The Foreign Service Journal, July-August 2012

R eturning to State for Foreign Affairs Day 2012 was both familiar and strange. It was great catching up with old friends and discovering I had not forgotten how to navi- gate the halls. However, listening to Under Secretary for Management Pat Kennedy’s briefing on the “State of State”made me realize how much has changed since I retired at the end of 2009. The fundamentals of diplomacymay still be the same, but how we carry it out is not exactly the same. AFSA President Susan Johnson’s May 2012 Foreign Service Journal column, “Time for FSOs to Stand Up for the Foreign Service,” touched a chord for many of us. When I joined the ForeignService in1983, theU.S. InformationAgency still followed the practice of rotating junior officer trainees through each sec- tion of the embassy. My time spent in the U.S. Agency for InternationalDevelopment, themilitary sales office,management and all the other sections of the embassy, was an extraordinary learning experience. It also acceleratedmy understanding of the breadth anddepthof thework of themission. Shortages of bud- get, staffingand time ended the apprenticeship juniorofficer trainee tour: and it’s not coming back. Now,manyposts have activeprograms togive entry-level pro- fessionals an opportunity to learn something of our craft outside their current jobdescriptions. However, somepostshave less active programs or no program at all. Those assigned toWashingtonmay or may not havementors or, if they do, theirmentors may not have the time for mundane questions about FS life. The Washington Post used to publish an advice column for apartment renters. The first time I read it, I was appalled at how basic it was —how to furnish an apartment, how to buy clean- ing products. Then it dawned on me: so many young profes- sionals startingout are far fromhome andhavenever lived inapart- ments. Suddenly the column didn’t seem so useless to me. The Foreign Service is like that for newhireswhodonot have the benefit of family or friends who served before them. It’s one thing to pass the tests and read the blogs, but even the most gift- ed graduate of the Georgetown School of Foreign Service might lack some basic overseas life skills. Thinking about Kennedy’s remarks and Susan Johnson’s call for reconsiderationof professional education and training, I won- derifweneedsomethingnewandalittledifferent:avolunteercorps ofretireesservingasmentorstonewFSemployeesandfamilymem- bers. Wemightnot beable to talkabout current careerpathstrate- gies, but we can offer some common-sense advice. If you like the idea of a volunteer former FS mentoring corps or you have a better idea, please let me know at V.P. VOICE: VP RETIREES BY MARY ELLEN GILROY Something New and Different Views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the AFSA RETIREE VP. 52 F OR E I GN S E R V I C E J OU R N A L / J U L Y - A UGU S T 2 0 1 2 A F S A N E W S W hilewe face some of the biggest challengeswehave seen in 20 years, I would like to take a moment to pat our- selves on the back. The effectiveness of AFSAover the last couple of years, under the leadership of President Susan Johnson, has been extraordinary. We have a strong organization running a surplus, and our membership has reached 16,000 — the largest in our history. We have recently shownhowpointed and effectivewe canbe by sending more than 3,000 letters that helped United Airlines see the error in its pet policy, andhavemade very significant strides in protecting the professionalism of the Foreign Service. Under Executive Director IanHouston’s able leadership, AFSA has put together an excellent speaker series that allows us topromote our cause and rank among the “heavy hitters” in the foreign policy field. On Capitol Hill, we have defended the first two tranches of theOverseas Comparability Pay, protecting the 16 percent salary increase for regular FSOs. On the FCS side, our diligent action on theHill with our stakeholders over the last two years is most- ly responsible for an extra $25million in funding. We established a strong director general position inAm- bassadorChuckFord andwe have helped strengthen our personnel and budget. Muchof this is thanks to the strongand inclusive leadership that Pres. Johnsonhas shown, always thinking not only of the voice of State but also of the smaller agencies. Sometimes I won- derwhywe canmanage this but State andFCSmanagement can- not seemtowork as a unit. As I said inmy last column, the “eco- nomic statecraft” of State has sewn confusion, andmanagement failed todemonstrate teamwork across our agencies. Can’tman- agement at least make sure that cables that go out to the world on commercial issues are cleared by both agencies? I remember when that used to be a common courtesy. All that said, at home in the International Trade Agency at Commerce, we face the biggest challenge to FCS since our cre- ation: a proposed reorganization that could dismantle the Commercial Service. (Gird your loins, as we will need to make some big decisions on this one). Still, it is heartening to think, as we face challenge after challenge, we are an organization with proven effectiveness and real power. So for themoment, at least let us count our blessings. V.P. VOICE: FCS BY KEITH CURTIS Counting Our Blessings Views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the AFSA FCS VP.