In which we get to crash cars, apply tourniquets, and watch stuff blow up…

One of the most eagerly anticipated stages of FSO training is a week-long course that is affectionately known as “Crash Bang.” It’s a course that was originally designed for personnel who are being deployed to high-threat areas like Iraq or Afghanistan, but in recent years they have started giving it to a lot more of us. The course teaches some of the skills that one may need in order to stay safe abroad (or domestically, I suppose). Most of the instructors are former military who have used this stuff in the field, so they had lots of stories. We took the course last week. Highlights included:

  • Getting a full day of driving instruction from former race car drivers, and getting to drive really fast around a cool network of tracks
  • Being taught how to ram a barricade…and getting to practice
  • Learning emergency trauma first-aid from combat medics (tourniquet application, sealing chest wounds, inserting nose tubes, etc.) and then getting to practice on dummies that actually spurt blood and scream at you
  • Practicing escaping from a burning building
  • Learning how to detect and evade surveillance
  • Watch an explosives demonstration. Enough said

I’d be lying if I said we didn’t have a lot of fun this week. We feel a bit like this guy:

But it’s obviously not all about fun and games. There’s a reason we’re being given this training. We all know about Islamabad, Tehran, Nairobi, Dar es Salaam, Benghazi, and  other attacks on our colleagues abroad. Many of us have not made it home at the end of our tours. Even if we’re not being targeted, we know that terrible things can happen anywhere. Charleston is just one example. And while we were in this training there were attacks on worshipers, vacationers, and regular people in France, Tunisia, and Kuwait. The world is as dangerous a place as it’s ever been.

I really hope that neither K nor I will ever have to use any of this training. I hope that none of my colleagues or their family members will have to. But should something bad happen, I’m very thankful that the Department has seen fit to give us some tools to stay safe and avoid letting things go from bad to worse.

I’ve also found myself reflecting a little bit on why I’m getting into this career in the first place. Why would I want to go places where I may have to face danger? It’s a question that kept kicking around my head all week. There aren’t any car bombs or drug cartels back in Rhinelander, after all.

As I thought about it more and more I kept circling back to this: I want my kids and grand kids to live in a world where no one has to worry about guns or bombs, and I’m willing to take some risk to help bring that world about. Should some descendant of mine ever choose to enter the Foreign Service I would love for them to NOT have to take this training. There are a lot of people in the world who don’t understand the U.S., or who (often accurately) feel that the U.S. does not understand them. I am becoming a diplomat because (as cheesy and hopelessly idealistic as it sounds) I believe that person to person interaction and relationship can lead to understanding that makes the world safer. That’s the kind of work that I want to do.

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Regarding Consular Training

Diplomatic training isn’t only learning foreign languages and which seat to sit in at dinner without causing an international incident (though we did have a session on that). I’ve also been getting extensive training on the actual work that I will be doing from day to day.

My diplomatic title in Mexico will be “Vice-Consul,” which is a fancy way of saying that I’ll be sitting in a window all day providing consular services to whoever happens to walk in the door. This means that I could be interviewing visa applicants who would like to visit or move to the United States. I may also be providing assistance to U.S. citizens abroad who happen to need it. Consulates can issue reports of birth abroad (like a birth certificate) and replacement passports should you lose yours. If you happen to run afoul of the law and find yourself sitting in jail abroad you can rest assured that the closest U.S. Consulate will send someone like me to look in on you and help you get in touch with your family. If you get mugged, hospitalized, or even pass away, we will do our best to help you and your family get things straightened out.

We are provided with a six week class that teaches us the basics of this kind of work. I finished the class a couple weeks ago. We learn the various laws and policies governing everything from visas, to passports, to births, to deaths, and on and on. We also practice doing interviews so that we can unpack the complex cases in the limited amount of time that we have. They tell us that the average interview for a non-immigrant visa is only about two minutes long! I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to do it that quickly, but they tell me that after getting to post and learning how to blaze through a hundred odd interviews a day I will have no problem.

It’s humbling and a bit intimidating to realize that the work I’ll be doing will have a real impact on people’s lives. Some of the people I’ll be interviewing will have been waiting for years…even decades…for this interview.

An exciting piece of news is that K was also able to take this six week training course…which means she’ll be all the more likely to land a job in the Consulate when we get there.