Fletcher in the News

Prof. Martel on the Qualities to Seek in an American Foreign Service Officer

Military Advanced Education

William C. Martel is Associate Professor of International Security Studies at The Fletcher School, Tufts University.

From Service Member to Foreign Service

The Foreign Service has always been a source of intrigue to the American public. Stories of heroic Foreign Service officers dealing with crises abroad are commonplace in popular culture, from dramatic retellings through film—as in Zero Dark Thirty and Argo—to the media’s extensive coverage of events such as those at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. However, it remains less clear to many how people train for Foreign Service careers, and what it takes to be an effectual officer abroad. Although it does require additional skills and expertise, a career in the Foreign Service may be a great fit for a veteran because of shared experiences in serving to represent and protect U.S. values and interests overseas.

The Foreign Service is almost used interchangeably with the State Department and its initiatives abroad. However, since 1980 other government agencies with services abroad have the ability to use the same personnel system as the Department of State—although the vast majority of Foreign Service officers remain in the Department of State. Broadly speaking, the purpose of the Foreign Service is to represent U.S. interests overseas through the deployment of public servants.

“If [you] are thinking about the Foreign Service, what [you] are really thinking about accomplishing is to help the United States promote their values and interests,” said William Martel, a professor at Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. Foreign Service officers serve a dynamic and ever-widening number of U.S. initiatives across the globe. The focuses of work change as U.S. problems and policy change.

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