By Christina Plumley
Working in a new environment always means initially learning by “drinking from a firehose.” (courtesy of imgflip)
Even without a pandemic, working in an Embassy environment can seem overwhelming since it is unfamiliar. Civil Military Support Elements (CMSEs) are navigating the unprecedented challenges of teleworking, minimal manning requirements, and Authorized/Ordered Departures from Embassies stemming from COVID-19. Regardless of whether a particular CMSE established relationships across US Country Teams (USCTs) prior to the pandemic, for the incoming CMSE, building on such relationships may be challenging.
Political (POL) / Economic (ECON) / Environment (ENV)
When approaching Foreign Service Officers in these sections, thoroughly know the Integrated Country Strategy (ICS), the USCT’s four-year plan detailing US priorities. Identify specific Mission Objectives relevant to the specific section you’re speaking with to reference areas of common interest. Understanding and using the State Department’s terminology earns you credibility and helps dissuade initial civ-mil coordination hesitancy.
When you conduct Civil Affairs Operations (CAO), ask beforehand if these sections have any requests for information for an area you’re going to or an organization you’re interacting with. Your relationship then becomes mutually beneficial because they may not have the time, capacity, or permission to travel as you do. (Recommend you implement this with the following sections as well.)
Come prepared with questions about a specific issue, geographical area/sector, or existing programs to expand your understanding of the civil environment and ongoing US initiatives.
Ask if you can be added to cable distros, which is the official channel for information distribution in the Embassy.
Foreign Service Officers are the subject matter experts (SME) in their respective focus areas and likely have a large network of host nation (HN) relationships they may be able to connect you with as well.
Example USCT Mission Objectives (courtesy of
Public Affairs Section (PAS)
The PAS is focused on public diplomacy, working with the media, cultural, and educational sectors. PAS is critical for media amplification, particularly with the complexity of competing narratives in the Information Environment. CMSE events are good news stories that the PAS typically wants to publicize across the Embassy’s social media platforms. CMSEs should seek to expand event coverage beyond the DoD Public Affairs Office; otherwise you limit yourself to an influence echo chamber. Expand your media audience; a true reflection of a well-publicized event is amplification by local news outlets and media influencers.
Coordinate early on for PAS support. There is a chance PAS doesn’t want to highlight a CMSE event, which may require dedicated efforts to convince them. Understand their priorities and perspective to show how promoting your event is in their best interest. If it does not conflict with your mission, possibly adjust course to accommodate. For small-scale events, expect you will do the legwork of taking pictures and drafting a press release. When available or if a senior Embassy official plans to attend, PAS may provide personnel to support the actual event. CAO itself has intrinsic value, but through increased coverage, a broader audience also gains a better understanding of what we do.
Beyond media, PAS coordinates many cultural and educational events. Leverage the section’s locally employed staff’s expertise if you plan to conduct community outreach. They may have resources they are willing to share.