Why you should join the US foreign service

I joined the Foreign Service under President Ronald Reagan.  Surprisingly, he never asked for my advice during my first tour managing a U.S. Embassy warehouse in Helsinki, Finland.  The truth is, most junior diplomats work the visa line, visit Americans in overseas prisons, and do their part to engage foreign audiences.

It is great work.  And I did support visits by subsequent Presidents and had the privilege of seeing President H.W. Bush, President Clinton, and President George W. Bush in action overseas.

And I had the pleasure of being nominated as Ambassador by President Obama.  But the character of my work in Embassies and Consulates did not change appreciably with changes in administration and political party.  The business of America goes on.

Sure, you will bring your political opinions with you, and I guarantee whether there is a Democratic or Republican administration there will be times when you will disagree with the policy.

So now, I’m talking to you Young Jedi.  You read The Geostrategists because you are interested in the world.  You want to make a difference and you are smart.  But you are thinking twice about taking the Foreign Service test and joining the State Department because you’ve seen news reports indicating morale is down and the Foreign Service is being “hollowed out” by Secretary of State Tillerson.  I want you to put the headlines to the side and think about America.And I want you to take the test now.

First, the test is not that easy, it took me a couple of tries so even if this is a “practice round,” if you are serious it can’t hurt to take the test.

They don’t average your scores and they don’t care how many times you take it.  The record is well over ten times!  And second, and more importantly, I don’t care what your brand of politics is or how sensitive you are to morale, you are going to find good work to do representing and advocating for the United States.

Sure, you will bring your political opinions with you, and I guarantee whether there is a Democratic or Republican administration there will be times when you will disagree with the policy.

At those times you have a few options.  You can register your disagreement through the dissent channel, explaining why you think the policy should change.  Or you can leave the service if it is a matter you cannot compromise on.  Or you can salute and carry on.

But until that existential question comes, you can certainly keep on reporting on Botswana as a junior political or economic officer, or keep on managing the Embassy’s personnel in Frankfurt as a management officer, or keep on adjudicating visas in Mexico City as a consular officer.

We need a Foreign Service that represents America.  We need people from all regions, all backgrounds, all parties.  And much of the work is simply advancing America’s agenda.  It’s visiting a University to talk about energy.  Going to a trade show to promote our tractors, or cell phones, or soybeans.  It’s arranging for educational exchanges to people can experience what the U.S. is really like, rather than what they see in movies.  It’s promoting the U.S. through sports diplomacy or through music, or scientific conferences.

We work with international partners to explore space, to prevent terrorism, and to try to improve international norms and standards.  Every American abroad is an Ambassador for our country and now is not the time to withdraw from the world stage.

We need a Foreign Service that represents America.  We need people from all regions, all backgrounds, all parties.  And much of the work is simply advancing America’s agenda. 

I’m talking especially to second-generation Americans.  At City College in Harlem, I met many hard working students who came to the United States as youngsters.  They had intense interests in the world and understood that you have to be a participant in society if you want to shape it.  One young woman whose parents came to the U.S. from a tumultuous Albania.

She took the test, passed it the first time, and went through all of the background checks and is now proudly serving overseas. And I was proud to recruit her, knowing that she will show another side of America in her overseas assignments.

So, go ahead.  Take the exam.  Keep working on a second or third language.  Do the year abroad program or internship with your congressman to learn more about how the world works. And when you get posted to your first Embassy, tell people your American story. And if you don’t call a call from the President on your first tour, don’t worry.  You’ll contribute in more ways than you can imagine.


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About Thomas Armbruster 24 Articles

Thomas Armbruster is a columnist for The GeoStrategists. He is the former U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of the Marshall Islands.

In his long career as an American diplomat, Thomas Armbruster served as the Consul General at the U.S. Consulate General in Vladivostok, Russia, Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Tajikistan, Principal Officer at the U.S. Consulate General in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, Political Affairs Officer and Nuclear Affairs Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, Russia; and Vice Consul at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, Cuba.

Prior to joining the Foreign Service, he was a reporter for the CBS affiliate KGMB-TV in Hawaii.

Mr. Armbruster holds a B.A. from McDaniel College, an M.A. from St. Mary’s University, and an M.S. from the Naval War College.

Contact: Website

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