“Welcome to AnJuan. We’re glad to have you here at Mission Colombia” – Ambassador Philip Goldberg
As I alluded a few days ago, it’s been a whirlwind since I arrived in Bogotá a couple of months ago. There is so much to learn, so much to take in.
MORNING PREP & EARLY JITTERS. My first day at Embassy Bogotá was on a Friday…July 16th to be exact. Despite arriving at my temporary apartment a little after 11pm, I rose at my usual 5:30am alarm. I got dressed in my navy blue Joseph Abboud suit—the same one I wore when I destroyed the Foreign Service Oral Assessment and the same one I sported in my Foreign Service Orientation debut. I made myself breakfast…a bowl of oatmeal, a piece of toast, and a glass of orange juice courtesy of the pre-arrival grocery shopping my office did a couple of days earlier. The temporary apartment had a fantastic view from the hills so I took advantage of it by sitting out on the terrace and enjoying the breakfast and the sunrise over Colombia’s capital city. After a brief WhatsApp video call with my wife and son, I gathered all of my important documents and readied myself for the arrival of my ride to work. As I waited in the lobby of the apartment building, a bit of nervousness overcame me. For so long I chased after the dream of being a Foreign Service Facility Manager and here I was…my first day as an active Foreign Service Facility Manager. I suppose the potero—or doorman/security guard—noticed my nervousness as I waited. He came over and introduced himself and I, likewise, introduced myself. He didn’t speak a lick of English and his Spanish was far more advanced than what I learned at the Foreign Service Institute but I did gather some of what he said. He basically wished me good luck on my first day. At 7:30am, my ride arrived, and off to Embassy Bogotá we were.
DAY 1 AT EMBASSY. I’m no stranger to the Day 1 experience in a new place. There was basic military training at Lackland Air Force Base. There was technical training at Sheppard Air Force Base. There was Day 1 at 5 different Air Force assignments and the Iraq deployment. There was Day 1 at USACE and DOI and Foreign Service Orientation. There was Day 1 at Park University, The Ohio State University, and the Rochester Institute of Technology. It’s all the same…a lot of “Hi, I’m AnJuan Thomas” and a lot of checking in with different offices. It was not different on Day 1 at Embassy Bogotá. My team—more specifically my administrative assistant—did a tremendous amount of legwork for me prior to my arrival so when I showed up at the controlled access point, I didn’t have any issues. My first stop was to the Facility Management Office (FAC)…the place I’ll be spending the majority of my days here. My administrative assistant was there to greet me. It was actually a scheduled telework day for her amid the COVID-19 pandemic but she felt it was important to be there in person to welcome me. She showed me to my office and, to my surprise, my name was already on the door. With the word that I got throughout Tradecraft and from other diplomats who had been here about the FAC staff being huge, I expected to have a cubicle. However, I ended up with a nice-sized space of my own with a U-shaped desk, a very comfortable ergonomic chair, a dual-monitor PC set up, a couch, and a window. I certainly didn’t have this back in Opelika and in DC. I didn’t stay in my office for long though…just long enough to sit my backpack down. My first stop was to the Customer Service Desk in the Management Section, where I presented all of the relevant inprocessing documents. After filling out a few forms and taking photos for my Colombian credentials, I stopped by Visas to get squared away with them. After that was a stop to Customs & Shipping to show them the passport stamp I acquired the night before so that my UAB could be authorized for release into Colombia. After finishing the easy processing items in the Management Section, I visited with the Regional Security Officer (RSO) for a classified security briefing. Of course, I can’t divulge anything about what I learned but let’s just say that it was a very eye-opening experience. The most important thing to come out of that briefing was that I got my Embassy access badge, which is important because nobody is going to respect me as the Facility Manager and Post Occupational Safety & Health Officer (POSHO) if I’m sporting an access badge with a big ass “V” on it for visitor. After wrapping up with the RSO, I stopped by the IRM Office to have my PIV card configured. Again, a lot of the legwork had been done by my administrative assistant. I simply had to plug my card into the card reader and wait about 10 minutes for everything to load up and I was good to go…a much better position than the guy sitting next to me, who had been there for “like an hour”. I returned to my office to check emails now that I had computer access but I wasn’t there long. My senior engineer stopped in and informed me that the Management Counselor wanted to meet with him and me. Just like that, on Day 1, I was in my first meeting with the top management official in the land. After introducing herself, she apologized for bringing me into the fire on Day 1 but with the Senior Facility Manager out on R&R, it kinda was my embassy to oversee regardless of how long I was there. It was a really good meeting. I learned quite about what’s happening from a facilities perspective in all of Mission Colombia but most importantly, I got a good sense of who she was and what her expectations were of me. Her first assignment for me: draft a decision memorandum to resolve a dispute over a very important kitchen appliance. The rest of my day was pretty uneventful. I sat at my desk and finished as much of the Embassy Bogotá Check-In Form as I could. Oh yeah, I looked at all of the paperwork and history on the kitchen appliance and came to a swift suggestion, which I passed up to be considered by the Ambassador.
MY FIRST FULL WEEK. I started on a Friday and the following Monday was Colombian Independence Day, a national holiday for all that work in Mission Colombia. As a quick side note, in addition to being off on all major American holidays, I’m also off on all major Colombian holidays. Anyway, I finished all of the items on the Embassy Bogotá Check-In Form, which paved the way for the Visas section to process my credential paperwork with the Colombian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and, more importantly, authorize the release of my HHE into Colombia. It was a fairly easygoing week. I was formally introduced to my staff in FAC. Although I certainly could’ve introduced myself in Spanish, having achieved this in my Phase 1 evaluation of Spanish Basic for S-2/R-2 Skills, my administrative assistant pretty much set the table for everything…in English. I got a lot of “pleased to meet you, jefe” and “welcome jefe” from the team. It was definitely weird to be called boss by so many people…not counting the custodial cleaning contractors, it’s a little over 5 dozen people under my charge. The majority of the week was spent getting familiar with the problem areas at the Embassy and in the residential housing units but there were also a lot of access requests and leave requests that I had to approve. The latter is actually how I personally met most of the team…after all, everybody likes to take their time off. The highlight of my first week was sitting in on a virtual meeting with the Ambassador and other high-ranking American officials in Colombia…something every first and second term (FAST) officer does. The Management Counselor introduced me and I gave a brief overview of who I was and expressed my excitement for being here. The Ambassador noted that it was certainly a welcomed sight to have a 2nd Facility Manager here before finishing with the line from the epigraph. I also met with the Deputy Chief of Mission—affectionately known as the DCM—in my first full week. He opted for an in-person, one-on-one meeting so I made my way to the Embassy Bogotá Front Office to meet with him. It was a very relaxed meeting on his patio. He noted that he was in shock that the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO) decided to send a #2 Facility Manager after leaving the slot vacant for so many years. After giving me a rundown of his long career in the Foreign Service, we discussed the dynamics of Bogotá, family life in the Foreign Service, and his expectations of me as the Deputy Facility Manager. Of course, I took the chance to see where he stood on POSHO stuff since the program is ultimately under his purview and I answer to him on those matters. His words to me: “you’re a Facility Manager, a specialist…I’ve seen your résumé and experience…and I trust it”. Just like that, I realized that the #2 diplomat in the land had my back. In my first week, I met the Ambassador and DCM…and actually had conversations with them. In 4 years at DOI, I never once met the 3 Secretaries of the Interior or Deputy Secretaries of the Interior I worked under.
MEETING THE SENIOR FACILITY MANAGER. The final piece of the introductory puzzle was meeting my boss, the Senior Facility Manager. That happened in my 2nd week, when he returned from what he termed “a much-needed and long overdue vacation”. He’s a pretty cool guy: well-respected at the Embassy and in OBO circles. He’s been around a minute and he knows the facilities game well. In my first meeting with him, I told him that I was here to be the best Deputy Facility Manager I could be and support him in every way I could. He countered with “your goal should be to just learn, make mistakes, get better, and put yourself in position to make tenure and possibly promotion”. He also told me that we’ll worry about my specific duties later as he wanted me to fully grasp our operation before deciding on what my portfolio would be. He showed me around all of the hidden spaces in the Embassy and gave me the goods on who the good tenants were and who the bad tenants were. He’s a family man through and through. In fact, one of the things he stressed early was that I do everything I need to do to make sure my family is comfortable here because “if your family isn’t good at home, you’ll be no good here”. And with that said, he sent me out on my first POSHO assignment: inspecting my permanent apartment here in Bogotá. More on that in the next post. I like him. Like I wrote, he’s a pretty cool guy…very reasonable and like me, he’s by the book. I think I’m going to enjoy working under him.
The mission here at Embassy Bogotá is fast and important. My work, apparently, is a key element in the success of the American mission here. I’m excited to show my worth.