In June 2017, I started lobbying and bidding hard for PSP -- Primary Staffing Posts, which includes Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and South Sudan (sort of). I started bidding for every job in my Consular cone. Sadly there are way more bidders than jobs. Shockingly, every job had 20-30 bidders. After handshakes came and went, I started broadening my horizons and considered bidding on jobs in several other cones including Political and Public Affairs. Longtime "Two Crabs" readers may recall Mr. Crab was a journalist before joining the FS. I heard crickets for many weeks. Then out of the blue in late July 2017 I received a one-sentence email asking if I was still interested in a PA job. YES, of course I was! That was followed by two rounds of phone interviews. I didn't hear anything again until a few weeks later when I received what's known as an "Air Kiss"...essentially an unofficial job offer in the form of an email asking if (hypothetically) would I accept the job if it was offered. Again, YES. Finally in early August 2017, I received the official handshake, and accepted the same day.
Why PSP? Well it's no secret that the Two Crabs have wanted to return to EUR since joining the FS. When I first joined the Foreign Service I had a "5 Year Plan" already mapped out in my head -- I would serve my first tour in Mexico or elsewhere in Latin America as I speak fluent Spanish, and then end up in Europe for hopefully the remainder of my career. Well, it hasn't turned out that way. After 9 years in the FS, I have yet to serve in a Spanish-speaking post or in Europe. Mr. & Mrs Crab knew if we ever wanted to go back to Europe, it would take some drastic measures and sacrifice. So after a lot of contemplation and conversations with mentors and bureau colleagues, we agreed that one or both of us would have to go to PSP. Besides, Mr. Crab has always wanted to return to Afghanistan -- the place where I started my war correspondent career just weeks after 9/11. Afghanistan is an extreme hardship: 35% hardship pay, 35% danger pay, 20% Special Pay to make up for the fact that we work 6-7 days a week, 12-14 hour days (as a tenured officer, I no longer receive overtime pay). In addition, Mrs. Crab decided to remain Stateside so we also receive Involuntary Separate Maintenance Allowance (ISMA), which is a nice little bonus to help maintain two separate households during our year apart.
I arrived in Kabul in September 2018 and I'm now four months into my year-long tour. The job is challenging but rewarding (present government shutdown aside). The quality of life is much better than I was expecting. I live in a "CHU" - Container Housing Unit, which is basically a windowless shipping container. But I lucked out with a "double-wide" hooch and even better, no roommates. The food is good. I have a fantastic team of Afghan colleagues who never make the day boring. Many of my colleagues are "tandem" couples serving together here in this hardship environment.
So immediately after accepting my Kabul handshake, I began searching for EUR "linked" assignments. Links are a kind of 'reward' for volunteering to serve in a PSP. They are negotiated between DOS and the State Department union, (American Foreign Service Association (AFSA). Sadly, "links" are quickly going the way of the dodo bird and we don't expect them to be around too much longer. But, I lucked out. Searching online and speaking to colleagues, I found several consular assignments in Europe that would be perfect fits...including, shockingly, my DREAM POST (more on that later). I bid on a total of 4 links and interviewed with all four jobs. All the interviews went quite well and I was very torn on which to pursue more aggressively. Some of the jobs were very high profile, but the location wasn't our top pick. Some of them were in great locations, but the job was less than desirable. This is the way bidding goes -- you compile all the jobs and study the pros and cons of each assignment. A number of factor go into picking any job: location, the job itself, quality of life, spousal employment opportunities, crime & safety, ease of traveling to/from post, schools if you have kids, corridor reputation of the post and post leadership, etc.
About a week or two into my bidding, I received an "air kiss" for my third choice. I decided to hold out for a day or two and reached back to my bureau for update on the other jobs. Instead of receiving a HANDSHAKE reply.
"Congratulations, Mr. Crab..."
I happened to be sitting at my desk in Calgary when the Handshake email came up. It was about 5:10pm local time, and I was already late to a group happy hour where Mrs. Crab was already waiting for me. I screamed 'Woo hoo! but nobody was in the office to share my joy. Without even waiting to discuss it with Mrs. Crab, I replied within 15 seconds with a one sentence response: "YES! YES! YES! THANK YOU! YES!" That was it. I then printed the email, ran to the bar where Mrs. Crab was waiting and saw her and stared with a big shit-eating grin on my face. "What?" she asked. I pulled out the paper and began reading:
Congratulations (Mr. Crab)! The Bureau of Consular Affairs is very pleased to offer you a link handshake on:
"VIENNA CONSULAR OFFICER"
Mrs. Crab screamed at the top of her lungs and began jumping up and down before I could even finish reading the sentence. I wish I had videotaped the moment I read the email!
Vienna, AUSTRIA! Our 'Dream Post'!
Almost everyone who joins the Foreign Service has a "Dream Post" - that place for which they would forsake all others for the chance to serve. Vienna has been our Dream Post since Day 1. Not only is it our top post, but the job itself involves my favorite subject in consular affairs. We are beyond psyched, even though neither of the Crabs have actually ever been to Vienna! However, we have traveled to western and central Austria many times on ski and hiking trips including to our favorite ski resort in Europe, St. Johann in Tirol (aka Sankt Johann am Tyrol). Mr. Crab plans to visit Vienna very soon.
A bonus benefit of bidding PSP + Link back-to-back: I don't have to bid again until 2022! When I landed the PSP assignment and Link back-to-back, my life became locked in for the next six years:
2017-2018: Completed our final year in Calgary
2018-2019: Kabul, Afghanistan
2019-2020: German language + other training, Foreign Service Institute, Arlington, Virginia
2020 - 2023: VIENNA
Above: Mr. & Mrs Crab after landing Vienna!