Which State Would That Be?


A remarkably diverse trio of public servants at the ready.

I will reach out through the internet and bop you on the nose, if you thank me for my service.

Mrs. S.A.M and I ventured down the Bourbon Trail recently, which is a very scenic and fun thing to do, even if you don’t prefer bourbon.  You learn a lot and taste just enough that you can drive between stills safely.

There are 13 distilleries strung out like kernels of corn between Louisville and Lexington. We ticked off 7. All were unique, but to a one, they all asked if we were current or former military, offering discounts to those who were.

We aren’t, so I declined.

Mrs. S.A.M, the smartest and wisest person in the household and comfortable, over-sharer always replied, “We’re with the State Department.”

Responses ranged from a shrug to a “Oh? Which State?”  while clicking the full price admission button.

Once in awhile, people would enquire more, and she would give a brief blurb. Probably in response to my eyeroll, she would later say, “No one has any idea what goes on at an Embassy.  We need better PR!”

She’s right, of course. The military gets all the press.  Ultimately, for them it’s more binary. Attack or defend.  Kill or be killed. It’s easy to understand.

But what happens at an Embassy? Here in the Midwest, we’ve repeatedly encountered the comment. “I don’t really know what you all do. It doesn’t affect me, so I guess I don’t pay much attention.”

But, it does affect you. Even in the heartland, what happens in Moscow or Beijing affects all of us.

Here’s how.

When a foreign government wants to talk with the United States, the Ambassador is the voice. The meet with government figures at the highest levels to discuss and formulate policy.

Political offices monitor a foreign government. They inform our government about who’s in charge, how they view the U.S and how they view others. If a government changes or is going to change, these folks are the first to know it and how we should respond. The diplomatic work keeps kids out of war. It can also open up channels for military communication.

And all the talk of peace and a peace process would not occur without hundreds of people laying groundwork and feeling out the other side.  Exploring and discussing and making things happen.  This is where the trust is built.

A country’s economic climate is closely monitored by Economic Officers. Watching prices and industrial output may seem mundane, but so much can hinge on a few numbers. Our folks model what is going to happen when a government raises fuel prices or the price of bread and what is going to happen to the country’s neediest or wealthiest. Will they tolerate it?  Will there be riots in the street?  How can the U.S. help?

They help promote U.S. products, putting U.S. companies in touch with buyers. How are we going to push those 66 million barrels of Kentucky bourbon overseas? Who wants all these Ohio soybeans?

Building trade affects all of us, especially those who work in industries where products are manufactured. Maybe you are one of the many Americans who work in the supply chain. Know any truckers, warehousemen or sales people? Or maybe you just want a new Toyota or Adidas or T-Shirt from Target or Walmart. After tariffs are imposed, they talk about why and how trade ties can be improved and work toward that goal.

The security and law enforcement offices keeps everyone safe, from the Ambassador to the janitor.  They watch over us. They work with local law enforcement with training and improving law enforcement and enhancing the rule of law. If you’re not sure if that matters, try making a police report to a cop who won’t start working until you give them some “cigarette money”, or who botches the evidence collection. That may seem like it doesn’t affect you, but remember that on your next trip to Cancun or Jamaica.

There are tons of people who help keep the lights on.  Paying bills and signing the contracts. Shipping and logistics. When the Embassy has an event for the host country, these folks make your country look good. Putting our best foot forward for the world

Medical personnel make sure all these Americans who are living in this foreign country with diseases like Dengue and Malaria stay healthy. They also monitor for outbreaks and work to counter pending epidemics.

Consular Officers wear several hats. If an American is in need, they are the main contact. If your son or daughter is overseas, say on an exchange program or mission trip, and gets in trouble, they won’t bail him out of jail or pay her medical bills, but they will put him in contact with someone who can help.  They’ll visit them in jail and make sure they being treated humanely. A working legal system isn’t a guarantee in many countries and saying “But, I’m an American” doesn’t make it happen. These people will watch out for you.

If you lose your passport, they are the ones that will help you get home.

More importantly they are the decision makers at the tail-end of an extreme vetting process that’s been going on for years. Denying and granting visas. Human lie detectors. They are the real wall. A dynamic barrier. Finding a balance between safety and sense.

The Public Affairs Office is the public face of America.  They supervise the social media and speak with the press.  They keep track of how America is perceived overseas. They also help in distributing American culture and values. Keeping the beacon shining had been a huge goal. Promoting education of the world’s youth and getting them to study in the U.S. The more positive someone’s experience is with our country the less likely they are to want to do harm to us. They are also more likely to stand up for us in the future.

Aid and development allows another important way to promote the U.S. It is often reported that country ‘X’ receives billions in aid. And, I think, the perception is that we just dump a bunch of money into some bank account somewhere.  But, a vast majority of aid comes with the requirement that it be spent on US products. So, more aid means buying more American.  It is not a zero-sum game where, if they get more, we get less. In reality, if they get more, we get more. It is a win-win.

There are initiatives that help create jobs or keep the environment clean or empower women.  These are, or have been until recently, global priorities. Created with the idea that stronger, more stable nations are better trading partners.  Safer countries send us less people in distress.

The primary mission is to advance the interests of the United States and its people. Putting America first has always been the mission. It is nothing new.  But, we also all do well when we all do well.

So, that’s the PR spiel. A little plug about what goes on in an Embassy and how it factors in back home. We do this because we love our country and our jobs. Even if we don’t get discounted bourbon, we are happy to serve, so that America can reap the benefits.


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