Foreign Service Specialist Orientation – 136th Class
My first day of Foreign Service Specialist Orientation and government employment began at the Harry S Truman Building or headquarters of the United States Department of State. It was very professional and organized throughout the day. We recited the oath of office, filled out new employee paperwork, obtained our IDs, and received a variety of new hire briefings. I ended up sitting next to a Diplomatic Security candidate from California who had drove five days to arrive in DC. My new colleague was also fluent in Arabic. Everyone seemed to be happy, friendly, and extremely intelligent.
On day two, and for most of remaining training, we attended the George P. Shultz National Foreign Affairs Training Center (NFATC). The campus is the government’s primary training institution for officers and support personnel of the U.S. foreign affairs community, preparing American diplomats and other professionals to promote U.S. foreign affairs interests overseas and in Washington, DC. The facility is on a beautiful 72-acre campus which provides over 500 training courses to more than 30,000 people a year.
To sum it up, orientation was a fire hose of information designed to give us a starting point of what the State Department and Foreign Service is really about. At times it was an overload of information and things did not always apply to me specifically, but I can appreciate the need for a reference point as we assume our new roles. I had absolutely no free time in the evenings between homework (additional computer-based training), selling our house, finding an apartment, and trying to function as a whole with a 3 month in our temporary apartment at Oakwood.
One of the most exciting days of orientation is a ritual called “Flag Day.” As a tradition in the Foreign Service Specialist orientation class, it’s truly an amazing moment. Preceding the event, everyone in the class is given a bid list with potential posts to rank order. The Career Development Officer’s compile their lists and reveal the onward assignments by presenting a flag as we gather together with our families. Some people jump and cheer, while others suffer temporary shock. For Foreign Service Construction Engineers, it’s a bit uneventful as we know our first assignment will be Washington DC or Arlington Virginia and the following flag to be specific. However, after getting to know your colleagues so well over the orientation, it’s awesome to see them with their families so thrilled to finally know where they are headed.
An unexpected surprise from Flag Day was a folder containing the region I would be assigned to in Washington. We were told Africa and Near East Asia were up for grabs and with little preference for either, my colleague and I had simply flipped a coin and bid accordingly. However, when we received our envelope, I had been assigned Europe and she had received East Asia Pacific. If this sounds a bit confusing, below is a map of how the State Department sees and refers to the world.
The culmination of orientation was a final swearing in at the Harry S Truman Building. The morning before the event, we were informed (S) would be performing the oath. I didn’t think much of it at the time, perhaps because I was so tired, but when I met Jennilou at the entrance to help with the stroller, she told me she had overhead that Secretary Kerry was presenting. Ohhh, the (S) at the top of the organizational chart, I realized embarrassed. We all sat a bit star struck as we recited…
I ________, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same, that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion, and I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.”