The Foreign Service Journal, May 2024

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | MAY 2024 55 Croatia: Are You Real? TOM SELINGER I was dressed as Santa again, this time helping our Marine Security Guards deliver Toys for Tots to children in a Croatian orphanage in 2005. As I passed out gifts, a little girl—too young to have experienced the war but living the aftermath—climbed into my lap, eyes brimming with hope, and whispered, “Are you real?” I had practiced my jolly “Sretan Bozic [Merry Christmas]!” but wasn’t ready for this question. I paused and thought about my work helping this young country, barely a decade old, face its war legacy and pursue reforms to earn NATO membership, and about our mission that day to share the embassy community’s generosity. “Yes,” I whispered back proudly in Croatian. “I’m real. What about you? Are you real?” She giggled and nodded, gave my stuffed Santa belly a big hug, and scampered off with her toy. Syria: A Threat in Damascus MIRIAM ASNES Crouched under my desk in the consular section of Embassy Damascus on July 11, 2011, I and the other consular officers and local staff called out to each other, making sure everyone was OK as government thugs swarmed the embassy walls. We were a solid team, brought together by the adversity of assisting U.S. citizens during Bashar al-Assad’s brutal crackdown against Syrian citizens demanding more democratic and pluralistic governance. Under the leadership of Ambassador Robert Ford, every member of the embassy staff walked away unharmed that day, and we continued to serve the American people by maintaining an active U.S. diplomatic presence in Syria for another seven months. Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau, Chad: Reaching Hard-to-Reach Audiences KRISTIN M. KANE I am proud of using public diplomacy tools and strategic outreach at the height of the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to convince skeptical Muslim audiences on the Swahili coast at Mozambique’s (stunningly gorgeous) northern tip that we were not anti-Islam. I’m proud of getting to the hardest-to-reach audiences in places like Guinea-Bissau and Chad, nations with such deep and long-term instability that even the smallest programs and outreach go a long way. I’ve noticed that we have the most impact in the hardest places; and I have therefore found those Foreign Service assignments the most challenging but also the most rewarding. Cuba: Hurricane in Havana AMBASSADOR JENNIFER JOHNSON, AMY COX, AND JENNIFER MULLARKEY When a Category 5 hurricane swept through Havana in 2017, at the height of the “anomalous health incident” [or Havana syndrome] scare, some evacuated, 25 hunkered down at the ambassador’s residence, and a dozen stayed at the embassy. People left their roles behind and pitched in—collecting consumables and creating a dining hall, caring for pets and children, and delivering supplies using chain saws to cut through downed trees to reach people. It was a scary, emotional time, with empty containers crashing into the chancery building and coastal water flooding the embassy. Afterward, it continued to be an all-hands-on-deck effort to assess damage, coordinate relief supplies, and get the embassy back up and running. We were so proud to see our brave colleagues give it their all to overcome the multiple challenges. Worldwide: Advancing U.S. Goals on Three Continents CONARD HAMILTON For opportunities to make a difference, the Foreign Service never disappoints! From supporting consular teams deploying to Japan after the tsunami and nuclear meltdown there in 2011, to helping evacuate our mission in Venezuela in 2019 and subsequently creating a platform from which they could continue the mission in Colombia, to ensuring our missions to Poland and Ukraine got the personnel they needed in the aftermath of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine—I am proud to have been a small part of advancing U.S. goals on three continents. My story is not unique. Everyone I work with puts themselves in positions to make an impact. That is why I love this career.