From left: Forbes Slater; Ambassador Daniel Smith, director of FSI; Elizabeth “Lizzie” Slater; Secretary of State Michael Pompeo; DGHR Carol Z. Perez; and Charlie Slater, a retired Foreign Service officer stand for an official photo at the first Hero of U.S. Diplomacy event. State Department photo
By Amanda J. Richard
In September, the Department of State launched a new “Heroes of U.S. Diplomacy” initiative recognizing “heroes” from the Department’s past and present—individuals who have displayed sound policy judgment, as well as intellectual, moral and even physical courage while advancing the Department’s mission. The goal of the initiative is to raise awareness about diplomacy as an instrument to advance the interests of the American people at home and around the world, as well as to educate current and future Department employees about the shared history for all foreign affairs professionals. U.S. diplomatic missions overseas and domestic bureaus nominated current or recently retired Department employees for modern-day selectees. The Department’s Office of the Historian nominated figures for the historical portion of this initiative. The finalists were selected by a steering committee comprised of senior Department officials.
The inaugural Heroes of U.S. Diplomacy event launched in the Dean Acheson Auditorium in Washington, D.C., Sept. 13. Ambassador Daniel B. Smith, director of the Foreign Service Institute, introduced the first honoree of the award, Elizabeth “Lizzie” Slater, a career information management specialist, who was recognized for her actions and commitment to service following the 1998 East Africa embassy bombings. Smith also introduced Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who provided opening remarks where he recognized Slater’s contributions to the Department’s mission, and he also shared his personal outlook seeing the incredible sacrifices that Department employees make every day.
“Coming from a military background, I’m accustomed to hearing my fellow soldiers referred to as ‘heroes’ and rightfully so,” said Pompeo. “But at the State Department, we’re hesitant often to lay claim to that term. Yet as I’ve traveled to several dozen posts all around the world, it’s become clear that we must move past our reticence. We have to tell these stories.”
Pompeo then introduced the Director General of the Foreign Service and Director of Human Resources Carol Z. Perez, who directed a conversation with Slater as she described her actions following the embassy bombings as she helped rebuild their communication systems.
As Slater told her story Perez asked, “As all this is going on and you’re brand new at post, did it ever occur to you that maybe this is not where I want to be? Maybe this is not where I want to stay?”
“Never,” said Slater. “We bonded that day. This whole group, the whole embassy. Everybody there, it doesn’t matter, USAID, Peace Corps, all of us were one unit.”
Perez also noted the importance of Slater being a tandem couple with her husband during their careers— making a conscious choice to pursue careers in different places.
“We get a lot of EFMs [employee family members] that are very qualified and bring a lot to the Foreign Service,” said Slater. “We just really took care of each other, making sure we were in communication. Keeping that strong is what kept our marriage so strong. I think people have to work hard at that.”
Slater also recognized individuals who helped to forge her career path, who she admires as heroes, Ambassador John E. Lange—who was in attendance—as well as Ambassador Prudence Bushnell and Ambassador Charles A. Ray.
When speaking of Ray, Slater said, “I felt that because he gave me the opportunity to do something completely different, completely out of our scope of work, it taught me that anything is possible. I try to give that opportunity to anybody that works for me. You know, that you don’t have to just fit in that box. You can do something else. I hope I have achieved that over the years and allowed people to grow in ways that they didn’t realize that they could.”
Before opening the microphone up for questions, Perez asked Slater what advice she would give to new employees about how they should be thinking of their futures.
“Embrace it, folks. It’s an amazing career,” said Slater. “I think everybody needs to come in with their eyes open. Remember first and foremost they are a diplomat 24/7. That’s the most important thing for everybody to remember. If I’m talking to my subordinates, my new hires, IT [information technology] professionals, you are not just an IT professional, you’re representing the United States of America.”
The “Heroes” event ended with Smith welcoming Slater as his new Dean of FSI’s School of Applied Information Technology. He also encouraged employees to nominate current or recently retired Department employees for modern-day selectees. Heroes may be current or former civil servants, Foreign Service generalists or specialists, non-career appointees, eligible family members or locally engaged staff.
For more information on the initiative or to view videos from the event visit the Heroes of U.S. Diplomacy website.
Amanda J. Richard is the multimedia editor at State Magazine.