Monday, April 26, 2010

Flag Day

I am sorry my previous blog post was so brief but we had to literally run off after the Flag Day ceremony was over and rush to BWI because we had a 7:30 p.m. flight to Chicago, which we almost missed thanks to the horrendous DC traffic.

We just got back from a wonderful family weekend in Chicago and I have an admission to make: I am a Foreign Service( FS) blog addict. I was away from my laptop for two days and we were pretty busy with celebrating Paul’s parents’ anniversary and his mom’s birthday but I fell like a fish out of water because I was unable to read the updates on the 20 or so FS blogs I have been following religiously lately. I felt very disoriented and disconnected but this is a post about Flag Day, so let’s get to it…

So Flag Day is a really big deal for those in A-100 and their families. It was pretty formal and there were a bunch of senior FS officers present including several ambassadors. It was held at the Foreign Service Institute (FSI) in Arlington at 3:30 p.m. We had to be there an hour in advance in order to check in and get settled. Paul and his classmates had been on a tour of the CIA headquarters in the morning. They met us at FSI before the ceremony, which was held in a nice new auditorium. At the front of the auditorium on a table were the flags of all the posts. Paul and his classmates were sitting up front together but separate from the families. Nia and I were in the first row behind Paul and his classmates with a couple of other spouses with  little kids. The kids lost interest in the ceremony almost instantly and we had to find ways to keep them entertained and quiet.

The atmosphere was festive but the anxiety in the room was so thick you could cut it with a knife. The head of the Career Development Office opened the ceremony and introduced the guests. I can't speak for everyone but I personally was so nervous that I had a hard time focusing on the opening notes. I couldn’t wait for them to get to the flag part when each post is called (randomly), followed by the position and the name of the officer that got it. The officer goes to the front, gets their flag and a folder with information about the job, poses for a picture and returns to their seat.

When they finally got to that part of the ceremony, I took out my well-used copy of the bid list and started checking off the positions as they were called, not so much because I had to know where everyone was going (let's face it, I didn't know many of Paul's classmates) but because otherwise I would have completely fallen apart. This gave me something to do other than freak out, which I did anyway. And it was a good thing I had something to do because Paul was the third to last person to get called. It was so nerve-wracking to hear all of our high, medium and low bids get called one by one that I could barely stand it. The husbands of the ladies I was sitting with didn't get called until almost the very end either, so when there were only a handful posts left, we just would look at each other after every name and say, "There's not a lot left. Where are we going?"

By the time they got to Paul, I was seriously hyperventilating. The husbands of the other three ladies were called - one went to China, the other to Brazil and the third to New Zealand. All awesome posts! Even though I had the list in front of me, I was lost. That's because of the DC positions. There were 8 of them and their names were all acronyms, so I just lost track of them after a while. Instead of trying to figure out which is which, I decided to write the names of the people that went to DC in a separate area of my sheet, which I did but it messed up my tracking because I didn't realize there were still a couple of DC positions left.

Then the announcer started talking about a really cool job in DC (he didn't really do that for the other jobs) and then I remembered. This was one of the two DC jobs we had bid high. It was a high-profile one-year eDiplomacy job working with the White House and several other organizations on the launch of a new human rights website. Then I was like, "I bet this is us!" Paul looked back at me and we exchanged the "This is us." glance. Then we heard his name. He got up and went to get his flag. I jumped up and started yelling something (I don’t remember exactly what but it was something enthusiastic).  Nia, who was drawing on the floor with the other kids, heard my outburst and ran over and started jumping with me but was perplexed.

"Where are we going, Mommy?", she asked.
"We are not going anywhere, Honey! We are staying!"
That confused her even more. "We are staying? How come?"

I guess we had talked so much about going overseas that we hadn't really discussed with her that staying was an option too. So I explained to her what had happened and by then Paul was coming back with the DC flag. Nia grabbed the flag and gave him a big hug and a kiss.

And that was pretty much it. We snapped a few quick photos, thanked our CDO, congratulated our friends on their assignments and headed for the airport.

We are still absorbing the information and figuring out what's next. We are uber happy with Paul’s assignment. There were people in Paul's class that wanted to go overseas immediately but we didn't mind staying in DC for a while. We had missed it while we lived in Florida and were enjoying reconnecting with family and friends and hanging out in the area. We also have a few things that we wanted to take care of before we went overseas (like our house of Florida and some family matters) and this will give us some time to tie loose ends.

But there's a lot to do. First, I have about a week to find us a new place to live because Paul's training over in a week and we'll be "kicked out" of Oakwood Falls Church. Well, not really but they will stop covering our rent there and at $139 per day (!!!), we clearly can not afford that place. We also have to take all of our furniture and other stuff out of storage, because after Paul's training is over, they won't pay to store our things anymore. And once we are moved and unpacked, I will have to join the ranks of the millions of job seekers out there and find me a meaningful job because this is a terrific opportunity but Paul took a significant pay cut to join the Foreign Service, I had to leave my job behind in Tampa and we are still paying the mortgage on our house in FL, so financially this is a little step back but hopefully well worth it.

Oh, and I almost forgot, we get to do the bid list thing in a couple of months all over again, sans the Flag Day extravaganza. That's because they start staffing positions about 12 months before they open up and since Paul's DC assignment is one year, we'll have to start thinking about the second one almost immediately.

So, wish us luck finding a new place and a job for me and stay tuned for more drama...

Here are some pictures:

My Foreign Service Badass husband, all the flags, and Paul getting his DC flag.
flag day and Chicago 018 flag day and Chicago 034  flag day and Chicago 056

Our friends the Shows (Jason, Carrie, Mackenna and Maia – heading to Recife, Brazil at the end of the year), Nia, Mackenna and Maia, the kids drawing on the floor during the ceremony.
flag day and Chicago 021 (2) flag day and Chicago 030 flag day and Chicago 052

Everyone waving their flags at the end of the ceremony, the Swiders with the DC flag, and a picture of the Swider clan in Chicago.
flag day and Chicago 058 flag day and Chicago 060flag day and Chicago 063


  1. Congrats on your assignment! I've never been through a flag day... we started so long ago that they just told us before we started training. :)

  2. Congratulations! That assignment sounds great. Sorry you have lots of logistics to tend to now. I thought I left a comment on your previous post, but I guess Blogger ate it up. boo.
    You have a lovely daughter.

  3. They saved the best till last!

  4. Congratulations! Like Jill, we didn't experience Flag Day...all decided way before training started...and DC was our first "post", too.

  5. how great that you are so happy with your first post. how goes the househunting? One week is daunting, good luck.

  6. Let me know what you find. We get kicked off per diem in November and we're considering moving.

    And congratulations again!


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