Tuesday, January 12, 2010

EFM: Explaining Flag (Day) Meticulously

This post is a corollary to the previous post intended to provide a little more insight into our bidding process and what happened on Flag Day.

First, let’s talk about the bid list. This is where dreams begin, and are eventually dashed. Going back even further, as Natalie was accepted into the 148th A-100 class (good job, honey!), I immediately started imagining life in Istanbul, a Mediterranean resort, any Caribbean island, or an African safari, etc. Believe it or not, I was not fantasizing about a Mexican desert.

But most of those ideas quickly were put aside as we developed our bidding strategy. A very quick explanation for the uninitiated: in our case, there were 90 or so A-100 members and about 90 or so posts to bid on. While the State Department would like to send everyone some place they would like to go, ultimately, the State needs to put people where they need them the most.

But to gauge where federal service oath-takers (FSOs) want to go, they rank every possible destination on a scale of three resulting in a fairly ambiguous hierarchy. (I forget if one is the highest or lowest ranking, so for these purposes, I will designate as high, low and medium bids).

So our strategy was to highly rank posts that would require Natalie to learn a world language (French, Portuguese or Spanish) because she is required to be fluent in one by the end of her first five years to receive tenure. With that in mind, we ranked all English-speaking posts (or posts that do not require fluency in a second language) as low essentially eliminating London, Sydney, Kingston, Geneva and Washington.

Using this language criterion, we also shelved my favorite destinations because we decided it would not be practical to learn Greek, Nepali or Turkish because those languages are suitable for one country only. So Athens, Kathmandu, Istanbul and other such locales got ranked medium as a not-too-shabby consolation prize if we did not get any of our high bids.

The second criterion we considered was gaining some equity; in State speak, equity essentially is how many bonus points you get in bidding on your second post, the less desirable the post, the more equity you get.

In hindsight, however, we were not very consistent in applying this as Port au Prince, Haiti, with its 45 equity points (the second highest number as equity tops out at 50 and seems to be awarded in intervals of five) was only a medium on our list while Hermosillo only had 10 points at the time we bid. Apparently it was boosted to 15 recently, so we’ve got that, which is nice.

One final contributing factor was the Mexico issue. On our bid list, there were about 15 Mexican posts, meaning almost 20% of the 148th would go somewhere in Mexico. To show that we were at least considering the possibility of moving to Mexico, we ranked some of the destinations high such Hermosillo, Merida and others (I think Tijuana and Guadalajara) and the rest were medium including Mexico City, Nuevo Laredo, Matamoros, and the dreaded Ciudad Juarez, which four members of the 148th were assigned.

Weeks after submitting our final bid list rankings, Flag Day arrived. Sitting in the audience with my sister-in-law, her husband and a copy of our bid list, we waited in anticipation of the announcement with thoughts on Maputo, Mozambique; Montevideo, Uruguay; Sao Paulo, Brazil; Lome, Togo; and a few other destinations sticking out prominently in my mind.

Even before the first flags were distributed, they announced a few posts that would not be filled, some of which were on our high list. This got me excited that if they were not filling all of those on our high list, it must mean we have one of our highs. (I later learned that this is not necessarily true).

Slowly, the process seemed to drag as first all of the D.C. posts were distributed, and they were numerous. Then a few of our highs were given out. Then a couple of posts I dreaded (and silently cheered) were given to others.

Then Montevideo was gone followed by the Brazilian posts and Lome and a few other African posts that fascinated me.

Our high list was depleting, as we were in the latter half of names called off until it seemed we were down to Maputo. I was certain of it. I think Natalie was certain of it, too, as we would exchange glances from time to time.

Then Maputo was announced, and it was not us. As I crossed it off my printout, I quickly scanned to see what our remaining highs were. Then I saw Hermosillo, and it seemed that as soon as I discovered that high on our list, almost instantaneously, the master of ceremonies announced “Hermosillo, Mexico” and before she even added my wife’s name (which she missed pronounced our surname), I looked at my sister-in-law and said this was us.

Natalie and I made a classic mistake, which was to focus to the point of obsession only a handful of posts, when really, the entire list is a possibility. She later confessed she did not even remember ranking Hermosillo as high, and when the ceremony ended and we went to meet Natalie, there was a few seconds where the disappointment could be seen on her face and I worried she was going to have a breakdown.

But by the time the post-ceremony happy hour ended, and after a few Coronas, she was genuinely excited about Hermosillo. (A quick aside, during the happy hour, I asked the bartender if she had any Mexican beers, and she said no. I questioned further inquiring about Dos Equis or Corona, causing her to reply, “Oh, I do have Corona.” How does a bartender not know the origin of Corona? Dos Equis, I was willing to forgive, but Corona? Really?).

So that is our cautionary tale about how to prepare yourself for Flag Day as well as some advice on filling out a bid list.

9 comments:

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    152nd A-100

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