View Full Version : Working as a Foreign Service Officer in Africa

02-11-2008, 01:59 PM
A poster at my college's sports forum recently posted this, from his brother in Nairobi. It paints an interesting (and completely different) picture from the refusal of certain FSOs to deploy overseas in general and Iraq, in particular.


My brother who is a Foreign Service Officer ("FSO") received this letter from another FSO in Chad:

Dear friends
I am sending you this email to let you know that I am fine. We were evacuated on Sunday afternoon and taken to the French military base. Early this morning at 3:00 AM US military base in Germany sent a military plane to come to bring us to Yaounde. We evacuated dependents and children on Friday before the start of the war. They left at 4:00 in the morning and the war started around 9:00. The DOD dispatched 10 navy Seals from Baghdad who arrived just on time. We were all divided into 2 groups. One group with the Ambassador was at the embassy, and the other group was on the US housing compound. We were all put in one room, and the 11 of us were right on the floor. We could hear the fight. One tank stopped right under our wall, and each time it fired, the room vibrated. We could hear bullets flying as well as the rocket propelled grenades. The Seals were on the top of the biggest building on the compound, and they had authorization to open fire if anyone came onto the compound. The fight lasted until 5 PM when everything got quite for the evening prayer. Then it started again till 9:00PM. On Saturday, It started over again. When they moved toward the President Palace, the looting started. We were hearing from the local guards who stayed at our separated residence how one after the other they had to abandon each post because the house was invaded by looters.

After several hours, I heard what I was fearing the most. My guard called to report that " This is the guard over at your residence. They broke through the gate, and they broke the front door." He said that he is going to wait to see if they will leave something that he could bring back to the compound. After 40 minutes, he came back on the radio to announce" Sir, if you are hearing this, I am sorry. They took absolutely everything". After that I told him to come join us on the compound.

Yes, I lost absolutely everything. Everything. And I am not the only one. We all lost everything except our life. God was looking over us. Two houses on the compound got hit by strayed cannon fire. We were hearing those fire all day on Saturday and part of Sunday. When the rebels stopped the fight on Sunday to regroup, that's when the French troops came to the compound in armored trucks that looked like tanks and took us to their military base. The French sent a helicopter to the embassy to airlift our Ambassador, the marines and other who were at the embassy.

I went to Chad with over 2000 Lbs of goods, I left with one bag which contained one pants, 2 sock and 2 shirts. They even took all my figurines and all our Christmas decorations which we have been collecting for many years and were planning to pass them to the children.

Do I regret having gone to Chad? No, not at all. We were doing a very good job and were helping Chadian Children. We were constantly in schools talking to them and helping them whichever way we could. I really loved this job. There was nothing more gratifying to see than a mother cry because we donated school supplies to her child or a Catholic sister cry because we gave her a grant to help her help Chadian abused women. I loved it and will go back if I have the chance. The only thing I will do differently is that I will not spend the fortune I spent to prepare for my life in Chad.

Again we are all fine, and I thank you all for all your prayers. Thanks to those prayers, even though a missile went straight through the Ambassador's office while a group of them were in the office burning classified documents; the missile just went through and just pierced both walls and exploded outside. I cannot explain how that happened, but that was what happened.

Thank you and I love you all

This happens to 1 or 2 embassies every year although usually not so dramatic. The group that took over the city was Islamic thugs from the genecidal area of Sudan.

My brother is attached to the Nairobi embassy. He is married to another FSO who works in the Kinshasa embassy. Kinshasa has been evacuated something like 10 times in the last 15 years. More than any other embassy.

02-11-2008, 03:15 PM
Hey Drew, Thanks for the post !
Indeed, a sad story with all the realities of Africa.

I had to pack out 13 evacuated families before the 'thugs' got to their homes. He's right, Kinshasa's embassy saw many evacs, as often as one a year.

We had one regretful year where the embassy leadership was content in telling State that the situation was calm and he was prepared to return dependents to post (completely against intel reports to the contrary).

Welcome back !

Regards, Stan

Old Eagle
02-11-2008, 06:01 PM
My cousin was ambassador to Chad back in the 80's some time. Got NEOed during one of the livefire exercises there. He & frau left w/the mandated one suitcase each. After the situation settled the following year, he went back in to re-open the embassy. Took a lot of moxie, in my book. And he was the diplomat and I was the sojer!

Tom Odom
02-11-2008, 06:10 PM
The good news is that at least when I was down range, State was accustomed to this and was set up to accept the losses claims. When I moved to Rwanda from Zaire, my house was that of the former consular officer who did not return to post. I assumed control of that house from the JTF CMOC team and would have as many as 5 guys living with me in the next 18 months. We used the "200 pounds" of consumables that had been left behind while other more personal stuff was packed out and shipped to its owners. One exception was an old ridgeback bitch whose fate ultimately led to my 15 minutes of notoriety on the front page of the Wash Post.

The bottom line is that there is always a risk when you take that which is near and dear to you on assignment in these places. It takes a different mindset to accept that the 2 suitcases is all you are going to get.


02-11-2008, 06:38 PM
actually wrote the embassy asking where their last 4 boxes of corn flakes were when their HHG finally arrived :mad:

Tom conveys this situation and what not to do well. When he showed up in K-town, he had little he couldn't live without, and those items were stored in our office safe (I recall those being his passports and dog tags :cool:). There are briefings and even more briefings (well, at least DOD performed these with us) regarding the local conditions and what to not bring along when the climate is unstable.

State does indeed cover claims, and even has a short course on accounting for your belongings before shipping. Details include photographs, receipts and just about anything needed to cover your future claim (this is not one of those files you would take to post :wry: ).

02-15-2008, 02:11 AM
From and NGO point of view, we went over with the two suitcases for a year stay. In K-town that was more than adequate since we could buy most things there. We were told right from the beginning, bring only what you can afford to lose. I used to strongly emphasize that to new pilots because even if wasn't all lost in a "pillage" parts of it would be stolen.

I was in Ndjamena for month in 2005 and was amazed at what some of the State people would haul over. But then again, they have families and are going to be there for years.