By Amanda McCarthy

From left: Secretary of State Antony Blinken presents Muna Mohamed with the 2021 FSN of the Year Award, November 2021. State Department photo
From left: Secretary of State Antony Blinken presents Muna Mohamed with the 2021 FSN of the Year Award, November 2021. State Department photo

Serving at more than 270 diplomatic missions worldwide, Foreign Service Nationals (FSNs) make up nearly 65% of the Department of State’s workforce and are often described as the backbone of U.S. diplomacy. Representing the American people, FSNs are valued members at posts, providing continuity for the transient American staff and possessing local language and cultural expertise. Recognizing their outstanding contributions to the Department’s mission, the 2021 FSN of the Year Awards committee received 57 nominees from around the world. Of those, an overall winner and five runner ups were chosen from each regional bureau. 

From helping to re-establish a U.S. Mission overseas after 27 years of conflict, and serving at the front lines at post during the COVID-19 pandemic, to ensuring Foreign Service officers and their families were able to travel safely during the pandemic, these awardees are truly deserving of recognition. The six award winners have proven themselves to be resourceful, dependable, innovative, and truly engaged especially during continued hardships brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. Because of their partnership, and leadership, the Department is able to continue accomplishing its mission. 

Amanda McCarthy is the multimedia editor of State Magazine. 

2021 FSN of the Year Award Winners: Click on names to view citations

Muna Mohamed | Jaspreet Singh | Hiram Lasquety | Hanen Ltifi | Diana S. Savova

Muna Mohamed, Global FSN of the Year | AF | Embassy Mogadishu

A senior political officer at Embassy Mogadishu, Mohamed was chosen for her exceptional and inspiring dedication to achieving the core U.S. national strategic objectives of peace, stabilization, and economic development for the people of Somalia.

“She has been essential to America’s efforts since 2016 to re-establish a U.S. embassy in Mogadishu after its closure 27 years ago at the height of the civil war,” said Mohamed’s nominator. 

Mohamed is the longest serving senior political officer at post, and has helped the United States achieve crucial successes in clan reconciliation, stabilization, and economic development in Somalia. When the embassy re-opened in December 2018 amid ongoing conflict with the terrorist group Al-Shabaab, the United States’ return to Somalia ushered in a resurgence of hope. Mohamed bridged the cultural and religious divide, serving as a conduit to clan elders, community groups, and key government officials. She also inspired, supported, and guided the first three “generations” of American staff serving in Mogadishu on one-year assignments to lead difficult and contentious peace negotiations, important to stabilizing war-weary Somalia.

In the highly volatile Galmudug region, noted for holding almost every Western hostage in Somalia in the past three decades, Mohamed helped the embassy broker in a historic initial agreement ending years of division among 11 clans and conflict with the powerful Islamic group Ahlu Sunna. When the prime minister hit a brick wall, he called Mohamed to request embassy intervention. She was crucial in contacting clan and Islamic religious leaders, ensuring U.S.-led negotiations were successful. After marathon discussions over several weeks and with Mohamed bearing the main brunt of the talks, translation duties, and follow-up calls, the prime minister announced success.

“We were careful to give the Somali government the credit, but it was Muna who proved to be the miracle worker,” said her nominator. 

She was also instrumental with the embassy and U.S. officials in working with Somali policymakers at every level to help them make the hard choices necessary for Somalia to achieve debt relief under the International Monetary Fund (IMF)/World Bank Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative. She advised U.S. officials on effective approaches to promoting reforms, which led to significant Somali improvement on economic governance, praised by the IMF. 

A prolific, insightful, and articulate writer, Mohamed brought clarity of views punctuated by the realities of doing business in the Somali war zone to the Washington interagency audience. This advanced U.S. national strategic interests by helping the embassy reaffirm its leadership role after more than two decades of absence from Mogadishu. 

“Muna was our conscientious and critical advisor as the United States partnered with the United Nations, the European Union, the African Union Mission in Somalia, Italy, and the United Kingdom in supporting Somali troops’ launch of major military operations to take back their country from Al-Shabaab. Muna contributed to the success of this historic military coalition by connecting the United States, Somali, and international lead planners, and support elements to key clan elders, local leaders, and national leadership in a constructive, vital dialogue. She also helped us identify future leaders and replace corrupt generals, and key leaders which made the difference in strengthening the United States and military commanders’ ties to Somali leadership.” 

Mohamed’s role in messaging to Somali communities affected by the military campaign significantly helped avoid destructive divisions with the United States and maintain focus on fighting Al-Shabaab.

Jaspreet Singh, FSN of the Year runner-Up | SCA | Embassy New Delhi

A physician at Embassy New Delhi, Singh was chosen for his extraordinary efforts as the New Delhi Health Unit’s COVID-19 contact tracing team leader. Over the last year, his diligent and dedicated work to support the community’s health, wellbeing, and safety highlight his commitment to Embassy New Delhi and Mission India. 

As the COVID-19 pandemic ravaged the world, India in particular was devastated, especially at its onset. The Health Unit Team for Mission India had little formal guidance and no formal training in epidemiology and contact tracing and struggled to integrate Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines, as well as Indian government and public health regulations. 

“Dr. Jaspreet Signh’s work over the last year has been exceptional,” said his nominator. “Not only did he collaborate with his Health Unit coworkers and CDC and Department of Health and Human Services colleagues to develop standard operating procedures for disease surveillance, testing, contact tracing, and COVID-19 case management, but he quickly became a subject matter expert on all things related to COVID-19. His contact tracing work was not only detailed and thorough but remarkably timely, even on days when multiple new cases with multiple contacts required outreach and hours of interview time. Contact tracing is a full-time job, and he has uncomplainingly worked countless hours and on weekends for much of the last year to make sure that every patient and every contact is followed up with on a daily basis.” 

Singh further assisted the U.S. Consulate General in Kolkata and the U.S. Consulate General in Hyderabad—both without a direct hire medical provider—to develop their own protocols. Since March 2020, he has conducted primary contact tracing on 350 Mission India patients and managed surveillance of nearly 700 quarantined contacts, including more than 100 current COVID-positive patients, and 150 individuals currently in contact quarantine with an average of 8-10 new Mission community patients diagnosed every day. During the worst surge of the COVID-19 pandemic, seen in any country since the onset, Singh has coordinated hospital admissions for 15 locally employed staff members who were otherwise without assistance in a local healthcare system on the verge of collapse. 

“Mission India has lost three LE staff members to COVID-19 this year. Without Dr. Singh’s tireless efforts that toll may well have been significantly higher. The amount of positive feedback I received from the embassy community about Dr. Singh’s work over the last year has been extraordinary. In countless phone calls and emails, patients have praised his kind and compassionate care. Being exposed to or becoming ill with COVID-19 is understandably an anxiety-provoking experience, and his calm demeanor and professionalism offer reassurance when people are afraid.”

Hiram Lasquety, FSN of the Year finalist | EAP | Embassy Dili

A maintenance supervisor at Embassy Dili, Lasquety was chosen for outstanding innovation and leadership in support of U.S. Mission Timor-Leste operations. 

“Hiram is a solutions-focused leader for each challenge Embassy Dili has faced the past year, he is at the forefront of creative, cost-effective, safe, and deliverable answers,” said his nominator. 

When the Ministry of Health imposed stricter driver/passenger separation requirements due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Lasquety led his team to design, procure, and install custom-fit removable barriers in just five days, keeping post’s airport reception of inbound personnel on track and preserving their ability to conduct in home quarantine. Lasquety’s safety conscious approach has kept the facilities team “major-mishap free” year-round, he postured his team with the necessary equipment and training, and consistently upholds standards with his own team and on-site vendors. He teaches vendors about the standards to ensure safe operations while simultaneously contributing to the development of a professional service sector. 

“Our employees and vendors appreciate the safety culture at Embassy Dili, and Hiram’s reputation around town for safe operations makes the embassy a highly desired client to contract with.” 

As Embassy Dili prepared to receive COVID-19 vaccines, Lasquety and his facilities team were again at the forefront of planning and execution. He immersed himself in the technical manuals for the vaccine freezers, assessed the electrical and ventilation systems at proposed locations, and reconfigured the health unit power supply to eliminate risks to storage systems for this sensitive medicine. With the largest number of embassy employees under his supervision, he facilitated the flow of information from post’s health professionals to a concerned and uncertain workforce. Lasquety built confidence, evidenced by a high take-rate for the vaccine, by keeping information flowing and making himself and other embassy leaders available for questions.

“Dili experienced unprecedented flooding on Easter Sunday, inundating several communities and forcing the evacuation of nine U.S. families from a residential compound. Hiram’s immediate and targeted response saved lives and minimized damage to our facilities.” 

Lasquety’s exemplary leadership and performance this year directly advanced the Embassy Dili mission and the United States foreign policy platform in Timor-Leste.

Hanen Ltifi, FSN of the Year finalist | NEA | Embassy Tunis

An economic specialist at Embassy Tunis, Ltifi was chosen for relentless, front-line diplomatic work on the pandemic in Tunisia, which has kept the Mission Tunisia community safe and ensured proper American assistance to the Tunisian government to combat the virus and save lives.

“Hanen Ltifi’s inspirational performance in Embassy Tunis’ economic section has elevated our entire mission and saved lives,” said Ltifi’s nominator. 

Amid nationwide fear and uncertainty, Ltifi saw COVID-19 not only as a pandemic, but a unique opportunity for the United States to support Tunisia. Her encyclopedic knowledge which she gained during more than 12 years of service with the embassy, and her unrivaled network within the Ministry of Health (MOH) allowed the embassy to provide key support where Tunisia was lacking. This support included obtaining correct technical specifications for urgently needed ICU beds and equipment funded by the Department of Defense and USAID. Ltifi’s efforts enabled the Mission to purchase and donate 60 ICU beds, as well as hundreds of thousands of dollars of personal protective equipment and testing kits, to address critical health care shortages from COVID-19.

“Hanen has been indispensable at facilitating direct contact and building relationships with key, high-level government personnel, such as the MOH’s director of hospitals and the national committee to combat the coronavirus. Her dedication and unique capacity to interpret and clarify information was crucial to the economic section’s ability to stay abreast of Tunisia’s rapidly evolving COVID-19 reporting, catching the eye of a U.S. congressman, who asked for additional information about Tunisia’s use of drone monitoring technology as a best practice in pandemic response.” 

Ltifi’s trusted relationships with the Notional Observatory for New and Emerging Diseases (ONMNE) ensured that post had access to Tunisia’s daily COVID-19 statistics. When she realized that ONMNE’s small staff, using antiquated technology, was struggling with accuracy, Hanen suggested USAID allocate funding to purchase them new laptops, while demonstrating proper methodology for the ONMNE team, which they now use. 

Her leadership from a unique station as locally employed staff was praised by the MOH, and her creative and practical problem solving directly supported Mission Tunisia’s objective to help Tunisian government institutions become more transparent, accountable, and responsive to their citizens. Ltifi also navigated byzantine Tunisian bureaucracy and customs procedures to help the mission’s management team facilitate the arrival of Moderna vaccine doses for the embassy community through the diplomatic pouch quickly and discreetly, avoiding and embarrassing public relation fiasco faced by other local diplomatic missions. 

Diana S. Savova, FSN of the Year finalist | EUR | Embassy Sofia

A travel assistant at Embassy Sofia, Savova was chosen for dogged determination in keeping Embassy Sofia personnel moving and for unstinting support of Embassy Sofia’s mission and broader USG goals and missions during a global pandemic. 

“She has been the keystone in allowing the mission to move forward as the world shut down around us,” said Savova’s nominator. 

Over the past year the travel situation has been in constant flux due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With numerous travel parameters changing daily—airports closing, cancelled flights, changing fees, testing requirements, etc.—Savova actively tracked every change and kept the Mission updated. Her efforts successfully facilitated at least two difficult personal services contractor transfers during the summer season. In one case, a family with multiple pets had to fly into an airport that had been closed and where no commercial flights were flying. Through Savova’s dogged determination, the family and their pets were successfully booked on a charter flight that had permission to land. In another case, a large family traveling to a post in Asia found it nearly impossible to find tickets together on the same plane due to so many flight cancellations. Again, through relentless searching, Savova was able to secure tickets for the entire family to fly together to their next post during the height of the summer restrictions. 

Savova was also able to recover nearly $8,000 in ticket refunds for official flights canceled by the airlines. During the height of flight cancellations and newly imposed travel restrictions, this recovery was by no means guaranteed and is a victory for the Mission and the American taxpayer. 

In the fall, Washington reduced post’s cost construct cap from $1,600 to only $900, while other posts in the region maintained their original caps. With the release of the cable, Savova immediately began formulating an argument against this reduction and produced research to support it. Her work was foundational to post’s successful request for review of this deduction. Because of her research and arguments, Washington increased post’s cost construct cap from $900 to $1,200 for fiscal year 2021—which will benefit every person at post who travels on rest and recuperation travel. “At a moment in history when unprecedented travel restrictions make it seem as if the world has stopped spinning, Diana’s efforts have kept Embassy Sofia personnel and personnel across the entire USG moving, which means we’ve been able to continue accomplishing our goals; this is no small thing.”

Editor’s Note: Information of FSN of the Year finalist from WHA has been withheld due to safety and security considerations.

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