The Senate has confirmed and the President has conferred the personal rank of Career Ambassador on four of the State Department’s finest Foreign Service Officers—Philip S. Goldberg, David Hale, Michele Sison, and Daniel B. Smith. This is the highest and most prestigious rank in the Foreign Service. These four diplomats are among our best.
First established by an act of Congress in 1955, Career Ambassadors are the diplomatic equivalent of the military’s four-star generals and admirals. Under the Foreign Service Act of 1980, the President is empowered with the advice and consent of the Senate to confer the personal rank of Career Ambassador upon a career member of the Senior Foreign Service in recognition of especially distinguished service over a sustained period. In the history of the Foreign Service, only 62 officers—including those confirmed last week—have achieved Career Ambassador Rank.
Like the military, the Foreign Service is an up or out merit-based system that rewards excellence in the service of our nation’s interests and highest ideals. Yet unlike some of their military counterparts, most of these women and men are not household names. They are known to their colleagues and to the countless number of people they’ve helped both overseas and at home during the course of their careers, whether by making it possible for an American family to transport the remains of a lost loved to the United States, opening up markets for U.S. business, or negotiating an end to conflict.
Our newest Career Ambassadors have long and distinguished careers. These are some of the highlights:
Most recently serving as Chargé d’Affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Havana, Ambassador Philip S. Goldberg was a member of the negotiating teams that ended the wars in Bosnia and Kosovo in the 1990’s. He has also been Ambassador to the Philippines and Bolivia, Chief of Mission in Kosovo, and head of the Bureau of Intelligence and Research.
Ambassador David Hale, who was sworn-in as Under Secretary for Political Affairs on August 30, has held a number of important assignments (Ambassador to Pakistan, Lebanon, and Jordan and Middle East Peace Envoy), but his most memorable career moments have been opportunities to directly help American citizens in times of great need. Most recently, he led a team effort in Pakistan that successfully secured the release and return home of an American citizen, Caitlan Coleman, and her family.
Ambassador Daniel B. Smith, who currently serves as Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Intelligence and Research, readily admits he knew little about the Foreign Service before joining. But once he entered he quickly developed a passion for the work and a deep respect for the commitment and professionalism of his colleagues. Ambassador Smith has been U.S. Ambassador to Greece. He also served as Executive Secretary of the Department and Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of Consular Affairs.
Presently the U.S. Ambassador to Haiti, Michele Sison is a five-time ambassador. Most recently serving as the U.S. Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations (also a confirmed Ambassadorial position), Ambassador Sison was chief of mission in Sri Lanka and Maldives, as well as Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates. As a Filipina-American who has spent the past 36 years as a Foreign Service Officer, Ambassador Sison has always had a passion for communicating the diverse history of the United States and its people.
This talented cohort could have chosen other, perhaps more lucrative, career paths. But instead, they chose to serve their country. I am proud to call them my colleagues and the American people are fortunate they elected service.
About the Author: Steven Walker serves as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of Human Resources at the U.S. Department of State.
Editor's Note: This entry also appears in the U.S. Department of State's publication on Medium.