The Foreign Service Journal, March 2009

here’s a type of family sepa- ration that is not talked about as much within the Foreign Service as that necessitated by unaccompanied tours and evacuations, but still has a profound impact on many peo- ple: tandem couples serving at separate posts. Most com- monly faced in first tours, this situation sometimes forces tandem officers to make difficult decisions when the needs of the Service, the jobs available and family or school re- quirements don’t all coincide. Joining the Foreign Service is already a complex process, and when a husband and wife both try to join at the same time — especially when one is a specialist and one a generalist, like us — it is even more difficult to se- cure assignment to the same post. In addition, when you are new to the inner workings of the Foreign Service, you usually don’t have the skills, the contacts or the knowledge to “work” the assignment system as skillfully as your more experienced colleagues. We are a first-tour, second-career couple just finishing a challenging and expensive two years of service at separate posts. We knew when we signed on the dotted line to join the Foreign Service that we would not always be able to live in the same city, but were hoping at least to be close. Alas, while Poland and Portugal are both excellent coun- tries in which to live (and alphabetically close), they are situated at opposite ends of the European continent, with no direct flights between them. As a consequence, our two teenage daughters live with me and only see their father on occasional long weekends and holidays. Luckily, they have been military “brats” their entire lives, so having their father absent for long periods of time was not as hard an adjustment for them as it might be for their civilian counterparts. Still, even though my husband had been on quite a few nine-month deployments while serving in the U.S. Navy, we weren’t prepared for just how expensive it would be to maintain two households and make regular visits to each other. Staying Together Now that we’ve been there and done that, we appreci- ate the importance of striving to avoid having to serve at separate posts in the first place. So here are some tips for getting posted together: • Work with both of your career development officers early and often in the bidding process, and try to get them talking to each other as soon as possible. • Do your homework on the jobs that might be coming up as far in advance as possible—especially if, like us, you M A R C H 2 0 0 9 / F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L 29 F O C U S O N G O I N G I T A L O N E C OPING WITH S EPARATION : T ANDEM C OUPLES B ESIDES THE OBVIOUS PERSONAL DIFFICULTIES , SEPARATED TANDEM COUPLES FACE AN EXPENSIVE TOUR WITH MINIMAL FINANCIAL AID . B Y A NNIE S IMPKINS Annie Simpkins is a first-tour consular officer in Warsaw; her husband David is a first-tour specialist in Lisbon. T