As part of a push to create a cadre of muddy-boots diplomats ready to serve in conflict zones, the State Department is buying a fleet of fully armored vehicles — along with range of communications, first-aid gear and protective kit. The new equipment is supposed to help government civilians work where they are most needed: outside the protective bubble of the embassy.According to a recent post on Dipnote, the State Department’s official blog, the Civilian Response Corps — a newly created organization that has 50 active members, and another 200 on standby — will be receiving a fleet of 28 “fully armored vehicles” next year. “The vehicles will also be available for use by other U.S. Government employees supporting reconstruction and stabilization missions abroad,” the post says.
In addition, the Corps will receive additional gear to become more self-sufficient in the field: Medical kits, solar powered equipment rechargers, and office start-up kits. They will also have body armor, helmets and self-contained, solar-powered communications equipment packages to keep in touch with Foggy Bottom.
The Civilian Response Corps was created in response to the nation-building fiasco in Iraq and Afghanistan, where the U.S. military ended up shouldering much of the civilian reconstruction burden. Active personnel are trained to deploy within 48 hours; the standby corps is supposed to be available within 30 days. Civilian Response Corps members have served in Darfur and Colombia, although many have been tapped to fill billets on Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) as well.
It’s particularly interesting to watch the development of the Civilian Response Corps amid the kefluffle over Matthew Hoh, the State Department employee who publicly resigned in protest over the Afghan war. Diplomats predictably wailed that Hoh was “not a real Foreign Service Officer” because he had a limited, non-career appointment: The U.S. government has been rushing to fill civilian billets in Afghanistan with temporary hires because the State Department and other U.S. government agencies are not “right sized” to support the civilian component in counterinsurgency.
A comment by a Washington Post reader serving on a PRT is instructive:
Matt is a ‘3161′ State Department employee, a special category of temporary appointments brought on for 12 month assignments in certain areas of expertise– engineering, ag, business, rule of law, etc. Some may sign on for a second 12-month tour.This is a very different thing than being an FSO– a commissioned, career diplomat who is a generalist and is appointed not as a result of an online job application and single interview (sometimes over the phone), but after a series of competitive oral, written, and physical exams. Referring to Matt as a “U.S. Official” is about as accurate as referring to a postal employee as a U.S. official. The commenter adds: “I am not trying to denigrate 3161s or postal employees!” Um, no, but you are betraying a very acute brand of snobbery.