Dreams of A Diplomat: A Week in The Field

by Just Juan
494 views 3 min read

“These skills will you if it’s a natural disaster someplace or an incident of crime, a medical emergency” – Todd Brown, Acting Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security

Much to my disappointment, my assignments officer—who doubles as my de facto supervisor until I get to Spanish next month—decided to send me to the Foreign Affairs Counter Threat (FACT) course this week instead of on the back end of my training in late June-early July. I was upset about it on 2 fronts: (1) I didn’t even have travel orders for Bogotá much less for FACT and (2) it was looking very possible that I was going to have to carry a personal charge for conducting official U.S. Government business for a period of at least 5 ½ months. However, through a frantic process that likely included pissing a couple of people off because of the ol’ CC a very high official on an email showing the recipient isn’t really helping me trick, I was able to get my travel orders for Bogotá a whole 2 ½ months early and they had my travel authorization for FACT included. One crisis averted. On the financial side of it, after getting a bunch of runaround from people in the Bureau of Global Talent Management, I reached out to my union and just about when I was going to reach out, at their suggestion, to the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs to get answers, I contacted “the oracle of OBO” and in less than 4 minutes, she provided me with a resolution that the “trained HR professionals” couldn’t over a 3-week period. Second crisis averted. It was on to FACT in the boonies of Virginia.

It was an interesting 5-day course. In a number of ways, it reminded me of Warrior Week from my time at Air Force basic military training a long, long time ago. After arriving amid a snowstorm on Sunday afternoon, we had COVID-19 mask fitting and initial briefings. I was introduced to my classmates—3 of them from the tradecraft course I just finished a couple of weeks ago. The next morning, we were on a long, quiet, boring and socially distanced bus ride to someplace in Virginia I’ve never heard of.

In the course, we learned some really critical principles and concepts as they apply to the threats that diplomats face in life abroad. We learned about different risk management and planning principles, different security awareness and threat prevention techniques, personnel recovery actions, and what to do in direct and indirect fire attack scenarios. There was a whole day on medical training, where I learned 2 things: (1) I’m still pretty damn elite at tourniquets despite not practicing since my Air Force Silver Flag TDY, which was interesting for other reasons and (2) I have nerves of steel when it comes to chaos and blood. We also got some self-defense training and did a scenario in which we escape out of a building that’s full of smoke. Both of those were actually quite enlightening because I learned something I didn’t know before. The best part of the class though was the driving course. Man, they had us in late model Dodge Challengers doing simulated hydroplanes just to show us what to do. They had us doing unique evasive maneuvers at high rates of speed and random directions. I even got a chance to drive an armored SUV. Of course, the most well-known part of the driving course at FACT is crashing into other cars to get them out of your way. On first look, live and in person, it was kinda scary because for the 21 years I’ve been in the driving game, the 1st rule has always been “don’t hit other vehicles”. But, when I got behind the wheel at FACT, all of that went out of the window but for a good cause. FACT wrapped up today with a comprehensive exercise and it literally felt like I was back at Joint Base Balad. That parallel definitely ignited all of my self-preservation badges: (1) my speed, (2) my vertical, (3) my quick reaction, (4) my resourcefulness in using the environment around me, and most importantly (5) my high threshold for pain. All of those came into play and I was consistently one of the quickest people in my class.

Anyway, I passed all of the mandatory modules so I’m officially good with FACT. My logic on some stuff regarding life abroad has changed tremendously.

Check out the video story on FACT training by CBS This Morning.

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10 comments

Stephanie August 18, 2021 - 4:01 pm

Well I know it wasn’t your plan, but it sounds like the FACT training was pretty beneficial! The driving test sounds like it would be fun but probably hard to curb those instincts to NOT hit the other vehicles at first.

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Heather August 18, 2021 - 8:29 pm

It does sound like a very interesting experience for you! Thank you for sharing it with us.

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Shar August 19, 2021 - 5:15 am

I don’t know much on the topic, but always believe that learning is lifelong. I wish you best for your project!

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Rhian Westbury August 19, 2021 - 7:41 am

That’s great that you passed all of your modules, it sounds like the training was beneficial x

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Joline August 19, 2021 - 8:59 am

I don’t think my nerves will be made of steel when I see blood lol. Good on you for passing!

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Catherine August 19, 2021 - 11:13 am

What an incredible experience. It’s such an fascinating field..thank you for sharing this with us! So interesting!

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Neely Moldovan August 19, 2021 - 1:42 pm

Thats awesome that you had that experience though! Great job!

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Marysa August 20, 2021 - 10:01 am

What an interesting place. Good luck with your endeavors!

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Jupiter Hadley August 22, 2021 - 8:27 am

What a stressful time! Well done for sticking through it and completing the (unexpected) training!

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Lily August 23, 2021 - 3:02 am

Wow this is a deep post. I am going to watch the video as well.

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