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June 2010

Bahrain or bust

Middleastmap_big   In a few short hours, we will be on a 15-hour flight bound for my first overseas post: Bahrain. I'm excited and nervous all at once. I'm leaving the college-like atmosphere and safety net of FSI (Foreign Service Institute) for my first REAL job as a Foreign Service Officer. I've already received my first assignment: I'll be working at the embassy's annual Independence Day party!

 The past two weeks have been a whirlwind of last-minute errands like getting our wills, changing addresses, root canals and Mr. Crab even had a tooth pulled. Good times. But the hardest part of this process has been the goodbyes. We've attended more than a few goodbye parties, happy hours, dinners. We spent last weekend in Houston to see my equally-wanderlust sister and family. I keep reminding myself that this is the end of one chapter, and the beginning of a new adventure. By this time next year, I will already be bidding for my second tour!  

See you on the flip side...


IMG_3049   We're still here, but all our worldly belongings are now on their way to Bahrain. We had our pack-out last Friday...not an easy task because we had a very complicated situation.  Because I was hired from London, we've already had one pack-out...with all our stuff going to some warehouse in Belgium!  We also had stuff in storage here in the DC area. To make it even more complicated, our stuff was stored in the attic of our old house. But due to liability issues, the movers refused to move our stuff. So a day before our pack-out, I recruited (in return for free beer) some A-100 friends to help carry all our stuff from the attic to the living room.

Our pack-out was divided into three parts. Part 1 is HHE, or House-Hold Effects. This represents the bulk of our belongings that will be sent to post by ship. Our movers called it 'sea shipment' and could take anywhere from 30 to 90 days to sail around the world. Part 2 is UAB, or Unaccompanied Air Baggage. This is stuff we need relatively fast, like extra clothing, kitchenware, etc. We were allowed 450 pounds of UAB. As I write this, our UAB is already on an airplane, halfway to Bahrain!  Part 3 is Storage, stuff that will remain in the DC area in government storage.

World_map_bigSo then a few days later, I get an e-mail from our travel technician: they can't find an available ship anytime this summer to take our HHE!  Now there's talk of dividing our HHE into smaller parcels and sending it to Bahrain by air!  The good news is we'll get our stuff within 3 weeks. The bad news is all our stuff now has to be completely unpacked and re-packed, and anything that isn't air-worthy might be removed from our shipment!  Go figure.  

Meanwhile, life goes on at the Foreign Service Institute. Since graduating from A-100, I've taken a variety of courses including Political/Economic Tradecraft, Security Overseas Seminar, and am currently enrolled in NENA: Near-East and North Africa Area studies. It's probably one of the best history classes I've ever taken, despite being just two weeks long. Our classes cover topics such as the history of Islam and several in-depth lectures on the history and roots of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (contrary to popular opinion, it has little to do with religion). 

In between classes, we're struggling to finish all the necessary tasks that come with an overseas move. Things like dentist and doctor appointments (FSO Tip: BUY MET-LIFE DENTAL INSURANCE! Kicking ourselves now), last-minute shopping runs, signing out of FSI, writing letters of introduction to my Ambassador, and of course, visiting with friends and family. I'm feeling quite guilty because we simply aren't going to have time to visit everyone we want to see before we go.  Next up: a trip to Houston to visit my sister!

T-minus 11 days to Bahrain!

Have Gun - Will Travel

State Department wants a mini-army in Iraq

By Richard Lardner - The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The State Department is quietly forming a small army to protect diplomatic personnel in Iraq after U.S. military forces leave the country at the end of 2011, taking their firepower with them.

Department officials are asking the Pentagon to provide heavy military gear, including Black Hawk helicopters, and say they will also need substantial support from private contractors.

The shopping list demonstrates the department’s reluctance to count on Iraq’s army and police forces for security despite the billions of dollars the U.S. invested to equip and train them. And it shows that President Obama is having a hard time keeping his pledge to reduce U.S. reliance on contractors, a practice that flourished under the Bush administration.

In an early April request to the Pentagon, Patrick Kennedy, the State Department’s undersecretary for management, is seeking 24 Black Hawks, 50 bomb-resistant vehicles, heavy cargo trucks, fuel trailers and high-tech surveillance systems. Kennedy asks that the equipment, worth hundreds of millions of dollars, be transferred at “no cost” from military stocks.

Contractors will be needed to maintain the gear and provide other support to diplomatic staff, according to the State Department, a potential financial boon for companies such as the Houston-based KBR Inc. that still have a sizable presence in Iraq.

“After the departure of U.S. forces, we will continue to have a critical need for logistical and life support of a magnitude and scale of complexity that is unprecedented in the history of the Department of State,” says Kennedy’s April 7 request to Ashton Carter, the Defense Department’s undersecretary for acquisition and technology.

Without the equipment, there will be “increased casualties,” according to attachments to Kennedy’s memo detailing the department’s needs.

The military equipment would be controlled by the department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security, according to the information Kennedy sent to the Pentagon. During the Bush administration, the bureau was heavily criticized by members of Congress for its management of Blackwater Worldwide and other private security firms working in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The military has about 7,500 MRAPs in Iraq. So shifting 50 to the State Department could be easily handled as the troops leave.

But handing over two dozen Black Hawks, which cost between $12 million and $18 million depending on the model, would be more problematic. The aircraft are in short supply and are heavily used by military forces in Afghanistan, where primitive roads heighten the need for transportation by air.

The Defense Department has not formally responded to Kennedy’s memo.

Spokesmen for both departments said the two agencies are discussing the request. “Both agencies recognize the importance of a smooth transition,” Brian Heath, the State Department spokesman said.

About 90,000 U.S. troops remain in Iraq, and that number is expected to fall to 50,000 by the end of August under Obama’s plan to remove all combat troops from the country. All American forces are scheduled to leave by the end of 2011.

Departing, too, will be key crucial missions they performed, such as recovering downed aircraft, convoy security, bomb detection and disposal, and the ability to counter rocket and mortar attacks.

By September 2011, the 22 U.S.-led reconstruction teams spread throughout Iraq will be replaced by five “Enduring Presence Posts,” according to the documents Kennedy sent to the Pentagon. The State Department will be responsible for all the costs of operating these stations, including security, until at least 2015.

State wants to use an existing Defense Department contract in Iraq to support these posts and the U.S. embassy in Baghdad with essential services, including meals, mail delivery and laundry.

If State can’t use that contract, known as “LOGCAP,” the department “will be forced to redirect its resources towards developing, implementing and overseeing a massive new life support infrastructure throughout Iraq,” the documents state.

The Black Hawk, manufactured by Sikorsky Aircraft in Stratford, Conn., is designed to carry a crew of four and 11 fully equipped infantryman. The helicopters are armed with two machine guns.

The MRAPs the State Department wants are called Caimans. The vehicles are nine-feet tall, weigh 19 tons and are made by BAE Systems in Sealy, Texas. Each Caiman costs more than $1 million. The vehicles have a special armor designed to deflect the most potent roadside bombs.

Associated Press writers Anne Flaherty and Robert Burns contributed to this report.

When hackers attacked

In recent weeks, I've been the target of three "Spear Phishing" attacks. For those not familiar, these are attacks that originate from very legitimate looking e-mails that appear to come from from a trusted friend, colleague, company, domain, etc. One e-mail looked so professional and authentic that I printed and shared with friends, only to learn later that it was a complete fake. Another was an obvious fake, filled with misspellings and grammatical errors. Luckily I never responded to any of the e-mails or clicked on any of the links. But my colleagues should be aware that this is happening. Trust but verify before responding to any e-mail, and don't click on any suspicious link!!

For more information on Spear Phishing, read this FBI article below (I promise this is a legitimate link!)

AMB on Israel ship

Former US Ambassador Edward Peck was on board the flotilla of ships that was attacked and seized by Israeli commandos today.  Click here for the full story. 

Here's his bio on Wikipedia:

Career highlights:

Special Assistant to the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs (U. Alexis Johnson), Nixon Administration, January 1971.[1][2]

Edward Peck served as Chief of Mission in Baghdad (Iraq 1977 to 1980) in the Carter Administration and later held senior posts in Washington and abroad. He also served as a Foreign Service Officer in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Egypt, and as Ambassador in Mauritania. At the State Department he served as Deputy Director of Covert Intelligence Programs, Director of the Office of Egyptian Affairs and as Special Assistant to the Under Secretary for Political Affairs. He served as deputy director of the White House Task Force on Terrorism in the Reagan Administration. He is president of Foreign Services International, a consulting firm that works with governments, businesses and educational institutions across the world.