ahhh, the life of a diplomatic princess . . .

Archive for the tag “State Department”

My Chelsea (Bradley) Manning Purge

Fair warning, this will be less blog and more rant but if I don’t get this out of my system I will become completely non-productive and I just have too much to do for that to happen. So … I swear to God, if I read the impassioned words of one more human rights activist who is defending Bradley (now Chelsea, so I will refer to her in the feminine from here on out) Manning I’m going to scream.

I’m curious to know what human rights activists who are defending Manning think about the fact that her actions have further exposed people around the globe who are also human rights activists–civil society activists, opponents of repressive regimes, people who risk everything to try to make their countries more just places. Their names were in the classified State Department cables and now any foreign service intelligence agency can see who they are, they are at great risk. Many already risk everything on a daily basis–their jobs, their freedom, the safety of their families, their lives–in order to try to make their countries more humane and just places. When they interact with the State Department their identities are classified for a reason and, for the sake of diplomacy as well as for their sake, they need to stay that way. Manning’s actions weren’t a precise revealing of war crimes, she made a massive document dump, an indiscriminate revealing of information that has now put at risk people whose anonymity needs to be protected. How are those the actions of a heroine and why is that something some human rights activists are applauding? I’m gobsmacked, seriously. Do they not realize how much more at risk those people now are? Are they not thinking past the headlines surrounding the now folk heroine? Are they just jumping on a bandwagon? Jesus. I expect more from organizations like Amnesty International and School of the Americas Watch (whose founder, Father Roy Bourgeois, is an absolute hero of mine). Shouldn’t they be more worried about protecting and advocating for the people Manning exposed? People whose lives are at actual risk? People who could be tortured and murdered, dumped by the side of the road? Their support of her makes me want to beat my head against a wall.

My personal pissed offness has also been focused on the fact that her actions potentially put at risk people like my husband and other diplomats, and her fellow soldiers. Yes, I realize it has been established that no evil things transpired because of the leaked cables but she did not know what she was revealing, she just did a flat out, no holds barred, dump and could have very easily revealed things that put those people at great risk–my inner mamma bear is poked big time when someone potentially puts my family at risk. Period. So there’s also that.

Manning is being treated as a heroine. She isn’t. She took an oath and part of that oath is to keep classified documents classified because they are classified for a reason. I have a husband with a security clearance and I have never, not once ever, asked him to reveal anything to me. I wouldn’t do that. Nor would he, not in a million years, reveal anything to me. Because he took an oath, because it’s his job, his career, his duty to our country and, if at any time he felt he couldn’t uphold that duty to the absolute highest standard, he would resign. If you feel, morally, you cannot believe in the oath you take when you have a job like Manning’s then step down and I will applaud your moral strength and integrity. Until that point, do your freaking job because lives actually do depend on it.

Equality is a Beautiful Thing!

So much has been said and written about yesterday’s decision by the Supreme Court to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act that I wasn’t going to do more than just jump for joy and yell “YES!” in the background. Then I watched this clip of Andrew Sullivan talking about what this means to him personally and I just had to share it:

He emphasizes that Justice Kennedy used the word “dignity” nine times in his opinion. Dignity. Exactly. All of this, at its core, is about dignity, about equality, about justice, about all the things we’re supposed to stand for in America but still struggle with every single day. We are far from perfect in how these ideals play out in our country, but the fact that the struggle for marriage equality, for equality for LGBT people in general, is finally being seen as a civil rights issue and finally being embraced by majorities in our country is huge. The first sitting President to say he believes in marriage equality, the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, DOMA in the trash, thirteen states where same sex marriage is legal–we can, with confidence, say to bigots “You are on the wrong side of history. You and your bigotry will be left in the dust.” I know there is a lot more progress that needs to be made but I’m so damn excited about this, what it means for our country, what it means for LGBT people, what it means for my children to know equality isn’t just an ideal! And a big cheer to the State Department for releasing this photo with a statement by Secretary of State Kerry (yea, my hubby has an awesome boss and for all the complaining I do about the Department I LOVE that it embraces equality and has for quite some time)

"The U.S. Department of State applauds the Supreme Court’s decision striking down an unjust and discriminatory law and increasing freedom and equality for #LGBT Americans." - #SecKerry (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

“The U.S. Department of State applauds the Supreme Court’s decision striking down an unjust and discriminatory law and increasing freedom and equality for #LGBT Americans.” – #SecKerry (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)


When I opened my Facebook yesterday morning one of the first things I saw was the status of a friend of mine who married her wife quite some time ago, yesterday she proposed to her and now they get to be legally married and given protection under federal law. It’s just so exciting! I haven’t seen my friend in ages but she is such and sweet, kind person and when I see pictures of her with her wife the love that they have for each other shines through. And, now, that love is going to be legally recognized! Have I said I’m excited?

And a word to people who are upset about this …

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Equality is a beautiful thing!

“We’ll be safe when we get to the embassy …”

I’ve been trying to figure out why I’ve been out of sorts the past few days, aside from the obvious. Something was banging around in my brain, just below my line of conscious thought, but I could not figure out what it was. So much has gone ass over tea kettle, it was hard to know where to start …

First, there was the heinous attack on our Consulate in Benghazi, Libya that killed four of our own. Then it was like watching a landslide–anti-American protests at our embassies all over the Middle East, in North Africa, India, Indonesia, on and on. Every day there were more, still they continue. I knew I was very upset because of the deaths, that was something beyond articulation; I knew I was upset because of our flags being ripped down and destroyed, because members of our State Department family (both American and local staff) were/are in harm’s way, because it’s unsettling to watch angry mobs chant hateful things about a country you love. But, honestly, I’d seen much of that before and, while it upset me, I could tell there was something else getting to me, something concrete I couldn’t put my finger on. Then I had my moment of clarity, after my thoughts and feelings had been given time to bubble around in my brain, and I knew what was eating at me.

In our nearly eight years with the Department we’ve experienced a whole lot of changes, but one of the things that always stays the same is how I feel when I walk into an embassy, safe and at home. When my son, our driver, and I found ourselves tripping into a clash between protesters and police during the civil unrest in Guinea I knew if we could just get to the embassy we would be safe. We weren’t supposed to leave our house but our son, then six, was sick and needed to see the embassy nurse, so I’d made an executive decision to take a chance. We were five minutes from the embassy when Ousman slammed on the brakes, narrowly missing having our car pummeled by a large rock that pounded the road in front of us. Then came the gun shots. I reached into the back, where our son sat buckled into his car seat, and tried to push his head down between his knees while Ousman threw the car into reverse, driving like a bat out of hell, away from the flying rocks and gunfire. As we tore through bumpy side streets I radioed the Marine on duty at the embassy and told him what was happening, the calm with which he conducted himself helped ease my nerves and I reassured our son, “we’ll be safe when we get to the embassy.” We wound our way along dirt roads and, somehow (thanks to Ousman) found our way around the violence and to the embassy. I walked our son past the local guards, up to the Marine I’d spoken with, he was visibly relieved to see us, he greeted me with a smile and “It’s good to see you, ma’am.” I breathed a sign of relief, we were safe in the embassy.

Now I watch as our embassies around the world are under attack and, while we are very safe and sound where we are, something about witnessing all of this, even from halfway across the world, rocks my sense of personal safety. While dropping our kids off at school this morning I was talking to a friend, another mother whose husband is also an FSO. There was a loud bang inside the building and she startled, “what was that?” It was just someone moving a set of flags inside but I saw, then, that I was not the only one on edge. We laughed a little, we know it’s irrational, we know we’re safe here, but still …Today my husband is attending the well publicized docking of a US Naval ship and, because of what he does here, he is always very visible when he goes to those sorts of things. This morning I was seized by a fear that he wouldn’t be safe, I felt a little frantic, the docking was too public, too easy of a target. “Geez, Heather, he made it through a year in Iraq, you’re being totally irrational, you’re in Costa Rica for cripes sake,” but still …

My point in all this rambling is this, our embassies overseas are safe havens, we bring our children there, we gather with our fellow Americans there. I can walk through the doors of any embassy and be greeted by Marines, I can wander the halls and be surrounded by photos not just of our host country but also of home. It may sound kind of silly and sentimental but, despite the fact that our embassies are there for international diplomacy, they’ve always kind of been like a slice of home for me–safe, secure, nothing much changes from one to the next, it’s comforting. Of course they’re still all of that, embassies have been attacked, guard posts have been heavily damaged, entire motor pools have been burnt to the ground, but at each of our embassy compounds the main buildings, the chanceries, have been safe. I know this in the thinking part of my brain, but the primal part is panicking a bit.

This morning I learned that there were anti-American protests scheduled for Guinea, which I found shocking because we’d never seen even a shred of anti-American sentiment there, getting caught in the rock throwing was just a wrong time, wrong place event for us. Thankfully it appears to have ended up being a non-event, which is more in line with what I know about the Guinean people. But still … something had been planned and that felt like one more shard of glass in the armor I build around my family. “We’ll be safe when we get to the embassy,” that’s what I told my child, my child, the day of the rock throwing and gun shots. And we were, then. The uncertainty of tomorrow is what has me worried.

“You’re Just Not Quite FS Enough for the FS to Care About”

Something recently happened to a friend of mine that demonstrates just how much some folks in the State Department value Foreign Service families (the italics in that sentence are dripping with sarcasm, if you look closely you can you see them sliding down the page . . . ). I’m not going to detail her story, it’s hers to tell, but I will say it was a stark reminder that even people who should have our backs often don’t. There are SO many examples of this, some have happened in our lives and some have happened to friends. I’ll tell one of our stories to illustrate the kind of thing I’m talking about.

Our first post was Guinea, which fell apart after we’d been there about twenty months. Shortly after I returned from med-evac for the birth of our third child embassy families were put on lock down, which meant no leaving the house under any circumstances other than an emergency, hope you stocked your pantry! After a few weeks of this we were told that we were being evacuated–pack your bags and be ready in twelve hours. A short while later we were on a military plane waving goodbye to my husband who stood on the tarmac watching us go and listening to the gunfire that surrounded the airport. Evacuations, while they stink, are part of the FS territory and just have to be rolled with.

The slap in the face, courtesy of State, came shortly before we were supposed to leave for our next post. Because of the evacuation our two oldest kids missed the last few months of the school year and, to minimize trauma, we decided not to enroll them in the neighborhood school. I caught some blowback for that decision but was later told by the Regional Psychiatrist that I’d made the right call (I knew that). My thinking was they’d already been through so much–leaving their dad, being quickly yanked out of their home, not being able to even say goodbye to any of their teachers or friends–trying to get them settled in a new school just for a few months seemed too painful for them. So we did other stuff– pottery classes, ballet, interesting outings, our oldest (who was six at the time) even became quite the kayak expert thanks to his grandparents. But we were really looking forward to our family being complete again and our move to Ireland, to getting the kids settled into school, to some normalcy.

Then came the announcement that we would not be going to Ireland on the date we were supposed to go. Instead, my husband was pulled for special passport duty in DC due to the changing rules that required passports even for Canada. This meant our lives, so close to being settled for at least a few years, were now up in the air again. The kids would have to start a school that they would leave a few months later (or whenever State decided to get us to post), they would make more friends who they would shortly say goodbye to, they would come to love teachers who would soon be out of their lives. We appealed to State, told them the children had given enough for one year, begged them to just let us give them something other than constant transition. Nope, the needs of the Department come first. Now zip it and deal. We then appealed to a higher up, who actually listened to what my husband was telling her about how much our kids had already been through, she sympathized with us and wanted to help us do what was best for the kids; she offered us a deal–you can go to post on time, get the kids settled, IF you (meaning my husband) agree to come back should we need you. Deal taken, it was certainly better than the alternative.

Thankfully, they ended up not needing to call my husband back and we were able to settle into the next chapter of our lives. It felt good. But, you know what, we had to fight for it. We had to fight people who should know better, who should try harder to help FS families. We understand sacrifice, we understand the needs of the Department, we understand we must roll with the punches and that, ultimately, much of what happens in our lives is outside of our control. We signed up for that, willingly. But I cannot for the life of me figure out why some folks who are able to do more to help FS families, folks who work for State, folks who are our peers, don’t do that. Are they jaded, clueless, or do they simply just not care? Many FS families will tell you that we are, often, an afterthought for some at State, if we’re thought of at all. Kids and “trailing spouses” as we’re so lovingly referred to, are the last rung on the ladder and we often have to scream to be heard. Don’t get me wrong, there are many at State who will go to bat for us, who will listen to us and try harder for us, who will find wiggle room in regulations (there is always wiggle room in regulations). We’ve had the great honor of encountering many people like that in our seven years, they are deeply appreciated. But some, meh, not so much. And don’t even think about changing the rules to make them more family friendly. Just. Don’t.

The most frustrating thing is that it doesn’t seem to change. I’ve noticed, in the seven years we’ve been in the FS, no improvement in how families are treated or regarded. This latest reminder, what happened to my friend, is just another example of some folks at State not seeing past the Officer or Specialist to the family who “trails,” just the latest example of the attitude of, as someone recently put it,  “you’re just not quite FS enough for the FS to care about,” just the latest in the “suck it up, Cupcake, and deal.” And, still, the life is very worth it. I am incredibly proud of the work that my husband and his colleagues in the Foreign Service do, and I’m proud to raise our kids with a sense of service and duty. It’s just profoundly frustrating that some make life a lot tougher for us than it needs to be.

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