Thursday, December 22, 2011

Check out the new blog...

Hi friends and followers.  I wanted to let you know I started a new blog from my latest post in Buenos Aires.  I hope you will take a chance on it. I will do my best to make it interesting and worth reading.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Saying Goodbye is Never Easy

My last week in Kabul was quite interesting to say the least. Besides the rocket attack, I had to pack out, clean out my office, introduce my replacement around Kabul, and have a going away party which was then rescheduled.  Packout was relatively low key - because I could bring 2000 pounds to Kabul (and only brought about 1200 of which 600 was food), I only had 700 pounds or so to pack out - and most of that was carpets.  Introductions in Kabul happened mostly by email since most of our usual weekly meetings were cancelled due to security that week.  Cleaning out my office - well, a big garbage can is all you need to move quickly on that front.
But the going away party - that was by far the

hardest part - and not for me. 

My colleagues did so much work to buy food, create a guest list, invite everyone, and then re-invite all the guests through calls and emails after the rocket attack, deliver the invitations, and host the guests the night of the event.   It made me feel VERY appreciated.  We had more than 80 guests (I think) and it was really fun - journalists, representatives of the Afghan government, local staff, American staff, UN, military and other representatives from NGOs.  I even had the Ministries of Defense and Interior representatives give me plaques to say thanks.    The Ambassador was a gracious host to let us use his house and we were socializing so much, we had to be kicked out.  It was a pleasure to end on such a high note. 

I don't know that everyone gets to feel a part of a team, that their work made a difference, that they made real friends and connections.  It was the best way to close out a tough year and prepare for the next stage. 

I can't thank everyone enough for reading this blog and letting me share my experience.  I am going to be serving the next few years in Buenos Aires, Argentina and will be finding a new way to keep in touch.  It may be a blog, or just emails with friends, but I appreciate the time you took to read my words and go on this journey with me.  Stay safe and I wish you all the same kinds of rewarding professional and personal experiences in your lives.  All the best.  Kerri

Monday, November 21, 2011

A Rocket Attack my Last Week - REALLY?????

My very last week in Kabul terrorists attacked various parts of Kabul city.  This included launching rockets from about a mile away from the embassy.  I knew it was time to leave when I was glad (?) that I was there for the attack.  Why? Well, only a very few people were mildly injured at the Embassy (not the same for people who were in other parts of Kabul but I didn't know that at the time of the attack) and we needed to get information out.  And what would have TOTALLY freaked me out in September 2010 was something I knew how to handle in September 2011. 

After a year of working in this high pressure environment, it went like this: all of the major news outlets had my number or could find it.  I knew who to call in DC, at NATO and the UN to let them know how we were, how to communicate with the press, what clearances we needed, and how to manage the calls and get out good information. That is not to say I did it perfect, but in a situation like that, you do the best you can.

At one point I was on the phone with CNN and within a minute what I said was running along the ticker on the bottom.  Now that is an experience I may never have again. 

We were lucky. We got caught in the cafeteria for over ten hours, but I was able to get on the computer upstairs, monitor Twitter (note to news trackers who don't already know this -  in an attack, if you can see the Twitter feed - which is a big if - you get a lot more detail than the news provides on the ground) and feed information around the embassy and to Washington a bit. Of course I look back and wish I had done more, but we did better than I think was expected.   One of our ambassadors and the management counselor were also in the cafeteria, so, with several others from my office, we set up a mini-crisis center (thank you Ops Center training) and tracked the news, our engagement with media, and drafted and cleared two different statements for release.

I ended up talking to so many news outlets that I lost track. I think we (the Embassy) did a decent job of communicating in a timely and clear way with the media (see sample NYT story here - the statements were EVERYWHERE for about eight hours) and of course, I think we could have done a lot more.  But at least we did get a voice out to counter messaging by the Taliban.  

And the next day, we were back to business as normal at the American Embassy.  We even rescheduled my going away reception that was supposed to be that night for two days later. The embassy took care of the minimal damage caused to the compound and the Ambassador spoke to press the next day.  And we had another issue to handle soon after that - life in Kabul resumed. 

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Land of Ambassadors

This is Ambassador Eikenberry. He was the AMBASSADOR while I was in Kabul for most of my tour (through July).  In addition to the AMBASSADOR, we also had four other ambassadors - Ambassador Wayne, Ambassador Keith, Ambassador Todd, and Ambassador Klemm.  I keep using the word ambassador because I want you to feel what it is like to work surrounded by AMBASSADORS.  Good points: lots of leadership models, lots of time to interact with the front office.  Bad points: lots of different people in leadership with different styles, lots of time you have to interact with various parts of the front office.  So overall, a wash.  But lots of good lessons learned for sure - and I liked my job and working with them.   

In addition to the ambassadors, for the first part of my tour the Director for Public Diplomacy and Strategic Communications was David Ensor.  David is great and is now heading up VOA.  He was a CNN war correspondent for years and brought a different perspective (i.e. not government) to the mix - very valuable since in the foreign service, we can sometimes see only the Foreign Service way. He was a fabulous boss and I consider him a friend and mentor. (please ignore my hair in this photo - it was probably the windiest day I had ever seen in Kabul and we were at a reception outside). 
Then in the last half of my tour, all of the Ambassadors except one were replaced.  AMBASSADOR Crocker entered (a legend in the foreign service - served in Iraq and Pakistan too), Ambassador Cunningham, Ambassador Pearce, and Ambassador Olson (not pictured).  Again, new leadership styles - to teache you how to adapt and work with new people. It was a challenge to learn the new system that immediately was in place, but luckily Afghanistan remains a high priority so the personnel are good that are selected for leadership.

And then completing the 2011-2012 team was Eileen O'Connor,  who I also was lucky to work with. I sound a bit like Pollyanna (I am so GLAD I got to work with each of you) but actually I do think working with each of these people taught me a lot. And Eileen, the first senior woman in the embassy during my tenure, was especially important for me (see previous post - The Lady Office) because it is great to see a woman navigate the senior halls and she does it with a lot of grace. 

Yes, I am wearing the same shirt - it is Kabul, not a lot of clothes in my closet!
So overall, a great experience.  Taught me a lot for what comes next - you always have a boss unless you are the President.  Learning how to work with each of them in their various incarnations is critical to succeed in any career, but especially one like the foreign service where you see the same people in different roles all the time.