Edit: Her family has made a public statement, so I have added her name.
This afternoon, I discovered an e-mail from Secretary Kerry in my inbox informing us that Foreign Service Officer Anne Smedinghoff was among the six Americans killed in an attack in the Afghanistan’s Zabul province. Four other Americans were wounded, one critically, according to news reports.
As I’ve said before, the Foreign Service is small and a loss like this reverberates through the Foreign Service community even though many of us did not know Anne. There are fewer FSOs than military band members according to former Secretary of Defense Gates, and it’s usually only one or two degrees of separation between any two Foreign Service members.
While I never met Anne, she joined the Foreign Service around the same time I did and served alongside friends of mine in her first post and again in Kabul. So, I have several mutual friends with her and those who knew her spoke very highly of her. As an entry level officer, she volunteered for service in Afghanistan even after serving her first tour in Caracas, another difficult and dangerous city. There are not too many entry level jobs in Afghanistan and it’s quite competitive to get one. For most other second tour posts, you simply submit a list of posts and a few sentences about why you’re bidding on them. However, the process is more involved for Afghanistan and you need to write an essay and get recommendations from your supervisors and the leadership of your post if you apply to a job there. So, to secure a second tour in Afghanistan, she must have really wanted the job and been highly regarded by her supervisors and her first post’s leadership.
The Foreign Service and the United States lost a dedicated young lady today. So, please keep Anne, the others who died or were injured in the attacks, and their friends and family in your thoughts and prayers.
The Foreign Service is quite small. As Secretary of Defense Gates once said, there are more military musicians than Foreign Service Officers. So, when I hear about an attack on a diplomatic facility, it’s kind of like someone attacking a building down the street instead of on the other side of the world. When I saw the news that a suicide bomber had attacked the U.S. embassy in Ankara, my mind quickly flashed to my friend serving there now, and then to several friends who had served there in the past and are in training to serve there soon.
Later that day, news got out that the suicide bomber had killed a locally hired guard. This man was Turkish, not American, but gave his life in service to the United States. At every U.S. embassy and consulate around the world, locally hired staff work to further the goals of U.S. foreign policy, to ensure that facilities are working properly, and to protect the buildings and the people inside of them. Often they do so without the protections and benefits that diplomats get in dangerous and difficult locales. They know that U.S. embassies and consulates around the world are targets for many people and that working for the United States makes them targets as well, but they still continue to guard our diplomatic facilities.
All too often, when someone attacks a U.S. embassy or consulate, the locally hired staff are the first ones hit, bear the brunt of the attack, and suffer the greatest casualties. So, while the media has moved on to the next story, please remember that these local guards put their lives on the line to protect U.S. embassies and consulates daily. They may not be U.S. citizens, but that does not mean that they do not sacrifice for our country.
I suspect that almost everyone who is reading this has heard about the attacks on the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi and that Ambassador Chris Stevens, Foreign Service Specialist Sean Smith, and two other Americans were killed in the attacks on the Consulate in Benghazi.
I went to bed yesterday having read that there had been protests in Cairo and that protesters had gotten inside the compound and torn down the U.S. flag, and that there had been attacks on the Consulate in Benghazi. At that time, there were reports that an American might have been killed, but the details still seemed unclear. When I woke up this morning and checked my e-mail, I had several e-mails and saw many Facebook posts about the death of Ambassador Stevens and three other Americans. I turned on the television and watched and listened to the news as I got ready for work.
I went in to work like any other day, though a couple of minutes before I got to the Embassy I realized that I’d forgotten to put on my watch and a ring that I usually wear since I’d been a little distracted by watching the news while getting ready for work. My day was fairly normal and I went to meetings, read information on innovation and intellectual property to continue to get up to speed on my portfolio, spoke with my realtor about my apartment, read and sent e-mails, and so on. I talked with some of my coworkers, some of whom had known Ambassador Stevens or Sean Smith. Others didn’t know them but had other friends working in Libya and Cairo.
I don’t currently know anyone serving in Libya or Egypt, but I know people who have served in both places and people who are scheduled to serve in both places soon. While we are spread all around the world, the Foreign Service is relatively small and it usually only takes two or so degrees of separation to link any two Foreign Service members. So, attacks like these, even when halfway around the world and when you don’t know those directly involved, really feel like attacks on your neighbor down the street.
So, it’s very hard for me to find words to express how I’ve felt today. Suffice to say that I’m deeply saddened by the loss of Ambassador Stevens, Sean Smith, and the other two Americans killed and am keeping their friends and family in my thoughts and prayers. I feel a lot of other things too, but it’s impossible for me to find the words to articulate those feelings now.
Edit: Apologies if you’ve gotten this multiple times or if it posts multiple times. Posterous seems to be acting up and I can’t tell if things are posting.