Agency protects Americans abroad
Ifirst learned of the U.S. Foreign Service when I read a brochure at Harding University’s student placement office as I looked for a job in town. The pamphlet described a career in which one could represent our country around the world. At the time, I had only ever been out of the United States as a Marine lance corporal in the Gulf War.
The job I ended up getting that day was at Searcy’s poultry processing plant cleaning pieces of chicken that fell on the floor. Over the following years, I became a Navy Reserve officer, finished my undergraduate and master’s degrees, worked for Worthen
Bank, and taught in Cabot and at Little Rock Central High. I never forgot that brochure, though. I eventually passed the State Department’s rigorous hiring exams and reported for training as a new Foreign Service officer on Sept. 10, 2001.
That’s right. My second day as a diplomat was 9/11. My colleagues and I knew the world would never be the same again, but were eager to get to work for America, even in the most challenging and dangerous environments. Since then, I’ve helped U.S. citizens as a consular officer in the United Kingdom, Nicaragua, Mexico, New Zealand, and Samoa, as well as in other diplomatic positions in Nicaragua, Afghanistan, and Washington, D.C., promoting American prosperity, global security, and universal democratic values.
I now manage a team that promotes intercountry adoption for children in need. Every day we are in close communication with governments around the world, stakeholders, and adoption agencies. In just the last couple of months I’ve traveled to Mexico, Haiti, and Kazakhstan, and members of my team went to China and South Korea to encourage efficient and transparent processes aimed at finding loving families for some of the world’s most vulnerable children. Our office also provides up-to-date information on adoptions from every country at adoption.state.gov.
The No. 1 thing I’ve learned over the last 15 years is that the State Department team is there for our fellow citizens anywhere across the globe. If you’re traveling abroad and something goes awry, we’re ready to assist. We help U.S. citizens stranded overseas return home. If an American gets arrested in a foreign country, we visit them in prison to make sure they are treated fairly. If a U.S. citizen dies while living or traveling abroad, we work with families to return their loved one to the United States. When a natural disaster strikes or a political crisis puts American lives in danger, we help make sure our citizens are safe. And, through our ability to provide emergency passports, we’re able to help Americans return home if their passports are lost or stolen abroad.
I’ll never forget helping in the aftermath of 2011’s devastating earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand, which affected more than 3,000 U.S. citizens. From the moment the quake hit, my colleagues and I worked around the clock for days. Through endless aftershocks, we visited shelters and hospitals to locate Americans. We helped U.S. survivors get to safety through coordination with local authorities. We located hundreds of missing loved ones for our citizens back home. We assisted the injured and families of deceased Americans. We forged enduring bonds with our Kiwi partners.
While being in the earthquake was rough, the opportunity to serve in such a moment was exactly why I joined the State Department.
There are several things we can all do to ensure a safe trip abroad. First, become informed. At travel.state.gov, you can read about visa requirements, laws, customs, and medical care in the countries you are visiting. Pay special attention to Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts to assess the risks of traveling there, and be sure to carry the contact details of the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.
Next, make sure your passport will be valid at least six months after you return home, or some countries may not let you enter. You should also check with your health-insurance company to make sure you have medical coverage overseas. If not, you can purchase travel insurance and check that it includes emergency evacuation. Another great tip: Make copies of your passport ID page, itinerary, credit cards, and other important documents and take one copy with you and leave the other with a trusted loved one back home in case of an emergency.
Finally, sign up for our Smart Traveler Enrollment Program at STEP. state.gov. Through this free service, you can receive travel and security updates about your destination, and it will help us contact you in an emergency.
Now that you know how to stay safe, I hope you’ll consider visiting some of the beautiful countries where I’ve served. See Britain’s Stonehenge for yourself. Check out Nicaragua’s Las Isletas in Lake Nicaragua. Eat fish tacos in Ensenada, Mexico. Bungee jump in New Zealand’s Southern Alps. Better yet, discover a new place and tell this fellow Arkansan about your adventure.
No matter where you go, know that the next time you take a trip or plan a vacation abroad, U.S. embassies have your back. In the meantime, Happy Independence Day and bon voyage!