Risks, close calls and resourcefulness abroad

September 18, 2012

Editor’s note: We received many responses to our request for current and retired Foreign Service officers and their families to share their stories. We’ve chosen a few that provide a snapshot of some of the close calls for these Americans representing our government abroad.

Does Islamabad, Pakistan, in November 1979 mean anything? Was there as dependent spouse working part time. Sat in the vault not knowing that my three children at school were frightened. Two were hiding in the bathroom, the other going with a friend as her sister had told her “stay with him until I return.”

E.A. Swofford

Dependent of deceased
State Department employee

Oakton

I was associated with the FS from 1971-75 as a spouse, and from 1976-2004 as an active duty FSO and then senior Foreign Service officer. My husband and I were among the first 10 officer/officer couples to pioneer what are now known as FS tandems. My husband’s tour in Mexico in the early 1970s exposed us to widespread demonstrations against the United States in connection with the downfall of the Allende regime in Chile and to two kidnappings, one of which ended in the death of a junior officer.

At the request of the FBI during that tour, I substituted for Andrea Patterson (whom they thought I resembled) for a scheduled meeting with her husband’s kidnappers when she was not able to make the appointed meeting time, but the kidnappers never appeared. During my first posting abroad as an officer in Rome, my husband, who was the ambassador’s executive assistant, and I were most unnerved by the discovery of maps of our 5-year-old daughter’s bus route, and associated plans to ambush it, during an Italian government raid on a cell of the Red Brigade terrorist group, the same group that killed Italian Prime Minister Aldo Moro. Every one of our subsequent postings abroad had high security moments due to local health hazards, political unrest, anti-Americanism and mass demonstrations, but none was as bone-chilling as the plans found for that bus.

Stephanie Smith Kinney

I was a Foreign Service officer from 1969 until 2009 and served a majority of that time in Africa, Asia or Europe. I would have never imagined that in the late ’80s, when I was in Barcelona as consul general, my consulate would be bombed, but it was! Fortunately, we escaped with only several injuries, but it could have been much worse. The point here is that serving the U.S. abroad is a risky and dangerous business. While I considered it an honor and a privilege to represent America abroad, security was never far from my thoughts. The Foreign Service needs more resources to do our jobs and to carry out the U.S. foreign policy goals and objectives in better-protected environments overseas.

Ruth A. Davis,

retired ambassador

Washington

I was in the embassy in Rabat, Morocco, during the Six-Day War. While we were doing contingency planning to evacuate the American community, we were visited by representatives of the American airline that would support the evacuation. The worst-case scenario was that there would be time for only one aircraft to come down from Lisbon to take out as many as possible. In that case, the airline representatives said, they would take out all of the seats in the plane and the evacuees would lie down shoulder-to-shoulder, feet-to-feet on the floor of the plane. The sketch of this option looked to me exactly like the diagrams in the history books depicting the loading of slave ships coming to America.

Alfred R. Barr

Washington

When Martin Luther King was killed, I was the only American stationed in what was then Luluabourg, Zaire. Friends immediately called me to warn of impending mob action.  Indeed, the provincial governor warned that anyone touching a hair on my head would have him to deal with.

When I got to our American Cultural Center, it was still locked up and my local personnel were standing across the street. I went inside and dragged a table outside and then went back and got some large sheets of paper and a pen in a pen holder. When the first elements of the mob arrived, I held out the pen and asked who wanted to be the first to sign the condolence book. After a brief pause, the mob calmed down and got into line to sign. By that time there was also a significant police presence at the scene. Only a few windows were broken in the excitement.

Other American installations in Africa weren’t as lucky.

Merton L. Bland,

retired
foreign service officer

Arlington

I served as an officer in the U.S. Foreign Service from 1957 to 1985. That included Hong Kong, Vietnam, Angola twice, Jamaica and Morocco. I received a number of awards during my career. The most significant to me was the gold Award for Valor. It was presented to me in person by Larry Eagleburger, the only FSO to become Secretary of State. I have a photo of that ceremony. The main basis for the award was for my rescue of about 20 U.S. and Canadian missionaries who were in great danger during the civil war from remote locations in Angola shortly before Angola became independent.

I am a past president of diplomatic and consular officers, retired, which has many members on active duty. One such member was Ambassador Christopher Stevens, who gave up his life for our country in Benghazi, Libya, last week.

Kenneth Rogers

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