Personnel Notification | Be Careful What You Wish For

FAM 013.5-2 Foreign Service Personnel (Foreign Affairs Manual) 

Under the Foreign Service Act, the Secretary of State administers and directs the Foreign Service and coordinates its activities with the needs of the Department and other agencies and consults with other agencies using the Foreign Service personnel system (USAID, Foreign Agricultural Service, Foreign Commercial Service) to ensure maximum compatibility.

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September ’77 | The Announcement

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When our Office of Communication/Radio leader Kevin made an official announcement he stood on a chair in the middle of the radio shop. When he said that there would be an opening for a radio tech at Am Embassy Accra, I volunteered for the international assignment even though I knew little about Ghana, in Africa. Norm Bates had already confided that he had been posted there a few years earlier and had enjoyed the assignment.

A few days later Kevin told me that a radio tech in Kinshasa, Zaire had priority and snatched up the job. Then he said, “Do you want to go to Karachi?” which translated to, “Be careful what you wish for.”

I said, “Sure, I’ll go to Karachi.”

Kevin felt uncomfortable around people that were sure of themselves. He backed away and gazed at me sideways. With a disturbed smile, and a shaking head that reminded of a hyena he added, “Are you sure? If I submit the paperwork there’s no turning back.”

I had already talked to our technical supervisor Norm Bates about Karachi. He said it was a lousy place but it wouldn’t matter because I’d be on the road most of the times to posts from Athens across to Bangkok and everything in between. “You’ll like it,” he had said. “You’ll travel the best, and the worst.”

Norm rarely talked specifics unless it involved technical specifications. I was ready to go to Karachi no matter what anyone said.

The impatient Kevin said, “Well?”

“Submit the paperwork Kevin.”

He turned and waddled off in a quicker than normal manner. I guess he thought I might change my mind before he reached the door.

Personnel Notification

A few weeks later I supported the visit of a foreign dignitary at the Wye Plantation in Southern Maryland. Princess Anne from England attended a conference at the Aspen Wye Institute. One of the S.Y. agents said it had something to do with the Aspen Institute, where the rich and famous held important conferences. Since I had little to do with the detail other than the initial set up of common, it was a piece of cake.

There must be a link between the Wye Plantation and Aspen, Colorado because there had been several foreign dignitaries visit both venues. I never found out, because, quite frankly (the S.Y. agents loved to use this phrase) I didn’t need to know.

Princess Anne liked horses. The plantation covered over a thousand acres. I read some of the Wye plantation literature that pointed out the plantation’s sketchy past. The plantation originally built between 1780 and 1790 had over a thousand slaves and covered many thousands of acres. Stephen Douglas, famous for losing the presidential bid to Abraham Lincoln, lived there as a youth. The “little giant” (only an inch or two over five feet tall) wrote a book about the brutal treatment of the slaves on the Wye Plantation.

I stayed in Annapolis, according to S.Y. Agent Scillepeco one the best places in the world for blue crab. This assignment required me to do little except be available in case of any radio problems and check in on the radio every few hours. Therefore, it was a surprise when Norm Bates called me at the hotel. If your boss calls while you’re on a detail its usually not good news.

“Hey, Norm, what’s up?” I said.

“Congratulations,” he said. “Your personnel notification just came through. The assignment to Am Consul Karachi has been approved.”

I didn’t hear any hint of a, “Be careful what you wish for,” tone in Bates voice. No, that must be coming from my subconscious. “Thanks, Norm,” I replied.

“We’ll talk about it when you return,” he said.

I hung up.

Karachi, Pakistan…

Another gate—this one leading to the Orient—had opened for me. The image of the “open gate” led me through it and down a path to the past to my first “open gate.” I was a nineteen year old walking into the U.S. Army Induction center in downtown Los Angeles in 1969…

(to be continued)

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