By Michael Grantham
On Nov. 26, 2018, a group of strangers walked into the William J. Burns auditorium and experienced the first taste of their new Foreign Service careers. The 150th Specialist Orientation Class included 72 members representing 10 specialties, including Diplomatic Security special agent candidates, information management specialists, office management specialists, diplomatic couriers, financial management officers, construction engineers, facility managers, security engineering officers and security technical specialists. Many of the specialists had already worked for the Department of State in one capacity or another before the class which allowed them to share their overseas experience and familiarity with embassy life, bringing an extra layer of knowledge to the class.
In the weeks that followed, presentations from various Department offices and mentors provided additional information and insights into the future of each classmate’s career. Noting the historic nature of the 150th Specialist Orientation Class, the course coordinator tasked the class with a mission—hold a contest to replace the cumbersome “Foreign Service Specialist Orientation Class” name with something as catchy as the generalists’ “A-100” moniker. The class took a vote to rename the course. After tossing around ideas like “S-150” and “Spec150,” at the last minute, a new suggestion captured everyone’s attention. It was a simple play on Specialist Orientation but had lofty symbolism: SOAR—Specialist Orientation and Readiness. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the new name in his remarks to the 150th class at their formal swearing-in ceremony on the final day of orientation, congratulating the class as the 150th SOAR. Going forward, all new Foreign Service specialists will attend SOAR training at the Foreign Service Institute.
At the end of week three, the 150th SOAR scattered to onward training. The specialists had specific tradecraft to learn, and they shifted their focus to mastering their new Foreign Service lifestyle.
Michael Grantham is an information management specialist at Embassy Hanoi.