Saturday, April 26, 2014

Weeks 6 - 8 of Training: Department of State Applied Systems

Welp, this week winds up the longest of our classes. DoS Applied Systems is, as far as I can tell, a fancy name for "Windows Essentials at Post." Our instructors said that, in the past, the requirement for passing this class was tied to successfully receiving a Microsoft certificate. However, since then they've moved to in-house testing and, to some extent, watered down the Microsoft focus with Department specific best practices. Unfortunately for those of us who have moderate to extensive experience administering an active directory Windows domain... this class was painful. The instructors were fantastic (and very funny!), but it's hard to sit through a class you could be teaching and maintain an appearance of polite interest. Fortunately, the instructors were aware of this, and very willing to turn a blind eye to off-topic internet surfing. 

That's not to say that the course wasn't worthwhile, despite my relatively firm grasp of the Windows material, I did learn some things specific to the Department (such as naming schema and how post transfers work). Also, many of my colleagues with less technical backgrounds found the class quite intimidating. It consisted of Windows administration instruction (tailored to the DoS), practical labs, guest speakers from assorted support groups, and field trips. The guest speakers were well chosen, and I was once again surprised by the shear scale of the Foreign Service. I've seen the gross numbers several times, but they often don't include contractors... and numbers just don't have the same wow factor as seeing a giant call center dedicated to three groups who's sole job is to support the domain level technical needs of our posts overseas.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Field Trip to the Diplomatic Pouch Warehouse!

As part of DoS applied systems, we had the fantastic opportunity to go on a handful of field trips to see local facilities that support us while we're overseas.

By far the most interesting was our trip to the diplomatic pouch facility. The diplomatic pouch is the service that handles all official (and some unofficial) mail handling to our overseas posts. In addition, it provides an address in the DC area that people can send letters and packages to using domestic rates. This turns out to be a lot of mail to sling around. 

Having never been to a mail processing facility before, it was quite entertaining to see the process involved. Even more interesting were the safety procedures to check incoming mail for threats (bombs, anthrax, et cetera). These processes aren't much (or possibly any) different than those taken by the USPS, but having never seen anything like it, it was quite the experience. 

Anyway, we also got a chance to learn the difference between Army Post Offices (APO), Diplomatic Post Offices (DPO), and the Diplomatic Pouch. It was nice to see how my future mail will be handled, since Chennai is a 'Pouch only' post, so all my mail (and more importantly, Amazon packages) will be going through there for the next couple years.
A bunch of mail!

Friday, April 18, 2014

Diplomatic Passport Applications

Success! After almost a month of procrastinating, I took advantage of having the morning off to drag my family down to DC to submit our applications for our 'black' passports. I was starting to worry about the timing between getting my passport, applying for our visas and our planned departure, fortunately the woman at the desk assured me that I had plenty of time. Now I begin to eagerly await the e-mail informing me that my passport is ready to pick up! No problem there, though, I'm a pro at eagerly awaiting e-mails after the hiring process!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Around Washington DC: Cherry Blossom Festival

This is the first of what I hope to become a regular series of posts named "Around Town." The general plan is to give a brief synopsis of trips I've taken to see local sights; this series relates to the Foreign Service due to the likelihood that I'm only in the location because of my job. Of course... that's slightly misleading in this case, since I lived in this area before getting this job... but I have to start somewhere!

This weekend contained the exact average peak bloom date for the Cherry Blossoms in Washington DC. The blooming always heralds a festival with tons of tourists coming to town to see the hundreds (if not thousands) of trees showing their best colors. My wife, son, and I headed down to participate in the madhouse of people, figuring this would be our last chance to see them for awhile. 
Tidal Basin, opposite the Jefferson Memorial.
As expected, it was super crowded around the tidal basin, with the crowds tapering off as you headed further inland. An unfortunate lack of foresight led to my carrying around my DSLR and tripod... with no working battery, so please forgive the quality of my phone-taken-pictures.

My son photobombing a great picture of random strangers.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Week 5 of Training: COMSEC and Crypto

Great example of a crypto device that nobody uses anymore.
This week my quarter-of-the-class group was reunited with another quarter. So with twice the people we learned the magical arts of Communication Security (COMSEC) and Crypto(logy). The course is listed in the Foreign Service Institute (FSI) Catalog as:

"...a basic overview of Communications Security, proper handling, accounting and destruction of COMSEC material using the CARDS system. Emergency Destruction procedures, audits and the proper operation of various types of cryptographic equipment are also covered."

That pretty much sums up the class. It was relatively enjoyable, considering the material. Like all security related training, it was both vitally important and extremely dry. Apparently this job generally falls to the new hires at post, so we all have that to look forward to. On the plus side, we got to take a field trip... so I'll call it a win!
Colossus, used to break the Enigma.
PS: If you're ever in and around the Washington DC area and are interested in cryptology, you should check out the National Cryptological Museum!