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April 2011

When "Authorized Departure" becomes reality

One of the most difficult and stressful situations that Foreign Services Officers will face in their career is going on Authorized Departure (AD) or Ordered Departure (OD) status.  A post may declare AD or OD status based on dramatic change of events in a host country, whether it's a political crisis, civil unrest, a military coup, serious crime rate or a natural disaster.  AD is voluntary, meaning family members can choose to leave the country and return to the United States or a temporary location at government expense. OD is mandatory, and usually means that all family members and many employees must depart and the post draws down to a skeleton crew. In rare situations such as in Libya, a Post may completely suspend operations. 

Before deploying abroad, all Foreign Service officers, specialists and their families must attend a class called SOS: Security Overseas Seminar.  All FS staff must take this class every time they prepare to depart to a new post.  In addition to scaring students about all sorts of hypothetical and real dangers, the instructors also share advice and experiences. During our class, the instructor asked folks to raise their hands if their previous Post had ever gone on AD or OD.  Shockingly, half the class raised their hands.  In this day and age, with a growing number of high-risk post locations, it's not a matter of IF, but WHEN an FSO will the AD/OD call. For The Two Crabs, it came just eight months into our first tour.

In March 2011, Embassy Manama went on Authorized Departure (AD).  I'm sure you've all seen the news about what's happening in Bahrain so I will spare you the details.  Suddenly within hours, we were left with a major decision: Should Mrs. Crab stay or go? Many family members decided to leave Bahrain.  We went back and forth on this decision about a dozen times and finally decided that Mrs. Crab would stay.  Mr. Crab is so thankful that Mrs. Crab stayed!  It's made the situation here a lot less stressful. 

The first thing we learned about Authorized Departure (AD) is: ALWAYS have a plan.  Whether you're living in a modern post like Tokyo or a developing post like Tripoli, you never know when something may happen.  It's important to always plan ahead.  Just like when we were in the Army, the Two Crabs have a "Go Bag" consisting of important documents like passports, plus checklists of other items and clothing we would quickly pack if we had to leave on short notice.