- The Washington Times - Monday, June 2, 2008

The Foreign Service has not seen great numbers of officers forced to a war zone since the Vietnam war. But the prospect of such “directed assignments” looms today for Iraq and Afghanistan. The fact is, too few Foreign Service Officers (FSOs) have volunteered for these challenging and dangerous positions. An estimated 300 vacancies remain for 2009 - and someone needs to fill them. “Soldier up.” Or hit the private sector.

“We are one Foreign Service and people need to serve where they are needed,” Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice admonished her officers the last time this question arose. Recall that the striped-pants folks partially revolted in November when the prospect of forced tours first emerged. Service in Iraq is “a potential death sentence,” one veteran FSO famously complained to Harry K. Thomas Jr., executive secretary of the Department of State and head of the Foreign Service. “Any other embassy in the world would be closed by now.” Large segments of the audience of officers and senior management applauded the exasperated gentleman in an unbecoming airing of grievances.

We say “unbecoming” because these complaints simply are not justified. Far too often federal workers forget the purpose of their employment - not to mention the terms of the job. FSOs take an oath of office not so different from that of uniformed service members. They are expected to serve where the secretary of state needs them. As Amb. Ryan Crocker, a 36-year veteran of the service, has put it: “It’s not for us to decide if we like the policy or if the policy is rightly implemented. It’s for us to go and serve, not to debate the policy, not to agree with it.” A person who prioritizes personal safety over Mr. Crocker’s dictum is “in the wrong line of business.” Pursue any number of other careers in which key United States interests are not at stake, where the “lifestyle” approach is more suitable.

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There are no missions more critical to the United States than Iraq and Afghanistan. As we said, “soldier up.”

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