Be Awesome

Look, our forefathers died for the "pursuit of happiness," okay? Not for the "sit around and wait of happiness." Now if you want, we can go to the same bar, drink the same beer, talk to the same people every day or you can lick the Liberty Bell. You can grab life by the crack and lick the crap out of it.
--Barney (HIMYM)

Sunday, October 26, 2014

The World is the Traveler's Inn

Life on a compound is quite different.  To me, reminiscent in some ways to a college campus in a small college town.  And from what I hear, leaving this compound usually means just going to another compound, so really, unless that changes, I suppose I'm content to having the partners we work with just come to us for meetings.  But I definitely would like to somehow get out and see some of our projects in the country, if feasible.

The normal day?  Things in Kabul revolve around work.  Six day work-weeks from Saturday to Thursday with long hours each day.  Lots to do but interesting and challenging work.  Though a bit intimidating right now as I learn my new portfolio and quirks to how this Mission operates different than other Missions.  Friday's are truly treasured here in Kabul.

But things here really aren't so bad, at least, better than I thought it would be.  While we have regular drills or testing for various emergency scenarios, you have to take efforts to avoid becoming complacent to any security threats as you can easily forget the possibility of any danger.  There are cafeterias, gyms, weekend bazaars to go shopping, and a variety of activities and events going on each day for one to participate it.  And with a large embassy population, you're bound to find people you already know or whom you can become friends.  The occasional "duck and cover" alarm though tends to bring back the reality of the environment pretty quickly.

Benefits of working here are pretty nice though.  Cafeterias are free and the food is actually pretty decent.  Financial compensation is at least a 70% bump due to danger and hardship differentials and we can take up to five trips out of country each year as R&Rs (rest and recuperation) or RRBs (regional rest breaks).

I think the hardest part is the separation from family as they are not allowed to come.  However, there are a lot of job opportunities for spouses whom would be allowed to come with their significant others if they take one of the positions.

Over the past few weeks, I'm starting to settle into a routine of work, gym/exercise classes, hanging out with people I've met, and then video calling family in the evenings.  Also have plenty of time to self-teach myself Thai, improve on playing the guitar, and read books.  Activities I look forward to each week include spin classes (when I'm able to pull myself out of bed for the 6AM class), quiz night/trivia every other week, meeting up to play board/card games, and then the impromptu fun events people put together.  Here's to home for the next two years.
A winning medal from the compound olympics

Friday, September 26, 2014

Training and Preparing for a High Threat Environment

Do I understand the USG's objectives and USAID's role in the Afghanistan?  Am I mentally and physically resilient for the stresses of the work, the environment, and the separation from loved ones?  And do I know how to react and respond to events of duress or trauma for the safety and security of myself or my colleagues?

Over the past few weeks, I've been in training specific to address these questions.  USAID and other  agencies invest a considerable amount of resources to prepare their staff for assignments to high threat posts overseas.  A high threat environment is a post where there are risk considerations not present in other conventional posts.

A House bill defines these posts as:
(2) High risk, high threat post.--The term `high risk, high threat post' means a United States diplomatic or consular post, as determined by the Secretary, that, among other factors, is--
``(A) located in a country--
``(i) with high to critical levels of political violence and terrorism; and
``(ii) the government of which lacks the ability or willingness to provide adequate security; and
``(B) with mission physical security platforms that fall below the Department of State's established standards.
The training has been interesting and very engaging.  In some ways, reminiscent to DLI orientation training from before but specifically focused on select countries and with participants on at least their second tours (or much more) overseas.  Training also includes the "Crash Bang" course which was the most hands-on and immersing training I've experienced yet in my Foreign Service career.

A good amount of time has been spent on the topic of resiliency to ensure we are physically and mentally prepared for this type of hardship environment.  This includes having healthy habits and practices to have a successful tour and the plans for maintaining relationships at a distance.  I've known for quite some time Afghanistan would be my ongoing post, but sometimes, particularly when friends and family express their concern, I wonder if I should be more worried than I am.  But we decided on this assignment based on what was best for our family at the time and for the future.  Serving in Afghanistan will definitely be a unique lifetime experience and opportunity seek to make a difference in one of the most impoverished nations in the world.

Here's to the next big adventure.
An extra large dose of Emerson inspiration.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

From Candidate to Career

So now I can't be fired.  Well, at least I won't automatically be cannned due to the 5 year candidacy rule.

New hires to USAID's Foreign Service have up to 5 years to be tenured.  I'm happy to be tenured so the looming threat of meeting that deadline is no longer there.  Bureaucratically, I'm just now listed as from "Career-Conditional" to "Career".

The requirements to be tenured generally are:
  1. 36 months with USAID and at least 18 months of that time in an overseas Mission.
  2. Medical and Security Clearances valid.
  3. Achievement of a foreign language proficiency (mine was in Indonesian).
  4. No other issues.
  5. Re-certification of Worldwide availability.
So what are the advantages of being tenured?  From what I know, one is that I can now safely switch backstops (career specialty) without worrying about the tenure deadline (tenure evaluation based of performance in job function).  Though, I'm pretty happy doing what I'm doing right now.  And then supposedly it's more difficult to fire me.  I'm sure there are others but haven't yet figured that out yet.

However, I'm not fully a real "Officer" yet.  That doesn't happen until I can get promoted to the next grade and receive a commission.  But it's a significant milestone in my career and looking forward to working toward the next.

If interested in reading the details of USAID's tenuring process, the information is available at:
Tenure Policy and Process:
Precepts for the USAID's Foreign Service Tenure Board:

Monday, August 18, 2014

Re-orienting and Re-exposing to the US (aka Home Leave)

After number of get-togethers, last dinners, and going-away events, I left post this month and headed back to the good Midwest USA.  About half way through this month off of work, I've been indulging in spending time with family and friends, gorging on foods particular to home, and catching up on everything Americana while running a number of errands before leaving for DC for training and then my next assignment.

Home leave is one of nicest perks of the Foreign Service career which is basically 20 work days of paid time-off between assignments to spend time in the US.  Since home leave is time off in-between jobs, it's a nice opportunity to see neglected loved ones in the States without the worry of all the work that may be piling up while you're gone.  It's amazing how much and how many things I've missed from just being away for a year.

The last few months at post were spent diligently working to accomplish work objectives before leaving post, packing and shipping goods for storage and goods for Kabul, as well as apartment-hunting and moving for my wife who will stay behind in Jakarta to work while I transition to my next post.  Immediately after leaving post, the next bidding season began for my follow-on assignment after Afghanistan (we bid and receive assignments about a year before we leave the current and Afghanistan is currently only a one-year tour).  

Coming back too, a stark reminder of the development challenges that still persist in the US with the Ferguson, MO shooting incident making national headlines.  With all the ethnic, religious, and equality issues I'll see in Afghanistan, the US still struggles today in managing similar challenges.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Mt. Sinabung and End of Tour Reflections

On Feb. 1, 2014 the Mt. Sinabung volcano in Indonesia’s North Sumatra Province erupted, displacing approximately 31,400 people.  The US Ambassador to Indonesia declared a humanitarian disaster and USAID responded by providing relief through the procurement and distribution of emergency relief commodities for displaced communities.
This was my first award as a warranted Contracting Officer.  I was able to serve on the team that distributed the supplies to the displaced communities allowing me to be deeply engaged in the work and relationships USAID was building at a personal level.  The trip to the site began with a press ceremony event in conjunction with the Indonesian National Disaster Management Agency where we presented the assistance offered by the United States and described the types of help USAID and our partners could provide.  The majority of the affected people came from rural, farming backgrounds and we talked with the children and their parents about how the eruptions have affected them in order to better understand their situations and living conditions.  We toured a nearby evacuation center, a large warehouse-like building, where over one hundred people were living with minimal facilities and only two toilets.  I was startled at the level of disruption and uncertainty the evacuees faced and I’m proud to have been a part of USAID’s effort in supporting those that were displaced during this trying time and then their eventual transition home.
Identifying their homes to Principal Officer Kathryn Crockart from the Medan Office
After the event, we spent a few minutes kicking around a soccer ball which we had brought to give to the children.  For this moment, there was normalcy in the middle of an abnormal situation and this gave me an opportunity to relate to the people with whom we were partnering.  I connected the impact and meaningful difference a small investment can have in the sectors where we work in Indonesia.

As I approach the end of my tour, I reflect on the influence I have had through my work and the connections I have made from the Mt. Sinabung experience and others.  My time in Indonesia has also greatly influenced me, most strongly through the people met, Indonesian and American, inside out outside the Mission, developing my confidence and ability to affect positive change.  Moving on to my next assignment, a conflict environment with very different conditions from Indonesia, I endeavor to continue representing and promoting the interests of our country and look forward to facing and addressing the new challenges to come.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Ciliwung River Cleanup

USAID's logo wasn't meant to be there but they already printed the banners.
The Ciliwung River is 97 km (60 miles) long and flows through from the mountains through much of Jakarta.  This river has a reputation for being one of the most polluted in the world and is filled with industrial and agricultural runoff, pollution, and waste.  Many urban poor have unofficial settlements and housing near the banks of the river and use the river for household purposes, bathing, trash disposal, and even drinking.  The pollution of the river is also a contributor to the river's frequent flooding which occurs annually during the rainy season.

Since coming to Indonesia, I've been working with the the Embassy's Green Team on various activities to lessen the negative environmental impact of the US Embassy community but also work with the external community to to improve the environment.  Timed near Earth Day on April 27th, we teamed up with a local NGO and community organizations to organize a river cleanup event to raise awareness and attempt to kick-start the government and community to take action in managing the health of the river and demonstrate the US Government's commitment to environmental stewardship.
The Ambassador speaking at the start of the event.
US Ambassador Blake joined the Green Team in the cleanup adventure as we rafted down several kilometers picking up trash along the banks.  Since many of the people living along the river were doing so unofficially, they had little to no access to public services.  Thus, the river served as their source of water as well their location for waste disposal.  Even as we were rafting by picking up trash from the river, we could see people throwing garbage bags into the water.  The problem is complicated since public services can't be provided to people who shouldn't be living there in the first place so alternative housing would have to be found to even begin moving people.  Definitely a long term effort but I believe we at least put more attention to the issue in the media and received positive press.

Community unites to clear garbage from Ciliwung River (Jakarta Post)
Pemerintah AS Beri Perhatian Serius atas Kondisi Sungai Ciliwung (VOA)

Shanty housing under the train tracks.
That's actually plastic hanging from the trees.
More unofficial housing settlements.
A traditional raft and rope used to cross the river.
Local community observing by a trash heap.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Helping Hands at Bakti Luhur School

A home for around 300 children and young adults with physical and mental disabilities in Jakarta, the Bakti Luhur Foundation in Indonesia has facilities around the country to provide a home and care for the poor, disadvantaged, and disabled.
In early March, members of the Helping Hands club of the US Embassy Jakarta teamed up with Golden Rama Tour and Travel Caring Club to have an event with Bakti Luhur to help improve the environment of the school by painting the walls of the school with lively animals and murals with the residents.  The event was attended also with the Deputy Chief of Mission Kristen Bauer, a regular participant and supporter of Helping Hands activities.
Kristen Bauer with residents of Bakti Luhur.
Lunch preparations.
The school is located in South Jakarta and is several floors high with the feel of an old 70's school with the lightly yellow painted walls.  The day's activities included opening with singing and balloon animals with the kids, distribution of lunches to the children and teachers, and then painting for the rest of the afternoon.
Busy painting
Lunch break!
Some of the impressive artwork.
Many of the paintings were very impressive and the residents of Bakti Luhur had a great time drawing and painting the murals for their school.  It was great opportunity for members of the embassy to get involved in the community and make small impacts in the lives of others.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014


I'm a real boy now!  There are many milestones in a career as a FSO with USAID.  Milestones include things like tenure, being commissioned, and as a Contracting Officer (CO) with USAID, being warranted.

The warrant is part of the US Government's procurement system in which authorized individuals are allowed to obligate government funding to procure goods and services or obligate grants.  At USAID, since development work is mostly implemented through partners (contractors or grantees), this is an important function.  A USG warrant is specific to each Agency and generally will require being certified through the Federal certification system as well as Agency requirements.

At USAID, the requirements for warrants for new COs include obtaining the first level of federal contracting certification, completion of Agency courses related to grants (assistance) and development, plus at least a year's experience at post.  I received my warrant recently and have been transitioning to the role of signing awards and documentation instead of only drafting and preparing documents.  Of course, I'll still maintain current responsibilities for awards outside my threshold but I'll have another level of responsibility in my work and I'm looking forward to the experience.

The next milestone to strive for now is becoming tenured.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Staying Fit, Happy, and Healthy

The health of US Government employees and families assigned abroad is taken seriously.  Healthy employees makes productive employees and knowing that your health is being watched over by the government can be beneficial and not always an intrusion or burden.

The Foreign Service requires a certain standard of health before employment is offered and, throughout one's career, the health of the employee and their family is considered as they take assignments abroad.  The State Department manages the medical clearance process for USAID.  When switching to a new assignment to another country, the employee must again be medically cleared to be able to work in that country.  It is important that the employee's family be medically fit for the country, as well, or they wouldn't be able to safely accompany the employee.  This is very different than working in the United States where an individual's health cannot be a consideration for employment.

Many larger posts have a Medical Unit at the embassy staffed with doctors and medical staff assigned to take care of the health needs of embassy employees.  This includes basic medical checkups and medical evacuation (medivacs) for employees to locations where necessary medical treatment can be obtained.  We experienced the medical evacuation process recently when a necessary operation was required and the medical care in Indonesia not sufficient for the procedure. 

After diagnosis and consultations with the Med Unit and external specialists, if the condition warrants it, the Med Unit will authorize the employee or family member to seek treatment in a neighboring country with high standards of medical care.  In Indonesia, the primary destination for operations is Singapore; however, we elected to have the operation done in Thailand and the Med Unit was able to accommodate.  With this authorization, the USG (one's respective agency) will then cover costs for the patient to travel for the operation and then act as secondary payer for the operation.  So after one's insurance covers the costs per the individual policy, the USG will then step in and help pay for the remainder.  

This is a really great benefit we've been able to utilize working abroad with USAID and highlights the commitment the government has to keeping its employees healthy abroad.  Here's to good health.

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