Wednesday, December 13, 2017

What's a Control Officer?

Regular readers may have noticed that I haven't written an entry in a few weeks. I'm also behind on a few more posts from our Mombasa trip (but I'll just throw in the above view of the Indian Ocean from Fort Jesus here for now). That's all because I was serving as a co-Control Officer for an official visit to Kenya.

Every time a U.S. government representative travels on official business abroad, there is someone managing and coordinating the details of the visit. A Control Officer does everything from arranging airport pickup to making hotel reservations to securing important meetings to conducting the orchestra of players involved in making sure the trip is a success - finance offices, multiple modes of transportation, security, notetakers, and more. This experience has completely changed the way I look at how visits by U.S. officials overseas are covered in the news - for every mistake or gaffe, I now know there is at least one cringing, suffering Control Officer!

As an entry-level Public Diplomacy Officer (and not a Political Officer), my day-to-day work doesn't include a lot of the activities that most people associate with diplomats: government meetings, reports for Washington, negotiations, etc. The opportunity to be a Control Officer was my first taste of the work that a Political Officer would typically do.

Preparation started weeks in advance, with many conference calls with our visitors in DC to make sure we understood their schedules and what they wanted out of their visit. Meanwhile, my co-Control Officer and I worked hard in Nairobi to fill the itineraries with events that addressed their priorities and were logistically feasible.

In the end, as a more experienced officer told me, "Every schedule's a draft and everything can be adjusted." Once the trip was under way, I learned that a good Control Officer must be flexible and calm in the face of chaos, as many changes needed to be made on the fly and sometimes at literally a moment's notice.

I was very lucky in that the officials whose visit I managed were very kind and low-maintenance. I've heard quite a few horror stories from other diplomats who served as Control Officers for visitors who weren't so enjoyable to support. I was also able to accompany the visitors on many of their engagements, including meetings I never would've attended as part of my regular job here.

I can honestly say - despite the long hours and the stress - it was my pleasure to have this opportunity. I look forward to doing it again.

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