The Foreign Service Journal, June 2020

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | JUNE 2020 11 TALKING POINTS State Department Helps Bring #AmericansHome S ince Jan. 29, when a chartered flight brought nearly 200 Americans home fromWuhan, China, the State Depart- ment has been involved in one of the largest repatriation efforts in its history. As of May 12, the State Department said it had coordinated the repatriation of 85,141 Americans on 886 flights from 131 countries and territories since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. It hasn’t always gone smoothly; stressed and stretched, the department has had to work around countries that closed their borders and airlines that canceled flights. “Nearly every day, incredible stories of our teams’ speed and tenacity getting our people home hit my desk,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said at an April 7 press briefing. “These stories could be pulled from a Hollywood script. They’re remarkable.” “Our teams are printing emergency passports to get these folks back,” Pom- peo added. “We call hotels to find spaces for U.S. citizens to sleep to make sure they’re near the airport for the moment that the plane will arrive. And we make arrangements for flight crews, and we provide Americans with letters for safe passage. The list goes on and on. It’s truly a great piece of work by the United States government on behalf of the American people.” State’s Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs Ian Brown- lee is leading the repatriation effort. The 24/7 State Department crisis cell he heads “coordinates a global, multi- agency team that has rented boats for Americans marooned on the Amazon, redirected a U.S. plane monitoring the illegal drug trade in Latin America to ferry Americans from remote areas to larger airports, and sent a bus to the edge of the Sahara to fetch American camp- ers,” Time magazine reported on April 20. “We are tracking many cases of U.S. citizens overseas who are not necessarily close to a capital or other major city, and we’re making every effort to help people get to where they can take advantage of our repatriation flights, of course local travel conditions permitting,” Brownlee said at an April 22 press briefing. “For example, in the Philippines we have coordinated sweeper flights to collect U.S. citizens from Cebu, Davao and Iloilo and get them to Manila to fly home,” he said. “In Cabo Verde, the team is working to arrange a charter repatriation flight that will collect U.S. citizens from several island locations before an onward connection to Boston. We are working hard and creatively to help those who have come forward to request our assistance, but as I’ve said on multiple occasions, these flights will not go on forever.” At embassies and consulates around the world, U.S. diplomats and local staff worked tirelessly to help Ameri- cans return home. Tweeting under the #AmericansHome hashtag, many shared their stories on Twitter. A sampling of their tweets is on p.12. In addition, to help track the corona- virus impact, the State Department has established a Coronavirus Data Analytics Team that will allow employees to easily share all the data being collected about the coronavirus and produce effec- tive data for State Department analysis, Under Secretary of State for Management Brian Bulatao announced on April 3. “The CDAT will serve as a one-stop shop for data questions and aims to work closely with other collaborating data offices to ensure all COVID data is being managed in one central repository to be shared and leveraged as applicable,” he said in a departmental notice. COVID-19 Disruption F ollowing months of disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, many Foreign Service members turned their attention to the pending summer transfer season, wondering how much longer it might be delayed. And many families wondered when they might return to post following authorized or ordered departures. On May 12, the State Department Contemporary Quote With everything that’s going on in the world, it’s very important to understand that we have a network to support the American people wherever we’re at. The ambassador here and his staff have been amazing at communicating with us for making sure we have what we need to be informed, safe and be aware of the risk of the virus. Right now, we’re getting ready to get on a plane to head back to the United States, so what I want to tell everybody in America is we still have good people doing good things. Namaste. —An American speaking from Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu on March 31 prior to boarding a flight back to the United States, as shared on a video posted @USEmbassyKathmandu April 3.