar interests, liked the same music, and enjoyed browsing London bookstores and art galleries together.  Cupid’s arrow struck.  We got married in July, 1997, just before the London tour ended.  Happily ever after.  We packed up and moved back to Washington together.  A photo from the Westminster Registry Office.

I enrolled in a graduate program at SOAS in my last year in London.  International Studies and Diplomacy was in its second year and reaching out to folks who worked in the hundreds of embassies in London.  I had classes three nights a week and spent evenings and weekends studying and writing papers for class.  It wasn’t really kosher for the junior guy in the political section to dash out at 5:30 three nights a week to make it to class by 6pm, but I did it and suffered the consequences.  The schedule was hectic, but it all worked out and I completed the courses and my MA dissertation on time.

Washington, DC

Operations Center 1997-1998

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 mystery novel. Who dunnit?  Nobody knows.  The buck never stops.  It never even slows down in this city.

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, 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 interrupted with some initial reluctance 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 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 foe 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). Some folks say we saved people’s lives.

Spot report (declassified) 

Another highlight was working the overnight shift of the Kenya and Tanzania embassy bombings, a sad event where many lives were lost, an event I would revisit often in a future AF/EX PMO assignment.  The midnight shift started like any other. Secretary Albright was on travel to Rome for the marriage of Assistant Secretary Jamie Rubin to CNN personality Christiane Amanpour.  Shortly after the first reports from Nairobi, we received similar reports from Dar es-Salaam in nearby Tanzania: embassy totally destroyed, command and control transferred to USAID.  Then a flurry of calls, false reports, from several African capitals. The next shift arrived around 6am, but we all continued in place.  I remember drafting the first ALDAC around 8:30 am describing to all our embassies the bombings and subsequent loss of life, followed by a sport report to the Secretary and 7th floor principals. The night shift finally checked out around noon.

Bidding time came again.  I should mention here that I gave some thought to leaving the Foreign Service during that Washington year.  I prepared a resume, contacted two search firms, and attended preliminary meetings with counselors.  An old guy I trusted convinced me to stay with the Government to “cash in” 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, but the 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, in my view, no longer exist).  I took the bait and submitted a bid for the FS-02 admin officer job in Luanda, 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 to the AF/EX Director Steve Browning and 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.  Filomena said she would go with me, but I’d owe her for the rest of my life.  I signed her promissory note, and we packed out and got underway.

Luanda, Angola

November 1998.  Approaching Luanda by air, you see this beautiful city on the coast with tall buildings and winding avenues.  Only as you get closer do you realize the tall buildings are empty shells of construction halted when the Portuguese left suddenly in 1975.  And when you get real close, you can see bullet holes from Savimbi’s last stand in 1992.  Not to be confused with Savimbi’s last stand of 2002.  My oh my!  Luanda!  No place like it on earth.

A meeting of the Luanda FSN Association

 and a chance photo!  1997.

Embassy Luanda was a trailer park, plain and simple.  As admin officer I was the only American in the admin section, which meant I was also leasing officer, contracting officer, certifying officer, and HR adviser.  I sort of saw this coming and managed to get enrolled in the  the financial mgmt and HR courses before leaving Washington.  I had time to take the overseas management officer course, but my CDO informed me that you had to be FS-02 to take that course. When I countered that I was going to fill an FS-02 job, she simply said, “but you are an FS-04,  No exceptions.”  It was a big disappointment for me.  I could have used that class.  But that is spilt milk.

One by one, we found residential properties outside, negotiated leases, and moved all remaining staffers off the tiny trailer compound and into newly rented houses and apartments as quickly as our guys could complete the make-ready preps.  Of course, it was never quick enough, nor the make-ready good enough for the prospective tenant.  We did our best.

Then we started the arduous task of securing the permits and permissions from various government offices to begin the New Office Building construction project.  I came up with an idea I proposed to Ambassador Sullivan: invite the heads of every government agency that had equities in the project to a nice reception and allow visiting OBO experts to visually present plans for the building project to them.  He thought it was a good idea and we did it.  At the end, one of the Angolan architects from the Governor’s Office said, “Este projecto tem pernas para andar (this project has legs to walk).”  We interpreted it as a type of informal blessing from the Angolan government to proceed.    

After several meetings with several different ministries and regional and local government departments, we arrived at a stalemate regarding a “showstopper” for the prospective NOB, closing off the back street to enhance, no to secure setback requirements.  In a final meeting I attended with the Provisional Governor (who was on our side) and representatives from the Interior Ministry (not on our side), the Interior Ministry folks drew a line in the sand.  Their position was that to grant us permission to close off the back street “for security reasons” somehow suggested that they were not doing their job as host nation to provide adequate security for a diplomatic mission (which of course, they were. The Interior Ministry guys studied under the Russians, the East Germans, and the Cubans back during the good old days.  They were the best at what they did in the world).  One of the city traffic planners offered the following olive branch proposal:  Close off the back street, not for security purposes, as stated, but to provide for temporary construction, knowing full well that once the traffic patterns were changed to close the road for the three years of the construction period, no one would bother to change them again afterwards.  I phoned my boss to get the go ahead and we shook on it.  It was done.  Ground was broken, and a few years later, after my departure,  the New Office Building was a reality — the trailer park, a distant memory.

Angola Coat of Arms

In retrospect, I would come to miss the great time we had in Luanda.  I would miss the music, sunset on the Ilha, dancing the kizomba.  I would miss the taste of zindungo (a hot, spicy sauce you put on everything).  I’d miss the smooth harshness of freshly roasted Angolan coffee.  I’d miss the syrupy sweetness of overripe pineapple sold at inflated prices by the women on the street who swear it will last until tomorrow.  I’d miss the soft bitterness of gimboa fried with onions and olive oil.  More than anything else, though, I’d miss the effusive enthusiasm of our local staff, their willingness to learn, their dedication and commitment, their loyalty.

Finally, while I didn’t fully recognize it at the time, I would certainly come to miss the support DCM Jeff Hartley and Ambassador Joe Sullivan always extended to us.  Telephones didn’t work half the time.  There was no e-mail to the Admin annex where I worked, Casa Inglesa.  But I could count on the support of upper management to do the work I had to do.  I could take it to the bank.  The support I enjoyed and took for granted in Luanda, the collegiality we shared, is rare in this outfit, I suppose, and I am grateful for having experienced it there.

Map of Angola

Dr. Filomena managed HIV/AIDS, polio prevention and child health programs at USAID Luanda.  She loved her work and her work bore fruit, in the successful polio campaign she took a leading part in organizing across all of Angola, in her efforts to raise HIV/AIDS awareness in the country, and in general improvements she contributed to the running of the Angolan Health Ministry.

Accra, Ghana

November 2000.  We left Luanda and moved to Accra where I took over the reins of the GSO section as supervisory GSO.  Prior to arriving at post, I bumped into my new boss at FSI.  He told me “They say very good things about you in the AF Bureau.  He laughed, then said, “There is no way you can live up to your advanced billing.”  He laughed again, then smiled.  O my god, I thought, a psycho for a boss.  Three years.  OMG!  

We arrrived.  Elections brought in the opposition just as we were settling in.  The coup leader turned dictator turned democrat stepped down after nineteen years of rule.  Western pundits called it the Ghana Miracle because Lt. Rawlings bowed out gracefully.  But it was no miracle — just normal folks behaving like adults.  To expect otherwise says more about the expector than the expected.

Accra was fine and we did some outstanding work in GSO, especially in contracting and residential leasing.  Filomena returned to USAID, managing child health programs.  But the level of collegiality and camaraderie at Embassy Accra was not the same as it was in Luanda — perhaps because Angola was a country at war, while Ghana was a country at peace.  There was tension in the administrative section, lots of pettiness, lots of bickering.  On the other hand, being in Accra provided some very bright moments.  Ghanaians introduced me to yoga.  The Fantes enstooled me.  The Ashantis embraced me and taught me their culture.  The Ewe and Ga protected me and kept me safe from harm.  To quote an Emerson poem, “. . . give all to love . . . . when the half-gods go, the gods arrive.”  At the end of my tour, the local employees and I performed a traditional “blessing” of the land where we hoped the new embassy would be built, Bud Field, but not before making a convincing presentation to OBO and AF/EX that Embassy Accra needed a new Embassy compound as soon as possible:  The powerpoint presentation I composed and delivered to OBO Director Williams and AF/EX Director Huggins provides a snapshot view of embassy operations at the time.

signing the MOU with Amb. Twining at Embassy Accra

The most memorable project I was involved in at Embassy Accra came at the very end of my tour.  By a fortuitous turn of events, we needed at least a 200-year lease on a large piece of property for the eventual construction of an embassy compound at the same time that the Ghanaian Ambassador in Washington needed to close a deal on property he was purchasing for his official residence out in Potomac, MD.  The Ghanaian constitution did not allow foreigners to own land, but OBO assured us that a long-term lease of at least 200 years was as good as a title deed.  Fortunately for us, the new supervisory PMO in AF/EX in charge of the project, Stephanie Sullivan, had previously been political counselor in Accra and knew all the political players, as well as the Ghanaian Ambassador, Alan Kyerematen.  The management counselor was on leave, so I had to handle the negotiations on the Accra side.  We worked the phones, just like in Ops, Embassy Accra to AF/EX in Washington, Embassy Accra to the Ghanaian Embassy, Embassy Accra to the Foreign Ministry, Embassy Accra to the Presidential Palace, Embassy Accra to the members of Parliament, and every combination and permutation within and across all these elements.  Stephanie steered me masterfully through the local and national Ghanaian government bureaucracy while working the phones on the Washington end.  Within mere days, we managed to execute an MOU with the Ghanaian government granting us the 200-year lease on Bud Field (see photo above).  A couple of years later, NOB construction commenced at that very site.

Washington, DC

Summer 2002.  That summer we moved back to Washington to a PMO job in AF/EX — Anglophone and Lusophone West Africa, as originally assigned.  But upon arrival, the deputy executive director told me I would be covering countries in East Africa.  My prior assignments, Bissau, Luanda, and Accra, had all been west, so this region would present a new, unexplored set of challenges.  I rolled up my sleeves, little knowing that, later, in retrospect, I would consider it my favorite all-time assignment and the most productive period of my foreign service career.

The second ten years starts with my assignment, in 2002 as post management officer for East Africa and ends with my last assignment, in 2012, as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for the Maghreb (North Africa), a position from which I was unceremoniously but shamefully and inaccurately removed on December 18, 2012 as part of an over-zealous Department response to unfounded fears of Congressional fallout from the Benghazi ARB report. 

Washington, DC

We returned to Washington in the fall of 2002.  As soon as our tenant vacated the apartment, we embarked on a major refurbishment project, resurfacing the hardwood floors, painting throughout, and, much to Filomena’s delight, a complete renovation of the kitchen.   Meanwhile, the DC sniper was terrorizing the District and we were wishing we were back in West Africa.

AF/EX Post Management Officer

At work, I sat out to master the ropes of the Washington bureaucracy as PMO for East Africa.  We had major projects underway: new embassy buildings under construction for Nairobi and Dar es Salaam; re-establishment of operations in Khartoum; and potential Embassy site search and selection for Djibouti, Asmara, and Antananarivo.  In meeting after meeting, I came to understand and appreciate the thoughts and contributions of my counterparts in OBO, IRM and DS, and before long we were able to pick up the phone and unstick things, solving problems before they reached anybody’s notice.  I could give you a number of examples, but then I’d have to kill you!  LOL!  In the Spring I traveled with the Under Secretary for Management, Grant Green, to Nairobi and Dar Es Salaam for the new embassy openings, then broke away for site visits to Khartoum, Addis Ababa and Asmara.  I was scheduled for visits to Antananarivo, Kampala and Djibouti, but the Iraq war started when I got to Ethiopia and my boss directed me to return home.

We spent quite a bit of time back on Khartoum.  Early on the deputy director, John Sheely (a fabulous guy and a great boss, by the way.  We were all lucky to have him as our immediate supervisor and mentor) directed me to organize a series of weekly meetings, cross-departmental, to come up with a strategy to restore full operations at Embassy Khartoum.  Since the embassy evacuation and shutdown in the 90’s, American Embassy Khartoum staff had been assigned to Nairobi and only made TDY visits to Khartoum, even though the local staff was still assigned.  The situation worked very well for USAID, who was principally engaged in South Sudan (still part of Sudan at the time, though at war), a short flight from Nairobi, but was erratic at best for embassy operations.  

During those weekly meetings, I managed to forge strong working relations with colleagues from DS (Diplomatic Security), from IRM (Information Resource Management, and from OBO (Office of Overseas Building Operations).  The weekly meetings were always well attended, and I either stayed late or came in early the next day to draft and send out the meeting minutes and to-do items list to various offices.  One of the weekly meetings was particularly rousing: we were approaching closure on a way to restore unclassified and classified e-mail at the Khartoum chancery.  Thanks to ideas from AF IT and logistics guru Steve Deutsch, we had a number of excellent ways forward to consider.  Nonetheless, organizational lines were crossing and tempers were flaring at the meeting.  We lost control of the meeting due to all the bickering and turf defending between and across the various groups.  Suddenly, without warning, I slammed my hand loudly on the conference room table and said, in a firm but convincing voice, “We, here, today, in this conference room, have to decide if Embassy Khartoum is going to be an embassy of the United States of America, or a hole in the wall.”  The room got silent.  You could have heard a pin drop.  And slowly, cooler heads prevailed and we found a way forward that satisfied the requirements of DS, OBO, IRM and AF/EX.  There is nothing like bureaucratic success, or, as a Quaker friend always says, “the truth is in the room; you just have to allow it to emerge.”  Here is a short video where I describe the moment for recruitment efforts:   careers.state.gov video 

That fall of 2003 we moved to 18th and G so our suite could be renovated.  It would be the first ever renovation of AF/EX since the building was built in the 50’s.  AF Executive Director Jamie Agnew masterminded the project from start to finish.  I really came to like Jamie and I enjoyed working for her.  She remains one of my all-time favorite bosses, and being a PMO in AF/EX remains my favorite all-time jobs.  I got a lot done for my posts and I learned a lot about the inner workings of the State machine, especially HR, OIG, OBO, and the A Bureau, bureaus whose operations affect people at post the most.  

A few days into my second trip to the region, Ops found me to let me know about a death in the family, my aunt, Rebecca Hairston.  Aunt Beck stepped in and became our mother figure when my mother died in 1975, so she had served as a mother figure for a longer time than did my actual mother.  I was in Asmara when the call came, but luckily there was a flight to Europe the very next day.  I changed my itinerary and returned home. 

The second year in AF/EX was the year of evacuations.  Abidjan, Bangui, Kinshasa, and Nairobi kept us all very busy.  The Nairobi evacuation went on for almost six months!  We had never had an evacuation that lasted so long, and it created a number of complications for our office, for folks at post, for people assigned, and for people “caught out.”  I seem to recall that we actually got changes made to the Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM) after the Nairobi evacuation to better accommodate evacuated families and their choice of safehaven.  

After the evacuation ended, we spent a lot of shoe leather on the Embassy Nairobi build-to-lease housing project, Rosalyn Ridge.  OBO, Embassy Nairobi, and AF/EX were strong proponents.  The AF Front Office was not on board, however.  DS waivered.  Ultimately, the project was approved and became the choice location for residential housing at Embassy Nairobi.  

It was a very busy and eventful second year.  But we had a great crew!  My fellow PMO’s, Henry Kaminski, Doug Brown, and Barbara Gates were all just super people.   Our deputy director, John Sheely, gave us all the guidance we needed, and lots of encouragement.  And we got great support from the folks in the budget shop, in HR, the IT guys, and the GSO shop.  I look back with fondness on my time in AF/EX; it was an extremely productive time in my career.  Again, I will always maintain that being a post management officer was my all-time favorite job at State!  

A Bureau Special Assistant

After running so much paper to M, for evacuations, for special differentials, for Khartoum issues, and even for the Safari crew who took it upon themselves to venture into Northern Kenya when Embassy Nairobi was at ordered departure (Grant called them “The Great White Hunters”), it was almost natural for me to try to move to M for my next assignment.  But it wasn’t to be – my friend and colleague extended in the special assistant position so there was no vacancy as had been anticipated.  There was, however, a vacancy in the A Bureau front office.  So I bid on it, and met with the assistant secretary.  I got the job.  My portfolio would include the Office of the Procurement Executive (the hot political thing at the time was competitive sourcing), the Small and Disadvantaged Business Unit, the Office of Reproduction and Publishing Services (which included the Ralph Bunche Library).

There were interesting successes and even more interesting failures/defeats.   

M Special Assistant

Cairo, Egypt

http://poemsbyray.blogspot.com/2013/01/oral-history-ruminations-on-my-365-days.html

Baghdad, Iraq

My Hootch in Embassy Estates –

Republican Palace Grounds

Ruminations on my 365 days of service in Iraq.

My service in Iraq, from January 2008 to January 2009, was a complex

sentence that had, for me, several significant punctuation marks. A

semicolon marked my transfer from the Office of Provincial Affairs to

the Front Office; a series of exclamation marks accompanied the March

and April bombings in the IZ and on the Palace grounds; tentative

commas marked our move from the “hootches” to the NEC apartments

starting in May and the intense heat of the June through August summer

months; repetitious question marks from September through November

caused us all to wonder whether the Iraqis would actually accept the

terms of the Strategic Agreement and the Strategic Framework Agreement; the period, full stop, of December ended our occupation of the Republican Palace; and the exclamation mark of our January move to the new chancery coincided, altogether, with some measure of restoration of Iraqi sovereignty and the establishment a new US-Iraq bilateral relationship. Through it all, the exceptional courage and the tireless sacrifices of my fellow foreign service officers, foreign service nationals, third country nationals, and contractors left me in a state of awe and with a deep sense of humility of the privilege that was mine, to be there in service with them.

Short  first flight from Amman to Baghdad

Similarly, service in Afghanistan and Pakistan demands great courage and sacrifice, as does service in less heralded but equally demanding hardship postings, such as Luanda, Monrovia, and Khartoum, to name a few (I betray here my AF background and professional lineage). The point, however, is that success in tough places requires personal courage and sacrifices, both of FSO’s and of their families. And the sacrifices are not equal – our families and loved ones pay far more, far more. Much of the human cost of our political success in Iraq, or in any of these places, such as it is, goes uncompensated.

Shifting gears quickly, a great American diplomat once confided to me that perhaps we pay too much attention to direct compensation, such as hardship pay, danger pay, special differentials, etc., and not enough

attention to the appeal to a sense of duty and the possible achievement of patriotic success so rarely experienced in a long career. It may be that we have lost faith in such intangibles, such outmoded values, and that we place more faith in the details of the Service Recognition Package. That loss of faith in our core values, quite frankly, identifies us less as diplomats and more as mercenaries, soldiers for hire, and we sell ourselves short, and cheaply, at that.

And what is to become of our Foreign Service? That’s a question that came up often in Baghdad conversations where it was evident and obvious that traditionally diplomatic functions, once the province and

the domain of the Department of State, were and are slowly being taken over by a far better resourced, better trained, and better equipped Department of Defense. Many studies have been and are being conducted on the militarization of diplomacy (just google the words “militarization of diplomacy” and see what comes up) and the more euphemistic term, “civilian-military cooperation.” Baghdad is a huge laboratory for such studies, the former term being far more descriptive that the latter. Military units named Strategic Effects and Strategic Communications have leveraged the massive resource imbalance between Defense and State to spring themselves into former State-dominated areas of political and economic reporting and public diplomacy efforts. Regional and combatant commanders have become the equivalent of ambassadors and chiefs of mission, outside the traditional inter-agency setting, but with far more resources and more robust means of budget execution. The Country Team is just another joint interagency task force, among many.

Fortunately for us, I guess, Defense shows no taste for administrative or consular work, State’s traditional and historic stepchildren, so State’s monopoly is safe there, for the time being

Where did the Foreign Service lose its soul, its purpose, its identity? We allowed the lines separating foreign service professional service from military professional service to be blurred. But there are important differences between us, more that the false dichotomy espoused in the phrase “State is from Venus and Defense is from Mars.”  We are both from Earth, but there are differences in the way we think, the way we approach problem solving, differences in our respective strategic cultures.

Diplomacy, true diplomacy can prevent war and all the attendant physical and human losses.  But the tools of diplomacy, falsely, inappropriately or unprofessionally applied, have a high probability of failure. Diplomacy during the years 2000 to 2008 came to be seen as simply the prerequisite and prelude to war. Acccordingly, the noted military historian, Geoffrey Blainey writes, “many historians, in explaining the outbreak of war, argue that ‘the breakdown in diplomacy led to war.’ This explanation is rather like the argument that the end of winter led to spring: it is a description masquerading as an explanation.”  Where war, the noted historian Barbara Tuchman writes, is “the unfolding of miscalculations,” diplomacy is the precise calculation itself, and the accurate reporting and ordering of solutions to correct and accurate calculations that eliminates the need for war and all its corresponding horrors. Stated tersely, State’s core competency is diplomacy to prevent war. Defense’s core competency is fighting to win the war itself.

Where do we go from here? We start by unequivocally defining ourselves and our core competencies. It is about funding. It has never been.  It is about our professional capacity to bring about the peaceful  resolution of conflicts. It is about peace making. War has brought us a limited economic development, followed by financial disaster. Peace brings a much broader and more widespread prosperity. History is the judge. Blessed are the peace makers…

An interview at the end of my Iraq tour.

Attached, please find the transcript from your interview with the team from the State Department and the Joint Center for Operational Analysis for the “Comprehensive Approach: Iraq” study on civil-military

cooperation.

Please make any corrections/refinements you deem necessary using the “track changes” function in Word, and please let me know if you have any questions, comments, or concerns.

Most importantly, thank you for your participation in this process.  The study seems to be going well, and everyone involved seems pleased with the progress thus far.

Ray Maxwell, USM-I Chief of Staff and Executive Secretary (in Baghdad 1 full year)

What is your position and mission? 

As Chief of Staff, I’m responsible for the bidding cycle for bringing in new people on an annual basis, designing the marketing strategy, and implementing it in coordination with Washington offices. Additionally as Chief of Staff I supervise 14 translators and interpreters in the Office of Language Services, four staff in the Office of Legislative Affairs, three staff in the Badging Unit, three staff in the Protocol Office, and four staff assistants in the executive secretariat. As Executive Secretary, all the paper that comes in from the various offices, bureaus, agencies to the DCM and the Ambassador come to the Executive Secretariat—come through me and my staff—and a big part of our responsibility there is maintaining access to information by the all the different offices so they know how to communicate with the DCM and the Ambassador in ways they want to be communicated with. And also we have a gate keeping function, in the sense that if a paper comes up and it hasn’t been properly cleared—i.e., if all the agencies that have equity haven’t signed off on it—sometimes we’ll stop and say maybe USAID has to look at this or maybe MNF-I need to take a look at it or the RSO. So we make sure that when it gets to the DCM and Ambassador it has been properly and thoroughly vetted.

What has been your biggest challenge?

The biggest challenge is actually coordination across all the various offices, bureaus, and agencies that are here. Sometimes it civil-military, but that’s a whole different and higher level of coordination, if you will. Often its between people who have program funding to do things and people who are in charge of their oversight. And that’s an ever present and constantly recurring challenge.

What about Successes?

My main mission in life was to make sure that we didn’t have last year what we had the year before last in terms of attracting bidders (DoS employees to Baghdad). The year before last a lot of jobs went unfilled—they had the Town Hall in Washington—it was a huge mess. I came here with the mission that we would not have that kind of situation this year. 

Could you explain the “mess”?

In the military and civilian surge, the military stepped up and the civilian agencies were supposed to step up, but the civilians in those agencies did not step up. They had a Town Hall meeting in Washington and there was blood all over the decks with people saying ‘we’re not going to go, it’s a death sentence, blah, blah, blah…’ There were some forty jobs left unfilled by late October, and I was a part of that forty-some that stepped up and took those last jobs—mainly because of the our outrage at the way our colleagues behaved when asked to volunteer. So this year with the Ambassador Crocker’s concordance, and in fact he had some really good ideas, we got an early start on marketing. We made video vignettes of people who were here, we reached out to career development officers, we reached out to colleagues, to the posts we came from, we went back on R&R and did brown bag lunches in Washington—it was a full marketing blitz. 

One big problem the prior year was indecisiveness in Baghdad because several people would bid for several jobs and there would be internal squabbles over who would get what person, and in the process of having the squabble, people backed away and we lost bidders. Sometimes post held out for the perfect person and lost three or four people who would have been good enough because there weren’t rules or protocols for making decisions. So I established a working group and came up with protocols for de-conflicting bids, breaking ties and making decisions about bidders even with minimal information so we could get the decision done and move on to the next set of assignments. And we were successful—and leading that process has been my greatest success.

Given the Baghdad Embassy’s unusual size and the complexity of interagency coordination required—including with the military—what types of process and structures were set up, and should they be considered for future “best practices?”

In so many cases what happens is that issues and problems in civilian military coordination worked their way up to the top of two separate stove-pipes, and then the Generals and the Ambassadors try to work it out—and the Generals and the Ambassadors can’t solve problems. What we’ve discovered is that if we can get the Majors talking to the FSO-3s and Colonels talking to the FSO-1s, if we can get people at the working level talking to one and other and working out wrinkles before it gets elevated to the top—then it needn’t get elevated to the top. And one of the things we tried to promote is that it’s in our interest at the working level to solve these problems because our bosses have plenty of big things that they need to solve, and they don’t need to get all tied up with routine things that can get solved at the working level. But the key is to the build those channels of communication at the Major level/the Colonel level—those mid levels. That hasn’t happened as quickly as I would like, but it’s starting to happen.

How have you pushed that cooperation? Is there a process for building those channels of communication at the lower levels?

What I’ve been doing as Chief of Staff is calling meetings with people who we identify as being pertinent to certain issues and getting them in the same room and saying let’s resolve this. And hopefully as we do this—and at the very last one I invited my successor so he could see the process—hopefully as we continue that practice it will evolve into a bilateral culture. We had one (of these meetings) just last week. Now we are an Embassy, not a forward operating base (FOB) or the Palace. Embassies have rules for carrying weapons. The military guys were used to being on FOBs where their weapon was part of their uniform; they weren’t eager or anxious to give up the power to carry a weapon. The RSOs (regional security officer) have to implement a policy that says people don’t carry weapons in an embassy. It went up to a two star on the military side and a three star on the Embassy side, and they couldn’t resolve it because it has to be—you need buy in at every level. So I called a meeting with the RSOs and a couple Chiefs of Staff at the Colonel level and we just talked about it—not only the weapons policy, but the general policy of how military guys behave on U.S. Embassy grounds. Frankly the military guys don’t know—most of them have never been involved in an Embassy and so they assume things are just as they were before, but things are not. So that’s one concrete example. The whole idea is that as we duplicate the conversation we’ll find ways to find solutions at the working level. 

Do you feel the need to formalize the results of such meetings in an MOU, frago, etc, or is it merely the act of getting people together to talk about problems?

No, that’s the military way. But it gives me an opportunity to give you my worldview on the whole Mars and Venus thing. A friend of mine wrote that paper “State is from Venus, DOD is from Mars” and I think that is a fair but false dichotomy. It’s not all about Mars and Venus, love and war—that’s a false dichotomy. The way I choose to look at the greatest distinction between the military and State, and for that matter the military and any civilians is that the military is digital. It’s 0 and 1, all or nothing. ‘If we’re going to do a thing, let’s do the whole formal process.’ And that’s fine for military things. The State Department is analog—it’s like ‘where on the range from 12 noon to 11:59pm is this purpose best served? Let’s find out the best solution among a multiplicity of hypothesis if you will.’ Another analogy is—I was in the Navy, a machinist mate on submarines for eight years, so I know a lot about pumps and valves. The military is like a gate valve—open and shut. The State Department is like a needle valve—it’s got a mechanism that you can screw down or screw up to just the right point for precise throttling of fluid flow. Speaking with my State Department hat on, in some respects the gate valve is the best thing, but in some respects you need to be able to throttle your response or your solution, you need to be able to measure it so it is just right. Now extending that to the culture—we had a case, for example, when we had a credible terrorist threat on Christmas eve, we couldn’t run the shuttles, and one particular military group that was living at the palace but working at the NEC screamed bloody murder because the shuttles were going to stop at midnight, and their people couldn’t be transported back and forth. What they said was, ‘we’ve got 200 people that need to be moved, so the shuttle has to run every hour.’ I called a meeting and after everybody calmed down, I asked, ‘how many people are on the night shift tonight that actually need to move to man the shift that night?’ And it turned out it wasn’t 200, it was 13. So we didn’t need shuttles running every hour. We needed two shuttles, one to take the people in and one to take the people out who were getting off. So again, we can have an all-or-nothing solution that says if 200 people can’t show the whole thing is going to shutdown or you can have a situation that asks what do you really need and how can we measure our response to meet just the demand. And frankly, I think Foreign Service Officers are better at that measurement; at doing just what’s required to get the job done, not a lot more, not a lot less. It’s biased because I’m in the State Department, but it’s informed because I was also in the military.

What are solutions to this digital-analog gap? Have there been efforts to try to bridge? What recommend? 

I’ve given that a lot of thought actually. What we have here is a series of collisions between State and DOD, between civilian and military. What happens in all these collisions, the ball of the military is so huge and the ball of the civilians is so small that when they collide, the military does all in its might to make the State Department like them. That’s not the solution. You can’t militarize diplomacy any more than you can diplomaticize the military. There needs to be a kind of mutual appreciation of what each side is bringing to the table and a willingness to work things out from both perspectives or from one or other that everybody agrees to. What happens here in Baghdad, in these compounds, is that the military and State come together, and the military is so huge that they succeed in getting us to speak in military lingo, think in terms of military solutions, think in terms of the way the military would do it if we would just put on uniforms. Sometimes that works in the short term, but it doesn’t get buy-in over the long haul because sooner or later people who are not in the military will wake up and say, I’m not in the military, this isn’t what I signed up for, I’m not going to do it that way. So there’s got to be a mutual appreciation, almost equality of appreciation, and mutual buy-in from both directions. It’s going to be hard, because the military’s got all this might, strength, muscle, but that’s the way forward.

Did close relationship between Petraeus and Crocker permeate their organizations, help these issues?

I’d better drink some Kool-Aid before I answer that question. No. I will agree that Gen. Petraeus and Amb. Crocker said the right things at the top and to each other, but the fact of the matter is it didn’t work its way down. The military is a hierarchy, and when they want something – for example, I was in the Navy, and in 1979, when a couple of planes missed the aircraft carrier and went off into the water, it turned out all these pilots were on drugs. So the Navy started a zero-tolerance policy on drug use, and they came up with a slogan, “Not on my watch, not on my ship, not in my Navy.” This is just an example – when the military decides at the top that they want to do something, it works its way down uniformly. If the military has decided at the top that they want to do something, and it doesn’t work its way down uniformly, they have not decided. Because if they have decided, they can impose it, they can make it happen. Now, Gen. Petraeus is a war hero, and he’s written a book on counterinsurgency, this is all on the table. The fact of the matter is, we ran into glitches with unity of effort, things that we tried to accomplish. And being from the military, I know that if the guy at the top says it, and means it, he can make it happen down. If it’s not happening down the hierarchy, it’s because the guy at the top really doesn’t say it, or really doesn’t mean it. I’m sorry. I know the military, that’s the way it is.

Are there any changes in process that explain recent improvements in Iraq? 

Sure. Yes. I’m going to be digital. (laughter) We started last year doing joint staff notices, signed off by Gen. Petraeus and Amb. Crocker, and promulgated throughout both sides. That was good. It’s better to have it come down from both to all as opposed to coming down from separate channels, saying we agreed to it at the top, trust us. That was a good thing. These notices were on broad policy, like security. For example, when we had the incoming IDF, and everyone had to wear PPE and helmets whenever they went outside, a joint statement came out to military and civilians saying, until further notice, we all have to do this. It was a good thing; normally, the military’s a bit stricter with its folks than the State Department was, sometimes it’s just the opposite. The operation of the PRTs is a good example of civilian-military cooperation; but it’s not ideal. In theory, the PRTs are out there, they’ve got a civilian head and military deputy and it’s hunky-dory, but if you look closely it’s not like that at all. And so in many cases, the civilian team leader wants to do something, but unless the military provides the resources and assets to do it, it’s not going to happen. In a lot of cases, the resources and assets to actually perform a thing are not provided upon request (by the military), because that’s their leverage. 

I think we can do a lot more in educating each other at the working level about how we look at things. For example, a situation came up just last week, the military guys who were running the Joint Coordinating Committee on implementing the security framework agreement and security agreement, the military was having a problem with its translators, most of whom are Iraqis, local employees. What they wanted to do, proposed was, because the Iraqis now need to follow Iraqi law, they need to pay local taxes. The military solution to that was, let’s bring this into the security agreement and say they don’t have to pay taxes. Well, that’s kind of the military way of looking at things, but the fact of the matter is, we have this thing called the Vienna Convention for Diplomatic Relations that’s been in existence for 40, 50 years, and at every Foreign Service post in the world we deal with locals and taxes. The military guys at the colonel level should have had some exposure at some point to the Vienna Convention, but clearly they hadn’t. If they had, they would have known that this was a Vienna Convention issue, this is something that the Embassy would handle, we don’t need to worry about it. 

Is there a mechanism for resolving such a problem?

Well, it came through on the classified side, and I was CC’ed. I responded to one of my counterparts that worked for the General that raised the issue and I said all of the above with the hope that he would push it up to his General . . . . These are informal ways—informal ways of doing things are dependent on the person being knowledgeable, energetic, and being willing to do to it—so these are intangibles and imponderables, if you will.

What are your recommendations to close the Civil-Military Gap, especially in the cultural differences?

I think that the leaders need to be trained and educated. And then they have to push it down the organization. That a structural thing, and we have tried to do a joint senior leaders training, but we weren’t able to pull it off because so many other things came up. There was a change of command and the new Commanding General had a billion things he wanted to do, and we weren’t able to do it. The civilian and military leaders need to be trained; preferably they need to be trained together on doing things jointly—not doing things the military way, but doing things jointly. Maybe once a week or once a month, we need to get everybody into one auditorium and talk about things in multicultural harmony and peace (laughing).

Are responsibilities between MNF-I and USM-I clear or blurred—who is responsible for what, etc?

No, it’s blurred. It’s blurred probably for a good reason. There’s no easy or simple answer but in the final analysis we are a nation that maintains civilian control over the military, even if it’s just the President over the Secretary of Defense or the SecDef over the JCS. Anyway you slice it; we are a nation that prides itself in civilian control over the military. What we find in a lot of these instances locally in a war state where you are also trying to do diplomatic relations you don’t have civilian control over the military locally, you have two coequals, a dualism. Any time you have two things and nobody locally to resolve those two things there are going to be conflicts. I think in Baghdad Ryan Crocker should be in charge and whatever combatant commanders there are should be subordinate to him—that’s my personal opinion. Whoever is the civilian representative of the President in this country should be at the top the hierarchy and not at the top of two equal peaks. I think that would resolve some things. As things now stand, there’s no civilian in Baghdad that can override the Commanding General. And the Commanding General from time to time overrides the civilian representative here, but in my opinion that shouldn’t be because we are a nation that prides itself on civilian control of the military.

Over the past year, as the security situation has improved and the emphasis has shifted to reconstruction and development, has the balance of power shifted from the Commanding General to the Chief of Mission?

No, I don’t think it’s shifted. The White House would have to say ‘he’s my guy, he’s in charge.’ If the President doesn’t say it, it is not done.

How are “orders” conveyed and enforced on the civilian side in the Embassy (in comparison the military side)?

We have the Country Team, and the Country Team is made of representatives from every civilian agency at an embassy. In the case of Baghdad, we have military members on the country team. I came from Cairo. In Cairo we had the defense attaché and the head of the defense cooperation office that were on the Country Team. The Country Team meets once a week and the Ambassador gives his spiel on the state of affairs that week, the DCM talks about the operational things, and everybody has a chance to give their spiel. But at the Country Team it is acknowledged that the Ambassador is at the top of the pinnacle. The Country Team is not a pyramidal hierarchy as such—it’s not like one guy, and then two guys, and then four guys. It’s like one guy and then a flat organization with one guy who sits at the top. There’s no question that the Ambassador is calling the shots. Every once in a while—and I’ve seen this in a few Embassies—there will be a little flail between the Ambassador and the Chief of USAID Mission. . . . And there have been historical precedents where the Ambassador was the President’s representative but the USAID representative had all the money, ran all the programs, and had all the recognition outside, and used that to marginalize the Ambassador.

Has Ambassador Crocker had problems conveying his efforts to improve civilian-military cooperation within the Embassy?

I guess the question is: has he directly confronted the issue of civilian-military cooperation? And the answer is: No. It hasn’t been a theme. It’s something that’s constantly mentioned in the sense that we’ve got to include them, they’ve got include us, blah, blah, blah. But in terms of making it the theme, something that’s really established and reinforced, I don’t think it’s been a central topic. And I think it hasn’t been a central topic, possibly with good reason because it will just result in clashes because there is no clarity about how it should go forward. 

So it has been handled on a cases-by-case basis, but not systematically?

Yes. I think that’s fair to say.

Do you mean there’s no clarity on the Iraq operation as a whole, or just within the civilian side there’s no clarity on civ-mil cooperation?

What’s not clear to me is that there an objective in State to civilian-military cooperation in Iraq. If we all knew what the objective was in State, I think we could push towards that. I don’t think it’s been enunciated, clarified—Where are we heading to? What is it going to be? Part of the reason it hasn’t been is because of the nature of the war here. The Security Agreement and Security Framework give us a kind of a structure, but it’s still not exactly clear what is going to be the end state.

Has the Embassy’s relationship to Washington and the many Agencies within the Embassy reporting to their own home offices complicated coordination? Have you developed any particular processes and structures to manage that?

That has complicated things. In the perfect embassy communication between the agencies and their headquarters would come through the Ambassador. That doesn’t happen here. There may be an informal notification. But there is no funneling of information through him, or even in to him when people communicate to their HQs in Washington. Maybe there’s not enough time in the day for him to read all that stuff—that could be a consideration. The other piece of it is: it’s pretty hard to have sound interagency cooperation in Baghdad if we don’t have sound interagency cooperation in Washington. I’ve worked in Washington and I know that the only interagency cooperation that exists, exists overseas at posts. There’s none in Washington, it’s just a huge monster. And the government’s getting bigger. It’s not getting small, it’s not getting tight, it’s not getting more organized, and it’s not getting more efficient. I fear for my country (laughing).

What is your feeling on flexible civilian hiring practices designed to fill needs and expertise—especially the 3161 hires?

The 3161 hiring mechanism allowed State to “pull off” the civilian surge. We beefed up the military, we beefed up the civilians, but there weren’t enough people who worked for foreign affairs agencies to fill all the jobs that needed to be filled, so they created this mechanism to bring subject matter experts in to do these jobs. These 3161s are on a one year contract, they don’t get evaluated, they don’t have a work requirement statement, they don’t have standards of performance. Someone in Washington decided that they were subject matter experts and they came to Baghdad. Some of them are, some of them are not. That’s one part of it. The weirdest part of the 3161s is that it becomes a self-fulfilling thing where 3161s come to Baghdad, they may or may not be suitable for some jobs, they find ways to gravitate from one 3161 job to another 3161 job, and they just stay in Baghdad. Some of these people should go home. And there must be tighter oversight over 3161s from some Washington office to make sure that they are still the subject matter experts that they claim, that they are still required for the subject matter expertise that they have, and that it’s still a useful thing. That oversight doesn’t exist. The 3161s come here, they float from job to job, they get overtime—tenured FSOs don’t get overtime—they are doubling their salaries and some of them are not even working—there are several 3161s that I just don’t see what their work output is. But we don’t have oversight over them. There needs to be oversight here in Baghdad as well as from Washington. 

The third point is that the military surge started, it reached a crescendo and it shrunk, and the civilian side needs to reach a crescendo and shrink, but it isn’t shrinking—it’s not shrinking. The 3161s should follow that natural cycle, but that natural cycle has been adulterated. There are lots of good reasons: the domestic economy is bad and they can’t go back and find jobs, so why should they leave a $300,000 a year job in Baghdad where they work part time and pad their overtime. Why should they leave this and go back home to unemployment or $65,000—it’s rational that they would try to stay, but it’s not efficient. 

Finally, as we normalize, the 3161 positions have to become a part of the normal Embassy staff. We beefed up, we brought extra people, and we couldn’t get Embassy people, FSOs, or civilians for that matter to come. Now we’re at the point—we had a very successful marketing campaign—we had more people (apply) than jobs last year. So the tide has clearly shifted and we’re at a time right now where we clearly don’t have a deficit, we have a surplus of people who want to come here. Plus the alternative to Baghdad working its way through peoples’ minds is increasingly Afghanistan, and people would rather come to Baghdad where it’s kind of nice and the war has been won, than go to Afghanistan where it’s cold and they don’t have good food, good housing, and the list just goes on and on. If the tide has turned and we have plenty of FSOs why are we still bringing in 3161s? We should ease them out and fill those jobs with FSOs or people employed by civilian agencies.

Have you had any success bringing in military personnel with the types of expertise you might need in the Embassy to fill staff positions?

There are sections that have military members, and where they exist, it has been successful. I don’t think it exists on a wide scale or a wholesale basis. We have a military advisor to the Ambassador—Colonel Mozillo —he’s excellent. He gets a lot of things done for us that you need that inside military knowledge to do. There are DOD people in the Political section, DOD people in the CETI cluster of agencies, but I don’t think it’s widespread. But again it happens in other agencies, it happens in offices in the State Department. The Office I’m going to run in Washington has foreign and military members in it and by all indications it works well.

What recommendations would you make to change the structure and organization of the Embassy as it becomes a more “normal” Embassy if you could write your own “Kennedy” report?

I think a good start would be a unified org. plan. Right now we have an MNF-I org. chart and an Embassy org. chart. One org chart for the whole mission would be useful to see what the boxes are. Once we got everybody together on once piece of paper we could see all the boxes, talk about moving some things around, doing some consolidation, doing some elimination. When we were in the Palace for example, we had Strat-Effects doing the same thing the Econ Section was doing, we had sections of MNF-I doing the same things the Political sections were doing. We were totally duplicating each other’s efforts. The place that it was most telling was not the Palace because we all kept ourselves sequestered away from each other. The place where it was most telling was in the Iraqi Ministries where they were constantly being bombarded for appointments from civilians and military guys and they were being asked the same questions on the same topics. And it got to the point—this anecdotal because I don’t get out a lot—where Iraqis couldn’t get their work done because they were being bombarded by so many different groups of Americans asking them the same questions. So again, if we could get one org. chart on one piece of paper—it could be a long piece of paper—we could actually look at and identify the areas of duplication and then work on some consolidation. There’s going to be resistance to that because there are people here who want to stay—there will be resistance on both sides, but I think that would be a good first step.

We have heard quite a lot about the JCP, but you have suggested that on the organizational side there has not been the same type of unified efforts. Are we making too much of the JCP?

I have shied away from the JCP. The State Dept. has its own planning structure called the Mission Strategic Plan. In Baghdad the Mission Strategic Plan had been give short shrift because the JCP is the thing. I think that’s wrong, but that’s the way it’s done. As the situation normalizes we’ll see a lessening of emphasis on the JCP and an increase in emphasis on the Mission Strategic Plan. For example I coordinated the Mission Strategic Plan for Cairo before coming here, and Cairo was the largest embassy. We certainly managed to get military input as well as civilian input to the Mission Strategic Plan. It’s an unclassified document; it’s posted to the internet. The JCP is a Top Secret document that nobody can see—nobody can keep it on their desk because of the classification, so you keep it locked away in a box with a combination on it. Just that alone says to me that it is not a working document . . . but it generates a lot of work (laughing). 

DO you think the embassy staff is overwhelmed by the efforts to coordinate with the military or there is not enough?

It would be worthwhile for a group of very smart people to sit down and figure out what is the best coordinating device and adopt that. As opposed to this multiplicity of different things that suck away a lot of time, and at the end of the day don’t make a big difference. Of course that’s not going to happen because people get a lot of mileage on authoring a coordination device and putting their name on it and saying this is the one that I came up with. And as long as we have that proliferation—we have nuclear proliferation of coordination devices (laughing). They just give birth to each other—it’s like rabbits. I think we need one good one that everyone agrees to.

Do you think that coordination is missing at a particular level?

The Country Team is it. The Country Team is the joint interagency.

At what level does the military participate on the Country Team and who do they represent?

We have a couple of two stars who come to Country Team. They represent the Commanding General. Well, I’ll be frank. I think they’re there to report back—which is a good thing too. There purpose is less to bring things in than to take things back—which is a good thing too, again.

When a problem comes to your desk about military coordination, etc. do you have a counterpart at MNF-I that you contact or do you pursue problems to specific offices/commands?

The idea came up that we should have a collection of Chiefs of Staff, and I farmed it around to some of the military guys, and you know, interestingly enough, what I was told was, we already have our collections of Chiefs of Staff and you’re more than welcome to join it, which was a fine response. But again it was like “you can come and be like us.” What I was looking for was is there some middle ground where we can come and meet as equals, and at the time there wasn’t. And I have plenty of other things to do, so I didn’t pursue it—that was my deficiency. I think if I had this job to over again, I would start at the very beginning by setting up that body of Chiefs of Staff, of Deputy Chiefs of Staff on the civilian and military side. Mind you the Chief of Staff on the civilian side is a new creation, and the Chief of Staff on the military side has had a long, long history. Nevertheless if I had this job to do all over again I would create that body of Chiefs of Staff to vet things, and weigh things, and resolve things at that level before it gets bumped up.

Few other embassies have a Chief of Staff, only Baghdad and maybe a few others. It’s very unique. In fact when I tell people I’m Chief of Staff they kind of giggle because they think, what is that? It’s going to kill my career progression (laughing). Embassies don’t have a Chief of Staff because the DCM is the Chief of Staff.

What is your analysis of the difference between your expectations when you arrived in Baghdad versus your experience over the past year?

Well, I didn’t come here to be Chief of Staff. I came here to be senior policy adviser in OPA, the Office of Provincial Affairs. And after 3 weeks I was drafted into this job—you don’t tell the DCM, “no I won’t come and be your Chief of Staff” So I said yes. It [the job] has definitely been an eye-opening experience; you see a lot of stuff. The most frustrating part of this job for me being a management officer is that I’m used to project managing. I’m used to conceiving a project, starting the thing, implementing it, finishing it, writing the lessons learned. Or contracting—you advertise, you go through the whole process, you administer, it reaches an end, you do it again. In this job I start a lot of stuff, and I don’t finish a lot of stuff. I start it when, for example, the DCM says call a meeting of a working group on the use of commercial air, and I’ll gather all the people who have some equity in commercial air and I’ll facilitate the first two or three meetings and then leadership will arise among the experts and they’ll take it, and my role is over and I’ll go to the next project. So I start a lot of things but I don’t finish a lot of things. That’s less than satisfying but that’s the nature of this job 

Any other issues that you would like to raise?

Just as we talked about training military guys in basic things like the Geneva Convention, civilians should be trained in military things. FSOs come here and they don’t know the rank structure for the various services, they don’t understand the organizational differences between the Army and the Air Force and the Navy. There are organizational cultural differences between the uniformed services—learning these things should be a general part of FSO training, not just something that prepares people to come to Baghdad, and people in general should know these things. And if the training process starts early then we’ll all go grow up with an appreciation for each other and that will make for better cooperation when the time requires it.

 Raymond Maxwell

From Diplopedia

Bio – Raymond Maxwell

I grew up in Greensboro, NC (F.D. Bluford Elementary and Lincoln Street Junior High) and attended Woodberry Forest School. In 1973, I was selected for and attended the Governor’s School of North Carolina, a summer enrichment program for the state’s top performing high school students. After high school, I took a year off and worked at a neighborhood bakery, starting with donuts and pastries, moving up to pie-baking, helping out with cake-decorating, and finishing as front shop sales clerk and manager-trainee. But college beckoned, and I gave up my future as a bakery entrepreneur to enroll in an undergraduate program in electrical engineering, following, ostensibly, in the footsteps of my father, a self-taught electrician.

Military Service

Short, far short of completing my degree, I enlisted in the Navy Nuclear Power program and served as a machinists’ mate on the fast attack submarine, the USS Hammerhead (SSN-663) and on the commissioning crew of the second Trident submarine, the USS Michigan (SSBN-727 Blue Crew), where I achieved the non-commissioned rank of First Class Petty Officer (E-6). While on the USS Michigan, I was selected for the Enlisted Commissioning Program. I transferred off the USS Michigan, homeported in Bangor, Washington, and made the long drive back east to attend the Naval Science Institute at Newport, Rhode Island. At the end of my enlistment I was assigned to the NROTC at Florida A&M University, where I earned a Naval Reserve commission and a B.S. degree in Economics (summa cum laude, Distinguished Military Graduate).

Reporting to the guided missile destroyer, the USS Luce (DDG-38), I served as Auxiliaries Officer, managing an engineering division that maintained and operated all engineering equipment outside the main engine rooms. Later I rotated to the weapons department where I served as Missiles Officer, managing a small division of missile technicians responsible for the ship Standard Missile launcher. I took the foreign service examination toward the end of my four-year obligated service. We decommissioned the USS Luce in the spring of 1991, and, shortly after passing the exam and the foreign service oral assessment, I resigned my naval commission.

Graduate Study

While awaiting an opening at State, I took graduate courses in economics at Washington University in St. Louis as a Chancellor Fellow. In May, 1992, I joined the 63rd A-100 Class. Later, while assigned to Embassy London, I completed an M.A. degree at the School of Oriental and African Studies (University of London).

Current Position and Foreign Service postings

My final assignment, capping a 21-year foreign service career, was as deputy assistant secretary (DAS) for North Africa (Maghreb) in the Near East Bureau. On December 18, 2012, I was unceremoniously but shamefully, disgracefully, inacccurately and illegally dismissed and relieved from the DAS position in an over-zealous Department response to unfounded fears of a Congressional/public backlash to the Benghazi ARB report. In due course I will be exonerated and my honor restored.

Previously, I served as director of the Office of Regional Affairs in NEA. My previous overseas assignments include DCM and Charge d’Affaires at Embassy Damascus, chief of staff and ExecSec director at Embassy Baghdad, deputy management counselor at Embassy Cairo, supervisory general services officer at Embassy Accra, management counselor at Embassy Luanda (all-time favorite overseas job), consular/political officer at Embassy London, and general services officer at Embassy Bissau. Washington assignments include program manager with The Sounding Board, special assistant to the Under Secretary for Management, special assistant to the Assistant Secretary for Administration, post management officer for East Africa (AF/EX)(all-time favorite domestic job), and watch officer in the Operations Center. I am a graduate of the 26th Senior Executive Threshold Seminar (SETS) course.

Personal

My foreign service career was a fascinating one, with interesting tours, good colleagues and great mentors. I received several Superior and Meritorious Honor awards and was twice nominated for the prestigious Leamon R. Hunt Award for Management Excellence. I speak Portuguese, a bit of Arabic, and smatterings of  high school French and Spanish. I am married to Dr. Filomena Pinto-Pereira. I am a shameless bibliophile and an unpublished poet.

Posted by Raymond Maxwell at 12:53 PM

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