Sean Smith was in one such family. He was a Foreign Service information management officer killed alongside Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and two other Americans in the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
Smith, based in The Hague, left behind a wife, a son and a daughter.
He was on what was supposed to be a brief tour in Libya, the kind of assignment that’s a no-brainer for a Foreign Service family. Most career officers work at least one longer-term unaccompanied tour, and Smith was apparently a veteran of many tough assignments.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Wednesday offered a tribute to Smith as “a husband to his wife, Heather, with whom I spoke this morning. He was a father to two young children, Samantha and Nathan. They will grow up being proud of the service their father gave to our country.”
Smith was also known as an avid gamer, and tributes from his online friends poured out on social media networks. One wrote on Twitter, “Sean Smith had it right: Use diplomacy in real life and only fight wars with other gamers online. Rest In Peace.”
Such a death is the nightmare scenario for any family, and an especially tangible nightmare for Foreign Service families that live with the daily anxiety that political tensions might turn violent.
Claudia D’Andrea still gets emotional thinking about how she, too, might have been on the receiving end of a call from Clinton.
Two years ago, her husband, Ted, was stationed in Kabul and she remained in Washington with their three young children. After one particularly harrowing incident, “a lot of friends and family were saying, ‘OK, that is enough! Tell Ted he needs to come home now.’ But Ted did not want to curtail which would negate the first seven months and all he had been through so far,” D’Andrea wrote me from Ecuador, where her family is living.
“And, I was managing all right at that point. He made it clear to me that if at any time I could no longer handle it and wanted him to curtail, he would do it. But once I got through that first six weeks, I felt like I could deal with it. So, we held on.”
Through that experience, and another dire one that involved her husband relocating under fire, she said: “I was grateful for the support from friends, in particular. It helped to know that they were worrying about him.
“The kids got that my neighbors were giving me hugs and that there were grim smiles. I hid the front page of The Post from them. When my daughter asked what was going on, I told her that daddy got to have a sleepover. I feel so lucky that this only happened a handful of times. I cannot imagine how hard it must be for [military] families.”