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5 tips: Fellowships are the surest path for veterans to join the diplomatic corps

February 8, 2016 (Photo Credit: Courtesy photo)

Did you know you were a diplomat?

Rifles and radios, Hueys and Humvees, all are expressions of America’s global policy. They are tools of diplomacy, making veterans ideal candidates for civilian careers in the diplomatic corps — and Jayson William Browder would like to help launch those careers.

“These diplomatic jobs have an influence that goes beyond just security to touch the world in general, and you are also serving your country again. That’s why we think it is such a natural fit,” said Browder, who left the Air Force as a senior airman in 2011 after four years of service. Today he works in international affairs at the White House, helping with budget development.

The surest way into a career in diplomacy is through one of the many fellowships or scholarships available in the field. In August 2015 Browder launched Veterans4Diplomacy, a mentorship program meant to help veterans land these prestigious opportunities.

1. Apply to fellowships 

The top international fellowships for future diplomats come from a range of sources.

The Rhodes Scholarship, for instance, sends U.S. students to study in England and has produced a slew of famous graduates, from President Clinton to poet Robert Penn Warren. The Fulbright program awards a wide range of grants to students and young professionals at varying levels, placing scholars in about 150 countries each year.

While these are some of the best-known names, the world of diplomacy is rife with less famous fellowship opportunities, such as the Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship Program. When Browder first left uniform, “I had no idea about any of this, which I think most service members don’t,” he said.

2. Look for military connections

Mentors from within the diplomatic world helped to steer Browder into a Fulbright scholarship, which in turn led to his present White House fellowship. Now he’s looking to help fellow veterans.

Pam Campos is hoping Veterans4Diplomacy will help her down the path to diplomacy. She was among the group of 14 veterans to go through the program in summer 2015.

As an active-duty Air Force tech sergeant until 2011, and now as a reservist, her intel work easily translates to a diplomatic career, but she never thought of it as such.

“I was 19 when I started briefing high-level commanders about world politics. Here was this young girl with 40 generals and top commanders, giving them courses of action,” she said.

It was only when she began to study international policy at New York University that she began to realize she had a unique talent. Besides her sharp communications skills, Campos has the kind of think-on-your-feet abilities that a good diplomat often needs. For many veterans, “we’ve been trained to digest a lot of information, to work under pressure, to be level-headed while you’re talking about world crises, and at the same time knowing what your next step is going to be,” she said.

What might one do with such skills? The options are broad.

3. Who hires diplomats

If diplomacy can be defined as simply the art of maintaining good relations, then it can be seen in a number of arenas. Nongovernmental organizations use it, as do nonprofits engaged in international work. Corporations rely on diplomacy to smooth over international transactions.

Most people, though, will think of diplomacy as being the particular responsibility of the U.S. State Department, which sends out a range of individuals to represent the nation overseas. They may work in embassies, consulates or economic offices. Some manage the operations of overseas offices, while others handle political matters.

To make it into the Foreign Service, applicants must pass a series of intense exams, get a checkup and have a security clearance. A 10-week training course, language classes and specific training on local culture also go into the mix. Salaries start at $32,498 per year, and those in foreign service receive a housing allowance. 

4. First line of defense

The Pentagon has said it would like to see more veterans move toward such careers. In February 2015, for example, Secretary of State John Kerry announced the Veterans Innovation Partnership, a public-private collaborartion to leverage veterans’ skills in the area of international relations. It’s open to those who have deployed to the Middle East, Asia and Europe and who hold master’s degrees.

Veterans bring a special set of skills to the table, Kerry said in announcing the program.

“It was my time at war that made me such a big believer in the need to exhaust every option to resolve differences peacefully before we make the decision to ask young men and women to go into harm’s way,” he said. Fellows work and learn in a range of State Department positions.

Such efforts make good sense, said Melis Tusiray, a current Veterans4Diplomacy mentor. The veterans she has met through the program “have international experience already, they have leadership experience already, which makes them excellent candidates for the fellowships that we prepare them for,” she said.

5. Constructive engagement

In particular, veterans’ experiences in challenging situations during the recent conflicts may have helped them to hone their skills in smoothing over the rough patches. Diplomacy “requires an open-mindedness and a willingness to constructively engage with people, even people you might not agree with,” Tusiray said. Much of the ground work in Iraq and Afghanistan has demanded just such a level of finesse.

As a former Robert Bosch Foundation Fellow and founder of the mentoring group Hey Ladies, Tusiray is well-positioned to help veterans adapt those experiences for potential diplomatic careers.

Veterans4Diplomacy helps to launch these careers with a three-day intensive introduction to diplomacy paired with training in the basic skills of selling one’s professional credentials in the civilian market. Participants then are paired with mentors to continue their push toward fellowships. The first group of trainees included seven undergraduate and seven graduate students.

For Campos, the prospect of a career in diplomacy seems a natural extension of her experiences in uniform. “As military members, we are the face of the nation,” she said. “We go to all these countries that your average tourist cannot go to. That means we may be the only ones there representing our country, often in situations where there are high stakes, just in how you behave in people’s home. Those are inherently diplomatic situations.”

What the State Department wants

For many, work in the State Department will be the first stop toward a career in diplomacy. Here’ some of what State has to say about the job.

  • You can expect to be assigned to hardship posts. You may face an irregular or extended work schedule. These posts can be in remote locations, without many U.S.- style amenities.
  • Some assignments are "unaccompanied," which means family members may not travel to the post with you.
  • Candidates should be motivated individuals with sound judgment and leadership abilities who can retain their composure in times of great stress — or even dire situations, like a military coup or a major environmental disaster. 
  • You may engage with host government officials, private sector leaders and international organization officials.
  • Diplomats foster dialogue between the United States and the host country, advocating U.S. policies and promoting U.S. interests, and strengthen understanding between our country and other nations.

Source: http://careers.state.gov/work/foreign-service/officer/career-tracks

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