Saturday, January 31, 2015

2014 Was Great

This past year I moved to Rangoon, Burma (also referred to as Yangon, Myanmar). It was a great adventure. I got to support Secretary Kerry's visit to the country and a few months later I supported President Obama's visit. 

One cool peek about this job is seeing so many leaders of this country, in person. 

I'm actually on a plane leaving the US and heading back to Burma as I write this. I'm hoping 2015 is as good a year as last year was. I'll put some photos of Myanmar up a little later.

As of right now we're bidding on our next assignment, so hopefully we'll get something everyone wants. 

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Home Leave / Consultations Complete - Enroute to Yangon

It's 6am here in Bangkok but since 2am I've been awake. My body thinks it's 2pm in the States. I'm stopping in Bangkok for a few days before heading to Post. My goal is to get as acclimated to the timezone before arriving in Yangon (Rangoon) as I can, that way it won't impact my work too much. I'm scheduled to leave here on Friday so I have a few days to get a head start.

I'm not doing too much sightseeing here in Bangkok, the protests have had sporadic violence and I'm staying at a hotel not to far from several of them. I figured it's best for me to stay in my own little bubble this time so I don't get caught up in anything.

For the most part everyone says it's fine, and I do believe them, but there have been some grenades thrown into crowds and shootings occur less than a mile from where I'm at. So, again, I'll just avoid that for now. Bangkok isn't going anywhere and I can check the city out another time.

Home leave was great. What company in America will let you take a month off of work? Answer: Not too many. What company in America will not only give you a month off of work, not charge you personal leave for it, and make it mandatory all while paying you? Answer: None. The fact the State Department does this is amazing, and I'm thankful for it. I had plenty of time to catch up with family, be lazy, watch NFL games in real time and enjoy Texas again.

I then went to D.C. for a few weeks of training and consultations. Training was good, I had a project management course and a systems admin course. Both of them apply to my career so I'm glad I got to take them. On the last day of training former Secretary of State Colin Powell stopped by FSI to give a speech and I actually got to shake his hand while walking down one of the hallways. Don't get to do that everyday.

I'm excited to get to Yangon. The flight over here wasn't too bad. It was long. 15 hours from DC to Seoul and another 6 from Seoul to Bangkok. I was awake for over 38 hours, which isn't too bad. In the Army I had to do more. But, it still is difficult. I don't sleep on planes so I got a lot of reading done. I only have a 1 hour flight from Bangkok to Yangon awaiting me, so I'm happy about that.

The Thai people are amazing. They're very friendly and hospitable. I think this is one place I would love to serve at some point in my career.




Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Short-timer

It seems like every time I come back to post I make this statement about being more consistent in posting, yet I never follow through. With home leave coming up soon I hope I can catch up with some of the things I've wanted to put up here, mainly about the trips we've taken in Europe.

Right now I'm in my last few weeks of work. I've learned more it seems since switching departments but I also feel like there's a whole lot more to learn that I can get involved with in Rangoon. I'm not being assigned any more projects and most of my duties have been transferred to others so that they can take over and ask questions while I'm still here.

I've been really busy the last few weeks. My IMS class that started in September 2011 is up for tenure this month. We had to write our second Employee Evaluation Report (EER), which if you ever join the Foreign Service you'll know is a big deal, so I had to put a lot of focus on that in addition to my other projects I'm closing out and day-to-day duties. This EER basically covers what I did during the rating period. If I get tenured it opens up a lot more options for me, like the ability to extend at a Post, etc; We won't have the results until the end of the year or even next year.

I've started my MBA. It's been over a year since I've been out of school. I actually just got done submitting assignments tonight. I've always wanted an MBA and I've got a little bit of GI Bill benefits left so why not.

The most stressful of things lately has been the preparations for out-processing. It's kind of a hassle but luckily the staff at the Consulate and support back in D.C. have been amazing. We've received/modified our travel orders, booked flights for our destinations, completed countless forms, withdrew our kid from school, enrolled him in school in Texas and in Rangoon, got our vaccinations, updated medical clearances, shipped some stuff via UAB back to Texas, enrolled in training in D.C., got my wife into the Consular course in D.C., booked hotels, went Christmas shopping, prepped our car for departure, completed more paperwork, sent the information to initiate our visas for Myanmar, somewhat attempted to reduce the size of my Outlook inbox, prepped our other belongings for shipment to Myanmar, you get the picture...

The one thing that keeps me excited is the fact that I'm going to Rangoon. It's going to be an awesome time and I hope I can contribute to our mission there.

In the meantime here in Germany we're trying to figure out if there's time for one last trip anywhere, we want to visit some of the Christmas markets (I'll post pictures) and we want to relax in our home one last time before it's all packed up and shipped out.

We've gone to some cool places here and I'm thankful for the time we got to spend here. As of December 19th we'll be wheels up and out of the country on the way back to Texas for home leave.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Old Photos - D.C.- January 2012

While in D.C. I was able to get tickets for a White House tour through our congressman. Unfortunately we weren't able to take pictures inside (for obvious reasons). We were able to see most of the White House and the various rooms where guests of the President are received and greeted.

It was really cool to be in the same building that had so many Presidents and dignitaries pass through it in it's history. I was able to stand at the same spot that President Obama gave his now famous announcement the day that Bin Laden was killed. Only a few short months ago I watched on T.V. from Texas the President walking down the hallway and approaching the podium.

Now, I was standing in that exact same spot. Really cool. I echoed the words in my head, "My fellow Americans, tonight I can report to you and to the world, that the United States has conducted on operation that has killed Osama bin Laden, the leader of al Qaeda."

It was surreal. Turning around was the scenes I've seen on T.V. where President Bush had awarded service members the Medal of Honor.

It was definitely one of the highlights of being in D.C.

Here two of the few pictures I was able to take with me and my wife outside:



New Travel Orders Received

Well today I received my travel orders to depart Frankfurt and head on to Rangoon. In between destinations I need to take a mandatory 20 days (business days - minimum) of home leave and take some optional training in D.C.

That's just another thing I love about the State Dept. , we're required to spend some time back home with family in between assignments. Most companies in the U.S. get ancy if you request anything more than 2 weeks off. And, in my previous company it was possible to take 2 weeks off, but you'd likely be setting yourself up for failure if you did take that much.

There was some question as to whether or not my training request in D.C. would be approved, but luckily it was and I'm very fortunate to get to attend these 2 courses (Project Management and Systems Virtualization). I like D.C. and I'll only be there for a few weeks but we'd like to get back up to New York and if possible Boston.

I'm a little sad leaving Frankfurt. I'm very connected to this place from my days in the military. Frankfurt was the very first overseas city I had been to and I've spent a lot of time here building some good memories. It's an excellent place to travel in and out of. Plus, being here we still get to be around the military. I'm going to miss some of the basic things like going to the Army bases. In fact, the first time I went when I arrived I ran into an old colleague of mine.

A lot to do in a little bit of time, but we're going to try and squeeze a trip in to London.


Sunday, October 13, 2013

Oktoberfest and Winter Time

We took a trip down to Munich (Munchen) last weekend to check out the last weekend of Oktoberfest. It was a good trip, just really long. Usually you can just fly down the autobahns and get to where you're going quickly. It's one of the reasons I chose to get a BMW to drive over here because I know it could hand;e the speeds better than my older F-150 could.

But, looks like everyone else had the same exact plans that we did because the autobahn was completely packed and we were in "stau" (traffic jam in German) for close to an hour. We were literally at a standstill for 45 minutes. I turned my car off, got out stretched, probably could have taken a nap. It was a weird feeling since we're normally driving between 100 mph and 110 mph on the autobahns.

We decided to stay out by the airport since the hotels their were much cheaper. We didn't realize how big Munich is compared to Frankfurt. It took almost an hour to get from the airport to the hauptbahnhof (central train station) by train. In Frankfurt it takes all but 20 minutes.

By the time we finally got to the ground of the fest it was dark and people were basically sh*tfaced everywhere. We had our 6 year old with us and decided it probably wasn't the best time to go. We did go back the next day early in the morning and had a blast. I couldn't drink since I was driving us home but we still had a good time with the rides, bumper cars and food.

I had a schnitzel burg with some sweet sauce that nearly replaced Turkish Kebabs as my favorite food here in Germany. It was amazing. Just amazing, I thought tears would roll down my cheek because it was good.

At work I've switched sections to help get me prepared for my duties in Rangoon. I love it but it's ALOT of work at my desk. So hours will go by and I'll realize I haven't gotten up or walked around. I can feel it in my legs. I typically run 3 times a week but may have to up that to 5 days a week since I'm sitting so much now.

But, I'm learning so much. I am really confident that I can figure out how to do stuff without asking for guidance. It's really all coming together and I'm very happy with my progress. As a former Army medic and sales guys with little experience in IT I can say I've come a long way.

I want to pursue other certifications but I'm not sure exactly what I want to go for. I have one more test left to get my MCSA, but studying for the test is just so damn boring. Half the stuf you study for you'll never do in the field, it's really just features of Microsoft systems. It's tough to allot what little time I have to study that. I would like to get my Network+ just to say I have it, but I don't want to specialize in Networking. I'd really like to specialize in project management, but I don't think it's time for me to start studying for my PMP yet.

We get a financial incentive for having certain certifications or degrees. Depending on what type of degree or certification you could qualify for  9% or 14% pay increase (for IMS only). The only stipulation is that you must obtain WHILE you're in the Foreign Service. Anything before doesn't count. The pay increase is valid for 5 years and then you will need a new certification or degree in order to re-qualify for it. For instance, I have my Masters in Management Information Systems and that qualified me for a 14% pay increase. Much needed one too.

If I were to get my PMP now though I wouldn't qualify for the pay increase once my current incentive pay expires. So, I need to be patient with what I get. I do like project management, it fits me better than the ultra technical stuff. I feel that I'm more business oriented and managerial versus hardcore technical, so a PMP would be something I would love to study for and it's highly transferable to whatever industry you go to.

I've started my MBA just so I can use up my remaining GI Bill benefits and learn more project management and managerial stuff as well. But, I'm huge on self-improvement and feel that I should dedicate some time to earning a certification.

Something that continues to pop into my mind right now is getting a Six Sigma Green Belt certification. I think it looks great on paper and helps with the business process/project management side of things.

Okay, I'm just blabbering now.

It is getting cold here in Germany. Summer is over which kind of sucks. The summer here is absolutely amazing, it's beautiful and it's relaxing to just go for a walk in the city. It's gotten down to 37 yesterday and our heaters haven't been tunrned on yet so the apartment is cold. But, we can't complain too much because we are not paying rent for it and it is a nice apartment.

We're currently waiting for our orders to be processed. With the shutdown in effect it could take longer. Once we have those then we can begin scheduling the dates to ship all of our stuff and have a solid plan in place. Right now I'm going to have to get a ton of vaccinations including Rabies before heading out to Rangoon.

I love Frankfurt, but I really can't wait to get to Rangoon.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

It's been a long, long time...

So I haven't updated this blog in a very long time. I figured it's time to get back into the habit of posting. A lot of stuff has been done since my last post, a lot of traveling, a lot of learning, a lot of mistakes, etc; Still, I feel that I have the absolute best job in the world and to this day I am very proud that I am in the Foreign Service and in the State Department.

This post will be short but I'll try to post weekly from here on out.

A quick update for anyone interested, I have received my onward assignment to Rangoon, Burma (now officially called Yangon, Myanmar). I couldn't be more excited about this opportunity. Myanmar is one of the few countries left in the world where it's own culture is still intact. No external influences, no Starbucks or McDonald's, just pure Burma. But, that's changing. I'm not scheduled to be there until Feb 2014, so I hope too much doesn't change until then.

As of now, I've received my administrative promotion to FS-4, I have gained my Skills Incentive Pay (SIP) which essentially gave me a 14% pay increase, and soon I will be up for tenure. My tech skills have doubled and I've gone from being dangerous to actually being able to solve problems. ;-) This month I'll also pass the 2 year mark on being in the State Department.

It's wild to think that it's been 2 years already, but as they say 'time flies when you're having fun'.

I'll get on this site more and document my journey. To anyone thinking about joining the Department I highly recommend it.

Until next time.