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February 2013

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In the Line of Fire
American Diplomacy in a Dangerous World

by Jon Dorschner

Few Americans, including many members of Congress, are aware of the lives led by American diplomats and the many dangers we face. While terrorism can often dominate the media in the United States, many Americans do not link its ever-present danger with the daily lives of our country’s diplomats.

Ironically, terrorism is only one of the many dangers that we face, and may not be the most threatening. In addition to terrorism, diplomats must face horrific crime rates, deadly disease, and perhaps the most dangerous activity of all, driving. Many Americans are also unaware that our families accompany us overseas and share our dangers with us.

A brief overview of my diplomatic career and the dangerous situations my family and I faced will provide some insight.

Berlin
I started my career as a consular officer in Berlin, Germany. It was 1983, in the midst of the Cold War, and Berlin was a focal point of that conflict. In Berlin, we faced an ever-present danger from Islamic and leftist terrorists. In those pre-9/11 days, there was no security in the consular section. Anyone could walk into the consular building from off of the street carrying a weapon. There were no bulletproof barriers between the public and us. We conducted business over a counter and often interviewed applicants in our offices. Over the course of my 18-month assignment, I interviewed several terrorist suspects face to face. We did not have Marine Guards at the US Mission to Berlin because of its special status. A detachment of Army personnel resided in the consular building (the former headquarters of Hitler’s Air Force during World War Two). Whenever I conducted an interview with a known terrorist suspect, an armed soldier would stand guard, prepared to intervene at a moment’s notice.

During my assignment, Berlin was in a high state of terrorist alert. The alert was justified in 1986, when Libya-sponsored terrorists bombed the LaBelle Discotheque killing one serviceman and wounding 79 more. We were told never to start our car in the morning without first checking underneath for signs that a bomb had been planted. We changed our route from home to office and back every day and constantly checked whether we were under surveillance.

One day I looked out of my window and spotted a man with binoculars and a camera parked across the street. He was looking at my residence and taking pictures. I immediately called a special telephone number and reported the surveillance. Within minutes a truck arrived and American soldiers jumped out, surrounded the car and arrested the man inside. He was taken in for questioning and confessed that he was a journalist trying to get a story on one of my neighbors.

Pakistan
In 1985, I was transferred from Berlin to an economic position at the US Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan. I served two tours in Pakistan, from 1985-1987 and from 1995-1997. During my first Pakistani assignment, the country was embroiled in the conflict in neighboring Afghanistan. Afghan insurgents were fighting the Russian and Afghan armies. The Russians used Pakistani and Afghan personnel to conduct daily terrorist attacks inside Pakistan. The Embassy had been stormed by demonstrators on November 22, 1979 and burned, with the loss of two Americans and two Pakistani Embassy employees. There was always the possibility that the attack would be repeated.

During both assignments, we were on high terrorist alert. This meant that I could never start my car without first checking for bombs. I could never park my car in an unsecured area unless someone was inside to make sure no one planted a bomb. This meant that when we went to the bazaar to do our marketing, our maid sat in the car. Watchmen (chowkidars) guarded our homes and made sure our perimeter gates were always locked.

The Embassy was a fortress. Surrounded by a moat and tank traps and rolls of concertina wire. No car could enter the compound without a complete check for bombs. Grills were mounted above our office windows to deflect mortar rounds or RPG’s. The rear of the Embassy was surrounded by high ground. I would sit in my office and think how easy it would be to site a mortar there and bombard the Embassy. Men armed with AK47 automatic weapons were everywhere.

The capital was filled with armed paramilitary forces assigned to provide security. They routinely established roadblocks, which they used to shake down motorists and collect bribes. We were told that our diplomatic plated cars would not be stopped and that we were not to allow the police to stop our vehicles and harass us. On one occasion, we were driving late at night. The police at the roadblock insisted on stopping us and tried to wave us down. I kept on driving. At least one policeman raised his weapon and pointed it at us, but quickly caught himself and let us pass.

I attended the international Protestant Church located in a compound behind the Embassy. It was “guarded” by members of the Pakistani secret police. Their real mission, however, was to ensure that no Pakistani Muslims attended the service. We donated a carpet to the church. On March 17, 2002, the guards were mysteriously absent. Terrorists strolled into the church and threw grenades, killing a female American diplomat and her 17-year-old daughter and wounding 40 other persons, 10 of them Americans. A Pakistani parishioner who attended services every Sunday with us lost both of his legs in the attack. Our donated carpet was soaked with blood and had to be discarded.

Many of my contacts travelled with their own armed bodyguards. I remember sitting flanked by AK-47 carrying gunmen on either side. The floor of the vehicle was marked by bullet holes caused by accidental discharges. It was common in Pakistan for gunmen not to keep their gun on safety. On one occasion, my daughter and I were taking a walk along a mountain highway. We encountered the parked motorcade of an Afghan insurgent leader. The heavily armed gunmen asked us over so they could see my daughter (who was four years old), stroke her hair and admire her. A truckload of armed military personnel accompanied us when we travelled in the Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP).
 
The universal presence of firearms presented its own unique dangers. During weddings in the NWFP, celebrants commonly fired their automatic weapons into the air, hitting aircraft flying overhead. Airplanes flying into and out of Peshawar Airport were marked with bullet holes. We were in the NWFP for the celebration of Eid. Every household in the city brought out its firearms to fire tracers into the air. Our Pakistani hosts invited us outside to witness the celebration. They offered to give my 10-year-old son his own pistol to fire. I quickly realized that all of the ammunition being fired skyward would make its way back to earth (the newspapers were filled with accounts of killed and wounded celebrants). After a decent interval, I got my family and myself under cover.

My neighbor was a “diplomat” from the Iraqi Embassy. He invited my family and me for tea. Iraq and Iran were at war. My neighbor said that the war was worldwide and that he was prepared to engage in combat with the Iranians at any time. His son, who was around 10 years old, stated proudly that he could not wait until the day that he could kill Iranians. Personnel from the two embassies had already engaged in armed combat on the streets of Islamabad. My neighbor confirmed that he was heavily armed and kept an arsenal in his residence. Throughout the assignment, we were worried that we could be caught in the crossfire.

My wife faced her own special security challenges. She is originally from India and in appearance is virtually indistinguishable from our Pakistani hosts. Pakistanis strictly enforced an unofficial dress code. No Pakistani women were allowed to wear western clothes. They were to wear Shalwar Kameez at all times and keep their hair covered by a dupatta. Any woman who did not comply risked attack and possible police harassment. In addition, women were not allowed to be seen in public with males who were not their relatives. Young married couples often carried their marriage licenses with them to avoid harassment, both by members of the public and members of the police, who could take young couples into custody for “immoral behavior.”

My wife was considered a Pakistani when out in public. She wore Pakistani dress to prevent attack or harassment and never went anywhere without me or another male. However, since I was obviously not Pakistani, most onlookers assumed that we were not married and were engaged in some form of “immoral behavior.” Many could not conceive that a Pakistani could be married to a non-Pakistani and the concept of marrying a non-Muslim would have been considered “haram” (immoral) in any case and could cause harassment and attacks. To deflect negative attention, we went everywhere with our children, to reassure onlookers that we were indeed married.

My wife was a consular associate in the immigrant visa section and came into frequent contact with the Pakistani public. One day a story appeared in the newspaper mentioning my wife by name. The story pointed out that she was originally from India and claimed that she was a paid agent of the Indian intelligence agency (the Research and Analysis Wing – RAW). The story further claimed that her assignment was to ensure that selected Pakistanis could not travel to the US. This story caused us to worry whether my wife was in danger of violent attack. Luckily, the story was forgotten and there was no further incident.

During our second assignment in Pakistan my daughter was 14 years old. She could not go anywhere in public alone without attracting catcalls and negative comments from males. She could not wait for the school bus by herself for fear of attack. When I took her bicycle riding, we attracted negative attention and derisive remarks from passersby. Bicycle riding for girls was considered “haram” in Pakistan.

Despite the many security challenges presented by terrorism, the most dangerous activity for us in Pakistan was driving. Outside of Islamabad, there were no functioning traffic laws. On the highways, drivers routinely drove on the wrong side of the road at full speed, forcing oncoming traffic off of the road. Most drivers drove without headlights at night (they believed that headlights would run down the battery). Many truck drivers drove all night and used stimulants to stay awake. There were no safety checks and brake failure was common for trucks and busses.

We shared the road with herds of animals, oxcarts, rickshaws, and lots of pedestrians. Children routinely dashed in front of oncoming vehicles. There were documented cases of drivers running over children and killing them. They would depart the scene after paying restitution (“blood money”) to the family of the victim and the police would never be notified. One of my colleagues was killed instantly when his vehicle was hit head on by a truck. It was driving full speed in the dead of night without lights on the wrong side of a divided highway. Of course there were no emergency services of any kind. No ambulances and no emergency rooms, and often no hospitals for miles and miles in any direction. This meant that almost any auto accident was likely to be fatal.

In Pakistan, all driving is done on the left side of the road. Our car was American, with the steering wheel on the left. This meant that the driver could not see oncoming traffic when passing on the highway. Speeding “killer trucks” populated the Grand Trunk Road from Islamabad to Peshawar and from Islamabad to Lahore. When we got behind a truck, there was no way to see past it. If the truck slowed down for any reason, we were forced to decide whether to pass or spend hours driving a short distance. Passing was a long involved process. The passenger sitting to the right of the driver had to lean his head out of the window of the car. The driver would then very slowly inch the car to the right until the passenger could glimpse oncoming traffic. Oftentimes, there would be a truck travelling full speed and headed straight for the car, which was projecting out into oncoming traffic. The passenger would then have to yell loudly so the driver could immediately get back into his lane. Despite all precautions, trucks on numerous occasions missed hitting us by inches.

Bangladesh
From 1990-1992, I was assigned to the Political Section of the US Embassy in Dhaka Bangladesh. This was during the Gulf War. Bangladesh was one of the first Islamic countries to commit troops to the anti-Iraq alliance. The Iraqi Embassy immediately vowed revenge and organized an attack on the American Club, the American Embassy, the British Embassy and the Saudi Embassy. My house was immediately behind the American club. We heard a fleet of trucks pull up in front of the club. We went to our rooftop to see what was happening. Hundreds of bearded madrasah students emerged from the trucks and with much shouting scaled the walls surrounding the club. They went from room to room causing as much destruction as they could and stealing whatever they could get their hands on. The American and Bangladeshi staff had already fled the building. There was no sign of Bangladeshi security.

Suddenly, Bangladeshi Army trucks arrived and disgorged elite troops. The attackers began to flee the building in panic carrying whatever they could steal, including napkins, silverware, and tablecloths. The Bangladeshi troops chased them and beat those they caught with their rifles. Within minutes, the attack was over and the participants had fled in all directions.

I then went to the Embassy on business. The Marines were erecting concertina wire above the gates of the building, which was built like a medieval fortress with very few entry points. The Marines stood at the entry points cradling their shotguns and awaiting the attack. After attacking the American club, the mob had reconstituted and attacked the British and Saudi Embassies, breaking windows and causing destruction. They then moved on to the American Embassy and congregated outside. There was no way for them to get inside, however, and no outside windows that they could break or use to gain entry. They did not want to confront the Marines or get entangled in the concertina wire. With no alternative, they began to chant anti-American slogans and took off their shoes and waved the bottoms at the Embassy. While this is considered a great insult in South Asia, it meant nothing to the Marines who found it quite funny. The mob then pelted the Embassy with rocks, which bounced off of the brick face of the building and broke the few exterior lights.

We endured the rain of rocks for several minutes until the Bangladesh Army arrived and again dispersed the mob. That night, the commander of the Army forces blockaded the bridges leading into the diplomatic enclave. He let it be known that any attempt to cross the bridges would be met by overwhelming military force. He set up machine guns in sandbag emplacements to cover the approaches. In addition, he built sandbag emplacements throughout the enclave, which were manned by troops with automatic weapons.

That night, the Ambassador announced that all family members and “non-essential” personnel would be evacuated. My family left the following morning. I was alone in the house with the servants for the next three months. We were confined to the diplomatic enclave. I rode to work every day in an armored vehicle accompanied by Bangladeshi troops. I worked out an escape plan with the servants should the house come under attack. We placed ladders in key locations so that we could scale the wall and escape. I arranged with my Bangladeshi neighbors to provide me with safe haven and slip me out of the area should my house come under attack.

During this period I was active in working with the Bangladesh government to curtail the ability of the Iraqi Embassy to sponsor more attacks. The government impounded Iraqi funds and cut off Embassy communications and the Embassy quickly ran out of money. Iraqi staffers were forced to sell Embassy furniture and the building quickly became empty. The Iraqi Embassy printed thousands of leaflets with my name and address telling “good Muslims” to kill me on sight. They left the leaflets in busses and other public places. But it was apparent that Iraq had no public support.

On one occasion I was locked out of my car in the bazaar. A crowd quickly gathered. One Bangladeshi hesitantly shouted “death to America!!” and for a second, it looked like I would be attacked by an angry mob. The tension quickly deflated, however, and I was able to open my car and drive away without incident.

The strong posture of the Bangladeshi government and Army prevented the Iraqis from sponsoring further attacks. For several weeks, the demonstrators gathered in front of the entrances to the diplomatic enclave hoping to get inside and cause further mayhem, but none dared challenge the resolve of the Army commander who made it clear he would fire if any of them crossed his self-declared redline. When it became apparent that Iraq would suffer a crushing defeat, the demonstrations ceased.

As was the case in Pakistan, driving was our most dangerous activity. This was compounded by the fact that there was a long-term “uprising” against the military regime of Hussain Mohammad Ershad. This meant that in addition to the usual chaos on the streets, we had to contend with daily demonstrations and work stoppages. We continued to drive our American car with the steering wheel on the wrong side. Dhaka was home to tens of thousands of human powered bicycle rickshaws and enormous congestion, with most of the people on foot. This made driving very difficult and slow. We had to be very careful to avoid hitting and killing anyone on the street.

Disease was also a big problem. Any cut or abrasion could quickly become infected. Local medical care was completely unreliable. A colleague scraped his finger and went to a local doctor for treatment. The conditions were so unsanitary that his hand quickly became infected and he had to be evacuated to Singapore for surgery. His finger was amputated.

After a poisonous spider bit me, my foot turned bright blue. The blue color spread from my foot to my leg. The Embassy doctor drew a line half way up my leg and prescribed massive doses of antibiotics. If the blue reaches the line, he said, you will have to be evacuated, for it will be life threatening. I remained in bed in my room for days, but the blue finally receded.

Nigeria
From 1992-1994 I served in the Economic section in Lagos, Nigeria. I was the Deputy Political Counselor and Labor Attaché. Nigeria is dependent on its oil industry and while I was in Nigeria, the labor movement called for a general strike to unseat the military regime and shut down oil exports. I was in contact with the principal leaders of the strike and reported developments back to Washington.

A story appeared in the newspaper accusing me of masterminding the strike. According to the article, I had a secret office in the basement of the Embassy and unlimited funds that I disbursed to labor unions. I was also accused of running a publishing operation out of the Embassy. Again, I was under threat and feared for my safety and again no attack materialized. However, after I departed Nigeria, my contacts were picked up by the secret police, beaten and tortured.

Nigeria presented a new danger, critical crime. Violent crime was rampant in the country and attacks on foreigners were frequent. There was no effective law enforcement and criminals selected diplomats for special attention. The dangers were armed hold-ups, rape, home invasion, and carjacking. We were forced to live in fortified compounds guarded around the clock. While the criminals were heavily armed, our guards had no weapons. They could only stand by and open the gates to our compound as we approached and quickly close them after us.

Everyone carried radios all the time. In the event of attack, we were to call the Marines at the Embassy, who would convince the police to come rescue us. This meant that the police would not agree to act until we paid them for ammunition and gas, as they had no operating budget.

At night, we closed and locked a grill to our residential floor. This was our “safe-haven.” We kept our radios beside the bed (there was no functioning telephone system). If someone tried to break into our house, we were to immediately call the marines.

Violence was everywhere. Human life had little value. I would see dead bodies lying in the median while driving to work. Bodies would be found floating in the river. Our Political Counselor lived on the river. One morning a dead body washed up on the dock in his back yard. If stopped in the routine “go-slows” (traffic jams), we could be robbed at any time at gunpoint. Carjacking was common. When driving, particularly at night, we always drove at high speed and did not stop for any reason. We selected safe havens on our traversed routes such as friendly embassies or police stations and learned their locations so that we could drive to them if pursued.

As in Pakistan, the police erected roadblocks and stopped motorists and extracted money from them at gunpoint. However, unlike Pakistan, these police did not respect diplomatic plated vehicles. This meant that we had no alternative but to drive through the road blocks, with policemen pointing their guns at us and threatening to fire. Luckily for us, their guns were seldom loaded, as they often had no ammunition. While travelling in Southern Nigeria, our Embassy driver drove right over a spiked barricade erected by criminals attempting to extort money. Our vehicle, like every vehicle in the Embassy motor pool, was armored. Our children were taken to school every day in an armored school bus.

Almost every building we frequented was guarded and fortified, including our children’s school. When going out to eat at a restaurant, an off-duty policeman carrying an automatic weapon met us in the parking lot. We contracted with him to guard our vehicle and paid him upon our departure. Restaurants had armed guards to prevent robbers from entering the premises and robbing the patrons at gunpoint.

While I was in Lagos, one of my colleagues was ambushed while entering his compound. The attackers tried to kill him and opened fire on his vehicle. He dived out of the vehicle and ran into the bushes where the ever-present prostitutes rescued him and got him out of the area. On another occasion, gunmen stopped a van carrying nine diplomats from various embassies. The gunmen forced the diplomats to lie face down on the ground and then opened fire on them with automatic weapons for no discernible reason. The Embassy doctor saved their lives by operating on them in his living room and getting them evacuated. Attackers tried to cut through the front door of the home of a German diplomat so they could attack his teenaged daughter. He fired through the door and killed them. When the police arrived, they inspected the bodies, congratulated him for his marksmanship and departed.

As was the case in Pakistan and Bangladesh, driving was extremely dangerous. This was compounded by the ever-present danger of car jacking and the necessity to drive at very high speeds to avoid attack. Any auto accident was guaranteed to be fatal, as Nigerians would not come to your aid. There were documented cases of passersby going through the pockets of injured motorists to steal their wallets and watches and then leaving them on the highway to die.

As in other countries, there was no ambulance service and no emergency room service. If taken to a hospital, no doctor would treat you unless you paid in cash up front. There were documented cases of injured motorists without money dying while ignored in the hospital. On one occasion I came across a particularly gruesome crash on the highway. Oil tankers had collided and burst into flame. A man in flames was racing across the highway.

While in Nigeria, I took a special evasive driving course that included instruction on how to perform the “J turn” and make a complete reverse to evade pursuit, and how to crash through a road block. I was able to make use of this knowledge and it may have saved my life. While driving, a Nigerian in another car became angry with me for some reason. He cut me off by driving in front of me and got out of his car to confront me. A crowd quickly gathered. Our instructions were to immediately leave the scene in whatever way possible to avoid mob violence. I immediately jumped back into my car, drove over the curb onto the median, performed the J turn and sped away, leaving the enraged Nigerian and the growing crowd behind.

India
From 2002-2005, I was in the political section in India. I was in charge of domestic politics and Islamic affairs. The US invasion of Iraq had deeply offended India’s Muslim population and hostility was at an all-time high. I met with Muslim leaders of all stripes and factions. I never had security and relied on my hosts. I visited Lucknow, where the Muslim population belonged to the Shia sect. The Iranian government was trying to enflame anti-American sentiment among the population. Anti-American Shia had painted an American flag on the ground at the entrance to the popular Muslim shrines (the Imambara), compelling everyone to walk on it.

Prior to my visit to the site, my pro-American hosts intervened and compelled the administrators to paint over the flag, angering the anti-American faction. During my visit, my hosts kept my wife and me surrounded at all times to keep us safe.

Because of my job, I was well known in the Muslim community and to the governments and movements that were espousing Islamic extremism and terrorism. From time to time my contacts would inform me that various groups were discussing my activities and examining the possibility of using violence against me. Luckily, the purported plots never came to fruition.

I was covering a local election in the state of Uttar Pradesh and was in the city of Ayodhya with my wife and my Indian political assistant. We were staying in a spartan and dirty hotel. Gunmen from one of the political parties were also staying at the hotel and drinking heavily. Before we could retire, my political assistant told me that my wife and I must leave the hotel and move to a safer venue. He had overheard the gunmen talking about my wife. There was only a flimsy door to the room that could easily be smashed. The assistant was convinced that they would make their move in the middle of the night. He went to the Maharaja (king) of Ayodhya and explained the situation. The king invited us to spend the night in his palace, which was guarded.

Uttar Pradesh politics is extremely violent, with contending parties using gunmen to get their way. This was not the only time we encountered gunmen from this party. They rode in four wheel drive vehicles flying party flags, dressed in bits and pieces of uniform, carried sawed-off shotguns and were used to getting their way. My wife and other relatives were eating in a roadside restaurant when they entered. They immediately began eyeing my wife and other female relatives and the white man accompanying them. I told everyone in the party to look straight ahead and not even glance in their direction. At the first opportunity, we quietly slipped out.

As was the case in other countries, driving remained the biggest danger. Accidents were common and it made no difference whether one was using public transportation or a private vehicle. Horrific traffic accidents are commonplace. Busses routinely drive off of bridges into rivers or off of mountain roads and over cliffs with huge loss of life. I have ridden in public busses all over India. Each time I stepped into a bus, I risked my life. Traffic laws were not enforced. Police were corrupt. Traffic lights often did not work and were usually ignored in any case. Half the drivers did not possess a driver’s license. Many were as young as 14. Any accident could immediately cause a crowd to gather. Truck or bus drivers who ran over pedestrians could expect to be beaten to death by an angry mob and usually abandoned their vehicles and fled if in an accident.

I do not know if it is still true, but I read at one time that the traffic fatality rate in India is 75 times that of the United States.

Iraq
After India, I spent a year in Iraq. I was on a Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Tallil, in Dhi Qar Province. I lived on an old Iraqi air force base that had been taken over by American and Australian forces. My team was Italian. We had our own compound “outside the wire,” meaning outside the security perimeter. We drove pick up trucks outside the wire. They were not armored and we did not carry weapons. Theoretically, insurgents, or criminals could have attacked us at any time.

Our base was rocketed by insurgents about every two weeks. The rockets were wildly inaccurate. However, this did not prevent them from killing and wounding people on the base. One rocket landed on a pickup truck early in the morning that was carrying South Asian mess hall workers. Four of them were killed. That was about one block from where I was sleeping.

On another occasion, a rocket went right over my hooch and landed on the building directly across the road from me. I could clearly hear the rocket motor as it passed directly over my bunk.

We had our own heavy artillery that attempted to zero in on the source of the rocket fire. Almost immediately after a rocket attack, our own artillery would reply. The fire was deafening and shook the entire base. The insurgents were very scared of being caught while trying to launch rockets and were compelled to set them for remote launch using timers. This prevented them from siting the weapons or using observers to record the impacts and make corrections. The heavy artillery response must have discouraged them even further.

While staying in Baghdad, I was mortared as well as rocketed. However, none of the munitions ever came close to me.

Of course, I always wore body armor and a helmet when on missions with the American Army. We travelled in armored Humvees with fifty caliber machine guns. Every soldier carried his personal weapon and set up a defensive perimeter around the vehicle before I was allowed to get out. At no time was I ever fired upon while travelling with the Army. The soldiers told me that insurgents tried to ambush them several times, but suffered massive casualties while inflicting no damage to the Americans and quickly stopped attacking American military vehicles.

Back to Berlin
My final Foreign Service tour was in Berlin. Thus my career made a full circle. I started and ended in the wonderful city of Berlin. There was little threat of terrorism, almost no crime, traffic was safe, and there was no threat of disease. In any case, the medical care was first class.

I was delighted to be back in Berlin and almost out of danger.

I lived on Leipzigerplatz in the center of the city. It was scene of numerous demonstrations. Berlin is very much a left wing city and there was little danger from neo-Nazis. There were some extreme left demonstrations in front of our apartment, with anarchists dressed all in black and lots of police to make sure things did not get out of hand. I never felt particularly threatened or in danger from these events.

The leftists, however, did not like rich people and routinely torched luxury cars. They would take a portable bar be queue grill, start a fire in it and leave it under a luxury car, which would then burst into flames and explode. They torched many cars and were never caught by the police.

We had just purchased a new BMW and did not park it in the open overnight. Like every other luxury car owner, we kept our car in a secured garage under the building.

Anarchists occupied a building a few blocks from our apartment. They routinely fought with the neo-Nazis, who drove by the building and fired into it. Since this activity was not directed against us, we merely avoided the building; just to make sure we were not around should violence break out.

When travelling to Eastern Germany, we were told to be careful, as neo-Nazis were active in some areas. We attended the Christmas market in Dresden and were told not to leave the main streets and to stay in well lighted areas. The neo-Nazis hated people of color and targeted inter-racial couples. My wife and I followed our instructions and stayed safe, although we were refused service in one restaurant.

What does it All Mean?
We have been involved in two protracted wars. Members of our armed services have made incredible sacrifices, including long and repeated separations from their families. I know something about their experiences. I have shared them. I was separated from my family while I was in Iraq and during the two times they were evacuated and returned to the US (from Bangladesh and Nigeria). I also shared the battle space with my military brethren and was under fire with them and on missions with them.

My experience in the Foreign Service may not be typical. There is no “typical” Foreign Service experience. Many of my colleagues have had it much rougher than I. One only has to look at what happened in Benghazi and many other areas where we have lost personnel and American diplomats have endured great hardship.

It is sad that more Americans do not know more about what Foreign Service personnel and their families go through during their careers. Maybe people would then be more appreciative of the sacrifices we make for our country and, like our military colleagues; we could be thanked for our service.bluestar

 



American Diplomacy is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to American Diplomacy

Author A native of Tucson, Arizona, Jon P. Dorschner earned a PhD. in South Asian studies from the University of Arizona. He currently teaches South Asian Studies and International Relations at his alma mater, and publishes articles and books on South Asian subjects.

From 1983 until 2011, he was a career Foreign Service Officer.

A Political Officer, Dr. Dorschner’s career specialties were internal politics and political/military affairs. He served in Germany, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nigeria, the United States Military Academy at West Point and Washington.

From 2003-2007 he headed the Internal Politics Unit at the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi, India. In 2007-2008 Dr. Dorschner completed a one-year assignment on an Italian Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Tallil, Iraq. From 2009-2011 he served as an Economic Officer, in Berlin, Germany.


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