by Frances Jeffrey-Coker
The Foreign Service is a more than just a career; it is a profession that demands the excise of duty and responsibility. Much the way that other professions such as law and medicine extend a code of ethics beyond the confines of the courtroom or the hospital, a diplomat is expected to represent a unified United States at all times. It is with this responsibility that Foreign Service inductees take an oath of office to protect and defend the Constitution. This responsibility is upheld by our finest Foreign Service corps despite differences in background and ideology, distinguishing us when we travel abroad and present our views to the world.
I had the great honor of serving first as a Foreign Service Specialist with the Bureau of Diplomatic Security in Pretoria, South Africa and again in Tunis, Tunisia. I then transitioned to the role of a Political Officer, serving at the U.S. Mission to the EU in Brussels, Belgium. Although personal and academic ambitions brought me back to the states in pursuit of a doctoral degree, it is my hope that I will return to some form of service in the future. During my time as a diplomat, I discovered that the greatest lesson I had learned was not about foreign policy but about politics and society right here at home.
The men and women of the Foreign Service come from all walks of life, creating a diverse community of Americans in Embassies all over the world. I worked alongside colleagues with such varied experience as teachers, lawyers, technicians, and retired military service members. Not only are diplomats diverse in experience, they are diverse in geographic origin. I met people who called a variety of states home, from the deserts of New Mexico to rural communities of Pennsylvania. I met Republicans, Democrats, libertarians and those without affiliation at all. Some immigrated to the United States as kids or grew up like generations before them in the U.S. heartland. All were willing and motivated to come together to represent the interests of the United States, offering a diverse and heterogeneous representation of race, religion, sexual orientation, and values. Although the service always has room to improve in regards to representing the full diversity of America, it offers the world a window on the differences that distinguish us and yet ultimately bring us all together.
Advocating on behalf of U.S. interests overseas means pushing the boundaries of professionalism in both a public, formal capacity and in private, personal life. Questions about America and U.S. foreign policy come from unexpected places, whether engaging with a market vendor or making small talk at the dog park. But it is this exposure to foreigners overseas that truly makes our nation’s diplomatic corps an integrative and efficient mechanism for positive influence. Through daily public interactions, diplomats regularly expose foreign citizens to our views and values in a natural setting, while keeping abreast of current policies and institutional knowledge. In this way, a relatively small organization with limited manpower and resources makes an impact on policy implementation and national security. Members of the foreign service and their families uphold their duty to represent American values with a unified face towards the rest of the world, making a positive example of our democratic system.
The Foreign Service also offers insight on the U.S. policymaking and implementation process. An Embassy is a microcosm of our nation’s executive, including numerous agencies apart from the Department of State. From the Treasury Department to the Department of Defense, different sections engage with each other through a hierarchy and a system of order. Sitting on country team meetings and engaging with interagency staff members, I gained appreciation for staffing and tasking, group decision making and problem solving, the role of Congress and the rule of law, and what it takes to make a complex system run on a daily basis. Despite the moving parts, checks and balances and the inevitable challenges, through ups and downs a mission stays true to its goal of loyal representation of U.S. interests abroad.
In his welcome speech and first remarks to State Department employees at Foggy Bottom, the new Secretary of State Rex Tillerson acknowledged the partisan divisions facing our country since the election and the diversity of opposing views that diplomats hold within their ranks. However, he also reminded them of their continued professional responsibility to uphold the Constitution and pursue our overall mission abroad. It is with great pride and admiration of my former colleagues that I recognize their continued commitment to our country’s interests. This ultimately embodies what serving in the Foreign Service and representing America is all about. Despite differing backgrounds, views, and values, diplomats continue to defend American interests abroad, presenting a unified face to the world. Throughout the inevitable ebbs and flows in partisan power over time, America remains a country where opposing voices can be heard yet unity prevails nonetheless. In my time in service to the U.S. Department of State, the most lasting lesson I took away was how to appreciate the true diversity of America and represent it not only overseas but right here at home.
Frances Jeffrey-Coker served with the U.S. Department of State for five years. In 2010 she joined the Bureau of Diplomatic Security as a Security Engineering Officer, serving tours in Pretoria, South Africa and in Tunis, Tunisia. She then converted to a Foreign Service Officer and served as the staff assistant to the Ambassador of the U.S. Mission to the European Union in Brussels, Belgium. She is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Public Policy at the University of North Carolina- Chapel Hill.