Monday, September 5, 2011

First-Tour Officers: 1 - Nightmare Logistics: 0

It's been a little busy lately at Embassy Conakry. We had a visitor; Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Johnnie Carson dropped by for a couple of days last week. With a week's notice. At the end of Ramadan. With a good percentage of the embassy staff out on leave. Because of our low staffing levels nearly the entire trip ended up being handled by first-tour officers, some of whom have been at post for only a few weeks.

I had heard about the ordeal a VIP trip can be, but I was unprepared for the level of detail and complexity planning such a visit entails. The visiting team must be housed, fed, and watered. Transportation must be arranged, frequently a motorcade with several cars and a police escort. A detailed schedule must be prepared to cover the duration of the trip, or several schedules to cover contingencies. Timing is critical: the VIP should have enough time at each venue to accomplish what needs to be done but not end up sitting around twiddling his thumbs waiting for the next meeting to start. The visitors need to be briefed so they're up to speed. Someone has to make sure their luggage arrives and gets where it needs to go. The smallest things - like who sits where in which car when - have to be planned out in advance. It is a tremendous undertaking.

And quite frankly, I think we hit it out of the park. It wasn't perfect - there were a couple of hiccups here and there, a few wrinkles we'll iron out for next time, but nothing that impeded A/S Carson's ability to get where he needed to go and do what he needed to do. That seems like a successful visit to me.

The burden of a VIP visit falls particularly hard on smaller posts, simply because there are fewer people to juggle the logistics of the visit and keep the embassy running at the same time. Some of our larger embassies have entire offices devoted exclusively to managing visitors, but Conakry is definitely not one such. On the other hand, a visit to a small post means that everyone gets to meet the VIP. Every single American at post got to meet A/S Carson, and he even took an hour to mentor the new officers. That kind of face time is rare and priceless.

So it was exciting to have him here, and a valuable learning opportunity, but I think we're all glad to get back to our normal routine. I know I am.

1 comment:

  1. Hello Meredith. My husband and I have been following your wonderful blog for several weeks. Thank you for sharing your experience. Julie Burns is my sister-n-law who is new CD for the Peace Corp. I think you have met her. We will be visiting them in Guinea in Feb and hope we can cross paths with you. Thanks and again for sharing Lisa and Bob Burns