2011-10-11: Flag Day

Today was the day we all found out where we would be posted on our first assignment. It was somewhat anticlimactic for the Construction Engineers as we know where we are going, Virginia, but most exciting for the other folks who had options ranging from the Congo to London.  Not going through the bidding process really takes away from the training experience as negotiating and strategizing with your counterparts is part of the bonding process.

Some of the folks in training get assigned domestically, like me, but to different areas.  Thus, the first flag shown in the ceremony was the Texas flag.  I found this quite fitting as it was the best looking of the bunch.  The next best looking flag was the Virginia State flag which has a bloke bearing a single breast in a tunic standing on the chest of a tyrant with his crown fallen off to the side.  The phrase “Sic semper tyrannis” is written on the flag meaning:  thus always to tyrants.  Cool.  One of the flags had an AK-47 on it.  That must be a fun country!  Welcome to the Foreign Service.

Flag day

Virginia state flag


2011-09-25: Life in the Capitol City

I’m on Eastern time now, and Eastern TV.  Being without TV since 2004 I was truly stoked to get checked in to my apartment with two flat screen TV’s to watch the Oklahoma State vs A&M game.  Needless to say I was very disappointed to learn that due to my new locale, this game was not showing.  Instead it was Ohio St vs somebody else.  Booo!  I tried to log in to ESPN3 but the internet provider here is not an approved provider so no luck.  So, I decided to get finished with unpacking and headed to the grocery store.

It was a short walk to the Safeway, haven’t see those in Texas in years, and it was very safe.  Just in case I packed my bodyguard 380 (remember VA is a reciprocal state, DC is not, 2nd boo!).  The Safeway was perhaps the cleanest store I’ve seen in years.  Even the parking lot was impeccably clean.  It seemed odd. 

Another oddity was overhearing two gents discussing Iraq whilst grabbing a bag of Cheerios.  That doesn’t happen in Texas.  I was also shocked how few 300lb behemoths there were.  Every time I go to Wal-Mart or Target in Texas I see at least two or three folks who can only maneuver via scooter because of their whale like condition.  Not the case here.  Maybe it is the lack of good Mexican food?  By the way, what is Hispanic food?  There was a sign over the aisle with salsa that said ‘Hispanic’ food.  Are Mexicans from Hispano? 

My last task of the day was figuring out how to get a full cart of groceries back to my apartment without a car.  I called Yellow Taxi and 20 minutes later the cab showed up.  The driver was very friendly and from Sudan.  I asked him if he was from South or North Sudan and he said the middle.  We talked a little foreign politics and he complained how corruption was ruining his country.  After we arrived, he helped me take my groceries to the elevator, except the wine.  He looked at the wine, boxed of course — cheap for me and eco-friendly for my wife, and asked me what it was.  I told him and he said he couldn’t grab it and asked me if I wanted to know why.  I said it was because he was Muslim and he said yes.  I felt bad because I didn’t confess I was a Baptist and as well couldn’t touch alcohol either, at least when no one is looking.  Who knew Baptists and Muslims had so much in common!?

The day ended with unpacking groceries and eating microwave pizza.  Ah, how quickly the college diet returns without the better half.  I’m due a few extra hours of sleep in the AM and will try and make the 50th Peace Corps ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery tomorrow.

2011-09-24: Leaving

It was really hard to say goodbye today to Malosi and Kelly. 

Check in at the airport involved a new process for me as I checked two handguns. I thought I had the bases covered but failed to empty the magazines into the original ammo box. The attendant was very patient and liked my .45. She had a concealed carry permit as well. After the gun case and ammo case were inspected we went to the TSA oversized bag check in area where the guy was a complete tool. Most of my limited experience with these chaps is fairly good but not this turkey. He kept asking me the same questions and then asked if I was a LEO. I had to ask him to repeat the question three times and finally he decoded his acronym and said Law Enforcement Officer. I explained I was a normal citizen and joked that I thought he was asking for my sign. He didn’t think that was funny.

Other than that and a guy cutting in line at the security check-point it was a pretty uneventful first leg of the trip to DC. 

I’m now in the air typing out this entry on an iPhone. As a long term BlackBerry user I have to admit the typing on the screen isn’t really that bad (at least in landscape mode).  It is frustrating at times when my fat thumbs can’t get between words or at corners of the screen. The story is they ‘learn’ your typing habits so I’ll keep pounding away about nothing in an attempt to better school my loaner iPhone. 

Coming up next is orientation at main state and then three weeks of training at FSI. Our class is the 123rd specialist class. It appears there are three or four construction engineers in the group and hopefully there will be a good showing at tomorrow’s happy hour to make informal introductions. 

Construction engineers have the shortest training of all the specialist which may be a blessing and a curse. The good thing is I get to start doing the actual work I was hired for earlier but the bad news is I have to find housing ASAP as we are on our own (in terms of no per diem and furnished apt) by the end of October. 

Since we’ve rented our house I’m not too stressed but renting with reasonable commutes from the Hill will probably push the limits of my new gov’t salary. Plus we have to take possession of all our goods being transferred to storage 90 days after training. We only have about 6000 lbs of HHE (compared to the 18k) allowance, which will make squeezing all that, two adults, and a seven month old into 500 sf much easier. 

Matiao and MJ


2011-09-16: One Week

There were a few unknowns I was worried about with the decision to join the Foreign Service in 30 days.  Most of them revolved around the large assets (or liabilities if you’re a Dave Ramsey fan) related to the vehicles/house and where to live affordably in D.C.  God reminded us of his plan and basically took care of each in a way that can only honor him.

Tangible examples of God’s blessings:

Truck sold for cash in one week. 

 House rented after first showing at offer price.

The other small things like gap health insurance, work transitions, and State Department paper work have been unfolding smoothly (other than my travel orders, where are they!?!) as smaller reminders that I’m really not steering this ship and my feeble attempts at control are quite humorous to the mastermind behind all this.

We are excited, honored, nervous, joyful, fearful, and humbled by the opportunity to serve the greatest country on earth and be a constant witness to many of his unyielding grace in a fallen world. 

Thanks to all for the prayer support.

2011-09-08: 16 Days

I’ve got 16 days, 15 of those are nights.  Training starts 9/26 and I arrive in DC as early as 9/24 (still waiting on travel orders).  My boss sent out a great message today of my departure.  I’m really going to miss him and the crew at JLL: 

Matt's last day with JLL will be September 23rd. Matt has accepted a position with the Department of State as a Foreign Service Construction Engineer (FSCE). The following are some "fun facts" about Matt's new position and responsibilities:

Foreign Service Construction Engineer (FSCE) is an engineer, architect or construction manager in the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations working specifically in the Office of Construction Management, responsible for monitoring contractor work on Department of State construction projects overseas. The FSCE is a member of a U.S. Government team which ensures that construction work is professionally performed according to applicable plans, specifications, schedules and standards.  Here’s a link to more details on what a FSCE does on a daily basis:  http://careers.state.gov/specialist/vacancy-announcements/ce  

Here are some interesting facts on the Department of State and OBO.  The Department of State was the first Federal agency to be created under the US Constitution ratified in 1788. The Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO) directs the worldwide overseas building program for the Department of State’s 265 posts worldwide and the U.S. Government community serving abroad under the authority of the chiefs of mission. In concert with other State Department bureaus, foreign affairs agencies, and Congress, OBO sets worldwide priorities for the design, construction, acquisition, maintenance, use, and sale of real properties and the use of sales proceeds.  OBO’s mission is to provide more secure, safer, more functional and well-maintained facilities for the conduct of U.S. diplomacy and the promotion of U.S. interests worldwide.  Here’s a link to properties under construction:  http://www.state.gov/obo/diplomaticproperties/dc/index.htm

I have been blessed with the opportunity to work with Matt at two different companies over the last ten years. The best way to sum up my experience with him is to quote the comments made by the FBI agent that interviewed me a couple of weeks ago as he was getting processed for his Top Secret security clearance, "candidates like Matt are extremely rare, his integrity, character, work ethic, educational and work experience is one in a million. You should be very proud to have a young man of this caliber serving us in the Department of State".

On a personal level, I'm sad that Matt is leaving JLL, he will be missed by not only by this office but his clients as well. However, I'm very excited about the incredible opportunity and adventure that lay in store for Matt and his wonderful family. Please join me in wishing Matt the very best on his departure from JLL. I will send out a time/location in the near future for us to have a drink with Matt and give him a proper JLL send off. 

We are in the process of learning how to be landlords and met with a property manager today.  We really love this house and plan to return to Texas one day. 

I’ve packed and sorted my UAB (unaccompanied air baggage) and bought enough suits to get me through training.  Did you know suits are only supposed to be cleaned four times a year!

I also got my boots shined today and was chastised by Theo for my lack of attention to the custom boots Pappy had made for Marshall and me last Christmas.  He ordered me to buy a ‘boot tree’ and bring the boots back for a touch up prior to leaving. 

2011-08-30: Foreign Service Specialist

Kelly and I are excited to let you know that I have accepted an appointment to the Foreign Service as a Construction Engineer.  Training begins September 26th in DC.  From the information we have now, we will be in DC for up to (2) years and then posted internationally off and on from that point forward.

Please join Kelly and me in prayer support over the next several weeks as we try and figure out how to pull anchor and start this adventure.  Even though God’s timing is perfect, my understanding of it hardly is.  So specifically, please ask for patience as we try to find a buyer/renter for our house in the next 30 days, a new (affordable) home in D.C., buyer for my truck, financial wisdom in planning the transition to a state/district with income taxes (and no right to carry), patience for Malosi as she prepares for a life on the move, and a constant focus on honoring Jesus in all we do. 

As St. Augustine, the Bishop of Hippo, explained it, if I put my face up against a stained-glass window, all I would be able to see is jagged edges and broken glass.  The farther away from that window I get, the more I would see that it was spectacular.  Jagged edges are all we see now, but we know the big picture is truly spectacular.

(Romans 11:36).  “For from him and through him and to him are all things.  To him be glory forever. Amen.

2011-07-28: Cats Outta the Bag

Family, well most of them, know now that we are considering Foreign Service.  I’ve yet to tell my side, which happens tomorrow.

I’m enjoying getting back into blogging and having an interesting subject to write about.  Peace Corps was always so creative and interesting thoughts naturally flowed. 

Since returning home, I haven’t really feel comfortable about exposing intimate details about Malosi, but I guess I could write about all the stuff she does in general terms.  She is quite talented. 

Work is just work and not much to interest the writing brain cells there. 

So, I guess I’m back in the saddle.  Hopefully, my blog skills come back to me soon and I can start writing in security sensitive general terms to make the experience I’m going through general enough to be publishable to the universe while meaningful to those willing to spend the time reading it!  I’m sure a disclaimer will be required soon….

2011-07-22: Hard Day

I reached a point in the security clearance process that telling my manager, Jon, was no longer avoidable.  So at 10am this morning I let him know the State Department had made me a conditional offer to build Embassies.  He took the news better than I was expecting and it was most definitely harder for me than him.  I was in this same position about two years ago when I let him know Kelly and I were joining the Peace Corps and felt horrible for letting him down once again.  I broke into tears a few times because of how great a boss he is and how rare it is to have a strong Christian in authority over you at the workplace.  He encouraged me to stay in God’s will and that he was praying for my family and me. 

The atmosphere will be different from this point forward. Despite everyone’s best intentions, I know it will be difficult to not feel left out of future planning.  Our family has made the decision after prayerful consideration to pursue this life and I’m at the point in my career where it will not be easy to turn back.  The beauty of all this is Jon reminded me that faith is all about making tough choices and if everything was crystal clear there would be no need for us to depend on God and not on ourselves.

I’ve got my interview with the investigator in the morning and then off to the in-laws to break the news.  That one will be the toughest.  My prayer is that they’ll understand the broader perspective of God’s plan and the unique opportunity this will provide for our family to grow closer to Him and utilize the gifts He’s given to honor Him.