• How to Get Along with Your State Department Person

    November 28, 2012

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Embassy/State, Iraq, Military

    embassy in iraqFollowing our guide for State Department personnel deployed with the military, we offer this set of tips for military working with State Department people.

    Everyone is special in his/her own way, so take what applies below and leave the rest.

    — Your State Department person is unlikely to have had any military service, or any training into the way the military works. Unless you clearly do not have to, make sure s/he understands who out-ranks whom, what acronyms mean and what will be expected of him/her at a meeting (sit quietly, agree with General, offer real options, etc.). Your Statie is unlikely to arrive knowing the difference between the S-2 and the S-4.

    — At the same time, State people usually have a lot of experience blending in to foreign cultures. S/he may talk the talk like a 25 year O-6, but unless you clearly do not have to, make sure s/he understands who out-ranks whom, what acronyms mean and what will be expected of him/her at a meeting (sit quietly, agree with General, offer real options, etc.). Some State people will inadvertently overdo it, maybe too many war movies, so it is OK to advise against calling the visiting CSM “Sarge” or trying to out profane the “guys” in the “unit.”

    — Inside an embassy, almost everyone but the ambassador calls each other by his/her first name. People are “asked” to do things and expected to understand when “ask” means “an order.” Even though State people may say “I’d like you to…” or “If you get a chance…” those words may or may not mean what they sound like. It is usually considered a bit uncool or crass to issue “orders” or “demand” things even when that is what you are clearly doing. State people can read these things like dogs understand each other by sniffing, but you may not get what’s going on. If a State person says “It is my strong recommendation…” for example, that means “Goddammit, do it now.” “I’ll consider it” or “That requires some study” are the same as “I’m busy that night” in the dating world.

    — Explain to your Statie who to talk to about problems. S/he will have at least courtesy meetings regularly with your boss’ boss and that would be a bad place for the Statie to casually bring up a minor complaint about his CHU. While some Staties are indeed out to jerk you around, in most cases it is benign ignorance. Tell your Statie to come to you personally with any issues, however small.

    — Telling your Statie to pack for a helo trip, or be prepared to overnight means nothing to them. Be specific: one small backpack you can carry yourself, boots not shoes, bring a sleeping bag, etc.

    — State does not do Powerpoint well. If you are expecting slides or a presentation, get someone to help your Statie get ready. Be very specific: if you only need one slide, say that. If you need photos, a chart, whatever, don’t assume, specify.

    — State is a very vertical organization. Everyone is at least a Major and thinks they are a Colonel. At the same time, very little authority is explicit or delegated. Expect even minor decisions to take time and be run up the chain. Whereas a decision run up through channels to a Four Star is a big deal, it is not uncommon in State for even relatively minor things to be “cleared” by the Deputy Chief of Mission or Ambassador as part of State’s deeply ingrained CYA culture. It may not mean that much, so don’t over-read into it.

    — The State Department culture is very clearly comfortable with men and women in all roles. Sexual harassment is not tolerated in any form, even what some might call “friendly kidding around.” Gay Staties are very openly accepted and acknowledged. Ambassadors will travel with their partners on government travel. While usually age and rank in State track, State does accept entry-levels of all ages, and the promotion system can send relatively young people into higher positions. Your Statie’s attitude on these things may differ from yours.

    — State rarely has any money. Think of the relationship like an old-timey date– you’ll pay. Most State people are encouraged to believe that DOD has unlimited personnel, money and resources. If you say something can’t be done for lack of these, however truthful, your State person will think you are not telling the truth.

    — There is no physical fitness requirement at State. Medical clearance is mostly a negative thing– the Statie doesn’t have a life-threatening heart condition– and not a positive thing. Assess the physical demands of a task before sending a State person out into the field or make provisions to accommodate.

    — Commitment will vary. Personnel rules at State require most employees to “volunteer” to do some time in conflict zones whether they really want to or not. Many lack the service ethic. Don’t be too surprised if your Statie bitches openly about having to be there and does very little. Perhaps offer the option to “backstop the operation from the FOB” instead of going outside the wire?

    — At the same time, many “field” positions have been created by State to satisfy some Washington-level political need, and your Statie, even if pumped-up herself, may not have anything pushed to her from the embassy and will need to be kept busy.

    — Be honest and clear about living conditions. Most of the State people will be flexible if prepared right, but simply saying “we’ll be at COP Hammer for two days” is not enough. Best to say “two days unless weather closes down the helos, it’ll be four to a dry CHU, probably MREs for two out of three meals, no good Internet.”

    — State does not issue gear to its people. Whatever your Statie has s/he bought at LL Bean and carried over in a suitcase. The shopping list was spread like chlamydia, from the last Statie to the next. It is not their fault. Help them if appropriate, maybe even a shopping trip to the Exchange. Your Statie having the right boots will make everyone’s life easier. At the same time, gently turn the volume down from 11 for the Statie festooned with belts and web gear and GPS’ and patches and pouches.

    — Information sharing at State is poor. Information is hoarded like loot, to be exchanged and traded. Don’t assume your Statie has been briefed, is informed or has shared. Check, or take the responsibility necessary to ensure your mission works. That one part of the embassy knows something does not mean anyone else there knows it. Info sharing in/out of the Political and Security sections is notoriously poor.

    — State is big on “consultations,” in person chats among itself. State people are paranoid about their written communications being thrown back at them (Wikileaks) and will always worry about Freedom of Information Action requests and refer to fears that “this’ll end up in the Washington Post.” Be prepared for them to have to spend a lot of time at the home office figuring out what’s up, and don’t expect to get anything sensitive done in writing, even if classified. More than the military, what State says on paper and what they do in practice vary.

    — The biggest brownie points within State are given for “reporting,” often long, literary pieces “from the field” (again, see Wikileaks). If you want to make your Statie look good, throw him/her some tidbits or expose them to some tribal meeting or something to report on. As noted, don’t expect secrecy, but often State prizes most highly slice of life pieces anyway, “taking the pulse of the people” kind of soft stuff. This reporting is referred to as a cable, the term coming from long ago (last year) when actual telegrams were sent via wire back to Washington.

    — Almost everything that matters in State is affected by the very specific words on the yearly performance evaluation, EER. Your Statie will be consumed by this throughout the spring, as preparation and negotiations (it is an interactive process) begin in March or so and continue into May. This is the most stressful time of the year for most State people. Especially at the lower levels where the Statie lacks a clear “corridor reputation,” what is said on the EER will significantly affect them. Similarly, State’s next-assignment system is equally hazardous and complex to navigate. This is usually done starting in late summer into early winter, and is also a huge source of anxiety and State stress, FYI.

    — All Statie’s are assigned to “cones,” area of specialty. The formal ones are political, economic, consular, public diplomacy or administrative. Security is part of admin but really a world of its own. Ask your Statie about her cone as an icebreaker. Like in the military, “where have you been assigned before?” is a very easy neutral question. Statie’s usually like to say city names instead of country or base names, so it’s Tokyo, not Japan or Yokosuka.

    — State personnel assigned to the embassy often do not want to travel into the field, and/or cannot arrange travel out. It may not mean anything that no one senior from the embassy ever visits, or that your Statie’s every meeting with his boss takes place when summoned to the embassy. When seniors do visit, they may feel they should only see their own State person to avoid bothering you and slip back out. If protocol requires a courtesy call or a briefing to senior leaders, best to make this clear way ahead of time if possible. If a senior embassy person does come by on short notice and fails to meet with the Colonel, it may mean nothing. In most cases no harm is intended.

    — At the same time, it will be good relations with your Statie to have him sit in on your higher-ups visits. S/he’ll report back to the embassy and brownie points will be awarded for the “access,” especially if the Statie fancies himself a “liaison.”

    — In war zones, State offers its people usually three R&Rs a year. No temps or replacements will be sent. There is usually no one in the co-pilot’s seat waiting to fill in, and if there is a deputy s/he will not take charge. Plan for long gaps when whatever it is that your Statie is doing won’t be done. State rarely allows for any significant left-seat/right-seat hand off time. Overlaps, if they occur at all, are usually a matter of a few informal days as the incumbent tries to get out as soon as possible by announcing how well-prepared her new colleague is.

    BONUS: A now-classic 1998 essay, DEFENSE IS FROM MARS STATE IS FROM VENUS, by Colonel Rickey L. Rife of the Army War College, is well-worth reading, especially for its still-relevant discussion of decision making styles at State and within the military.

    A more official happy-talk depiction of State for a DOD audience is also somewhat entertaining.

    Related Articles:

    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • Recent Comments

    • pitchfork said...


      All good and well Peter…except it’s hogwash. In reality, State is simply a simple minded accomplice to a now degenerate military who’s lost all conceivable morality. Nuremberg succinctly illustrates that which even a dimwit understands. FOLLOWING ORDERS IS NO DEFENSE. For all intents and purposes..Manning has now exposed for the entire world to see… STATE is an ACCOMPLICE to massive human right violations. Rendition to black sites for torture, permanent detainment of human beings with no access to real due process, and MURDER WITH IMPUNITY. THAT is the United States so called “exceptionalism”. And for those who would believe our softer side of the Cartel of Murder is not responsible, I submit you are fucking delusional. On the contrary. Every single person who works at State IS an accomplice to War Crimes. PERIOD One only has to read the proof which Manning courageously gave to the world. I rest my case.

      11/28/12 3:43 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...


      — While the military has its own problems of idiots being promoted by idiots, with all due respect to PVB, the “Peter principle” was perfected at State.

      11/28/12 4:55 PM | Comment Link

    • Meloveconsullongtime said...


      “the “Peter principle” was perfected at State”

      Comsular staff rise to the level of their impotence?

      11/28/12 5:25 PM | Comment Link

    • Lafcadio said...


      Well, the peter sucking principle has been pretty well perfected at State.

      11/29/12 1:39 AM | Comment Link

    • Eric Hodgdon said...


      Bureaucratic personnel are THE problem in our governments. Do not hire bureaucratic personnel, hire regular people, if they can be found.

      Q: What is a regular person?
      A: What bureaucratic personnel are not.

      Q: What are bureaucratic personnel?
      A: The scum of the Earth.

      Q: Can you please simplify the answer to what a regular person is?
      A: Yes. Regular people are those you trust your life with, your wealth with, your children with, your spouse with, all of these being held by another and then safely and securely returned, without loss or violation.

      11/29/12 4:43 AM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...


      — “State rarely has any money.”

      But some do:


      11/29/12 1:42 PM | Comment Link

    • jhoover said...


      Apologies been out of context, but this matter is really get importance and human.

      Please admin we looking ways searching how this matter taken to world human right, human watch in Washington DC and other organization those we used to here their reports and news in most world news outlet talking tyrants and dictators how they treating their own people.

      Today in democratic Iraq people saying we never saw this inhuman treatment and torture by state for own citizens. and for what what’s their crime why the hold those women there with their babies born from unknown criminal who rape and them, the prisons now women with babies, any of you know this happened during Saddam, so why you quietness is there reason that keep this doing so long.

      الإغتصاب المقدس في دولة القانون!

      11/29/12 6:43 PM | Comment Link

    • pitchfork said...


      “Q: What are bureaucratic personnel?
      A: The scum of the Earth.

      I’ll file that under…DUH!

      Meanwhile, as a side note and without taking time to post it under the appropriate article..didn’t I mention… 40k drones gracing yo’alls backyard BBQ’s …some day?

      Well, some people are suggesting it already happened. And supposedly the info came from Russia.

      disclaimer…I like facts. And I’m not trying to spread conspiracy crap. However..it WILL happen eventually. But since no one has found the actual cause of this explosion yet..I remain open minded. After all..you already know how deep the USG moral free cesspool is.

      Which reminds me. Speaking of the cesspool..look what our taxpayer dollars are paying for this week. Did I mention..DEEP?

      Ha, good ole ‘merican know how preppin for War with Iran. Perfect. But not being one to trust any ole article on the net..I dug a little deeper for the truth and sure nuf..there it was..


      Quote:”The proposed facilities construction will be administered under Foreign Military Sales (FMS)” at a cost of..wait for it…ONE HUNDRED MILLION FUCKING DOLLARS!!

      unfuckingbelievable. Not only do we “get to” pay for THEIR National Defense crap..they “get to” build it according to..get this..”Jewish Law”
      We’re paying for building Israeli MILITARY facilities based on RELIGIOUS law?..let me repeat that…MILITARY – RELIGIOUS..UMMMM, does anyone else see something wrong with this picture?

      Meanwhile, I crossed a bridge the other day..on foot, while heavy trucks were passing, which made this rusty piece of shit vibrate like it was gonna collapse under my feet and I thought to myself..What the fuck is wrong with our Congress? Our entire infrastructure is falling apart..and what do they do? You got it…FUND A GODDAMNED JEWISH FUCKING BOMB SHELTER FOR MILITARY ELITE…!

      wait..wait…let me say first it..


      Our entire fucking government has gone mad. Completely STARK RAVING MAD. And I’m fucking pissed.

      11/29/12 7:41 PM | Comment Link

    • John Poole said...


      pitchfork. My fantasy- Manning- after dumping everything to Wikileaks steps forward asking to be arrested and taking full responsibility. Effectively exposing the dark side of the American empire means you have to step into the light immediately. Just an opinion and I’m sure others will strongly disagree.

      11/29/12 8:23 PM | Comment Link

    • Eric Hodgdon said...


      I need to reiterate my position from my previous post.

      What are bureaucratic personnel?
      This does not refer to all people employed in our American government’s, but rather that special type of person who enjoys sadism and back-stabbing.

      Secondly, the problems of the country are from the American culture espousing ‘getting’ ahead, greed, grab all the stuff before someone else does, and an almost endless list of crap done to each other and the rest of the World.

      In short, MEANNESS by the MASSES.

      Today’s America is Sodom and Gomorrah.
      Today’s America is shamefully degenerate in embracing torture.

      These descriptions unfortunately are real and supported by a majority of the citizens of the USA. And, it sickens me in having to write this. Will anyone see the same thing as I do?

      The bottom line is we have the society in which the People collectively want it to be. However, I don’t like it one bit.

      11/30/12 2:57 AM | Comment Link

    • John Poole said...


      Eric, The American people get the government they feel they deserve. Americans not only want to be kept “safe” they feel they deserve the right to be safe and have agreed to not ask questions on how their protectors go about this childish request. They approve any “preemptive” measures. It is quite pathetic and dispiriting as you mentioned. it is a nation of weaklings.

      11/30/12 3:57 AM | Comment Link

    • pitchfork said...


      quote: “This does not refer to all people employed in our American government’s, but rather that special type of person who enjoys sadism and back-stabbing.” unquote

      That was assumed Eric. Sometimes I blame everyone in the entire government for the trespasses against humanity that only a portion actually commit. However, it’s like Nuremberg to me. If you are going to work for a Cartel that is committing war crimes, then following orders does not constitute a defense. That’s why this Nation as a whole, carries the burden of the Crimes of a few. Frankly, to me..those who did not directly commit these crimes still carry a responsibility for them as long as they continue to remain employed and support the USG atrocities, and are actually guilty of Misprison of a Felony should they actively conceal evidence, as Jose Rodriques did when he destroyed the video tapes of CIA torture crimes. Or that lying piece of shit, Debbie Wasserman, when asked to comment on Obama’s “kill list” she claimed she didn’t know what the journalist was talking about. Priceless. The DNC chairperson doesn’t know anything about a kill list, while the rest of the world does. Or Eric Holder, when he refused to turn over documents to Congress in the Fast and Furious debacle, and Obama himself when he invoked Executive Privilege to cover Holders ass. And on and on and on.

      This is why I get so damn pissed. The despicable Two Tiered Justice system in this country favors the political, law enforcement, and Corporate elite while we incarcerate more people for non violent crimes than all other nations. And it makes me sick to my stomach daily.

      11/30/12 3:08 PM | Comment Link

    • pitchfork said...


      Oh, btw..speaking of Misprison of Felony..
      I see Obuttface just signed the long overdue WHISTLEBLOWERS bill.


      Like it’ll make a difference to him. Seeing as his administration has prosecuted more whistleblowers in his first term than all previous presidents combined, he’ll find a way to skirt around it. Did I mention cockroach? Prosecutes John Kiriakou for whistleblowing the CIA torture debacle, while that CIA turd Jose Rodriques makes millions on a book describing the same torture he committed..AND destroyed the video tapes. Priceless. Sometimes I think this world makes Alice in Wonderland look normal.

      11/30/12 3:23 PM | Comment Link

    • Kyzl Orda said...


      @ Jhoover, that is insane, agreed. The article is saying that 400,000 prisoners are estimated to have been raped in prison by guards or police? Am I understanding that right? It’s sad that rape of men is also widespread.

      That sounds like a question for our officials all right including Madame Secretary asking what are THEY doing to stop such practices and why arent they asking for rule of law and an open system allowing the Red Cross and other groups to go into the prisons?

      11/30/12 7:58 PM | Comment Link

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