Those serving in Iraq are often said to be brave. Yet this catchall word does not seem to cover the motivation behind those willing and volunteering to serve. Many Foreign Service officers at the State Department have volunteered to be stationed in Iraq. Given that it is the start of the 2009 Iraq/Afghanistan assignment cycle at the State Department, we thought it would be interesting to hear directly from the officers serving in Iraq as to why they chose this course. We hope that others serving in the region will comment with their own motivations and deliberations.
Steven Buckler served as a Provincial Reconstruction Team leader in Iraq.“This has your name written all over it!” were my spouse’s words when I brought the position description home for PRT leaders in Iraq. But the path to volunteering for Iraq began a number of years ago when a distinguished former senior officer told me there was a time in every career when it was “payback time.” I’ve been very fortunate and the Foreign Service has been a wonderful career and experience for my family and me. The Secretary’s personal appeal in 2006 and my feeling that I and the Senior Foreign Service should lead by example convinced me to volunteer. The prospect of working in the field, at a PRT, in a truly unique situation with great latitude to innovate and lead seemed ideal. And my two children are now young adults, and I hoped as well to encourage in them -- if not now, then later -- to follow a career in public service by taking on an assignment of unusual rigor even this late in my career. My son just enlisted in the Marine Corps...!
Anne Aguilera served as a Senior Human Resources Officer in Iraq. I look on my year in Baghdad as one of the hardest, yet one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. I joined the Foreign Service because I wanted to represent my country overseas; I took an oath to be worldwide available and to go where I was needed and to do what was asked of me. I decided to volunteer for service in Iraq because of a sense of duty and because it was – in my opinion – the right thing to do.
It was very, very difficult to leave my young sons and my husband behind. But becoming a Foreign Service Officer was my childhood dream. I have given over 20 years to the Department of State, and I have never regretted my time with the Department. I wanted to be able to give something back to the Service.
While being in Iraq was difficult, it was also rewarding – both personally and professionally. My family and I have become much closer and I appreciate them and our way of life so much more now that I am back. They feel the same way as well. Each day is more precious than the last and I value my family and my country more than ever. From a professional standpoint, being in Iraq was challenging and fast-paced, but it gave me a chance to "shine" and show what I could do as an officer. Immediately after returning from Iraq, I was promoted – not simply because I went to Iraq, but because Iraq gave me the opportunity to be on the cutting edge of diplomacy and to be a pioneer.
Neither my family nor I regret my decision – OUR decision – to volunteer for Iraq. I gave up a year in my children’s lives, but our lives were much more enriched for the sacrifice.
Bruce Andrew, currently a Post Management Officer in Washington, served in Iraq. Before going to Iraq, I'd spent my entire career in safe and comfortable places. But duty called. I felt an urge to accept the challenge of a difficult assignment and was eager to do my part in the noble cause of helping the Iraqis establish a free and just society after 35 years of horrific oppression. Under rocket and mortar fire in Baghdad, my own freedom became more precious. Seeing how our Foreign Service Nationals bore up under extreme danger and wrenching personal loss, I took heart in the courage and resilience of the Iraqi people. For this reason I have great hope for their ultimate success.