Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Uncommon Country Team

Tonight I'm taking advantage of the footnote in the bottom right hand of the blog to go backwards in time to review a bit of undocumented experience that percolated back up to my consciousness.

The event in question is a fixture of life in the Foreign Service, a meeting known as "Country Team".  There is also the "expanded" country team, and the "core" country team. As you might guess, being part of the "core" team has connotations of status, or of bad luck depending on your point of view.

At any rate, the Country Team to an Embassy is a what a Department Head meeting is to a company.  The event is chaired by the Ambassador, or in their absence the Deputy Chief of Mission (the #2), the heads of any Departments other than the Department of State, (e.g. Dept of Agriculture, Defense Attache, NASA etc.), plus the heads of the Department of State "sections" - Political/Economic, Consular, Administrative, Public Affairs. 

If you are wondering why the Department of State gets extra seats, it's because the other Departments don't want them. Actually, it's because the Department of State, notably the Admin section provides the platform for all USG and diplomatic activity in country both by running the actual facility (Embassy) and (ideally) by working to maintain an overall strategic vision and coherence among all the parts of the USG. Plus, we State Department types get rated by the Ambassador and need a venue to demonstrate how we are making the world safe for democracy one sizzling briefing about export restrictions on frozen chicken thighs at a time. In addition to these high-stepping "regulars" at country team there are the extras. These range from visitors, to the proud extras coming to discuss a special project/issue, to the unlucky but often enthusiastic notetaker(s), to the nervous recent arrivals and the calmly jubilant pending departures.

Now back to the story.  As you might imagine, the Country Team meeting in Kabul can get rather crowded with just the regulars, who already occupy both a large table and the full "back bench" of chairs against the wall.  Two tours back, when I ran the consular section in Cameroon I held the exalted status of "core country team" member. Rankwise the "back bench" in Kabul would eat me for lunch, and, together with a dozen plus colleagues either arriving at post or departing in the next week I was relegated/blessed with a rare third status. Standing.

We were herded into the room, making quiet chit chat and taking note of the fact of things like the fact that there was both a one star AND a two star general at the table, while we waited for the Ambassador whose arrival signals the start of the meeting (so kids, NEVER be late for country team). Those with seats stood as Ambassador Eikenberry arrived, he invited us all to sit (OK not all of us), greeted a few members of the "core" team and then opened what may be the only country team meeting I am certain I will never forget.

In a recitation that took longer than I care to remember he read out the names and locations of where coalition soldiers had been killed during the last week.

Then, as I understand was his tradition, he began the meeting by noting:

"We continue to serve in their honor"

1 comment:

  1. Wow, that last sentence is powerful and so moving. Thanks for sharing that with us!