Monday, January 5, 2009

"We Used to Pass Out Ammunition, Now We Trade Medications"

Diplopundit noted a wonderfully snarky remark made by a junior Diplomatic Security Special Agent (see Insider Quote), which he provided for a thesis on the topic of the State Department's use of private security contractors in Iraq.

According to "DS Special Agent #4":

"These senior agents [TSB note: referring to DS managers who are insufficiently appreciative of #4] need to understand that if they have to refer to an incident that occurred during the Reagan or Carter administration as an example of their work in a high threat environment, then they need to do a tour in Iraq.”

I share his concern. I feel his pain. But mostly I'm laughing so hard at this example of the DS generation gap that I might lose my dentures or spill my Metamucil. Touche, #4.

As a non-agent, but nonetheless a close observer of the Diplomatic Security Service since the 'Inman 80s,' my personal take on the situation is that DSS divides into what I think of as the "Speed Loader Generation" and the "Cargo Pants Generation." I think of them that way because I've rarely, if ever, seen cargo pants worn by an agent old enough to have once used a speed loader, or a speed loader used by a young agent.

[For the information of whippersnappers like #4, a "speed loader" was a primitive device used to quickly reload revolvers; and "revolvers" are those funny-looking round guns that you see today mostly in old black and white detective movies. Amazing as it now seems, speed loaders were actually restricted sale items in the Carter/Reagan era, and they were about as fancy as police equipment got back then.]

The generation gap in DSS is due to a history of uneven new agent intakes. There was a huge burst of hiring during the Inman program of the mid- to late-1980s, followed by a dearth of new hires during the 1990s, followed in turn by another flurry of hiring after 1998. This produced a distortion in the workforce, two demographic bulges roughly 20 years apart. The situation has been exacerbated by the need to assign lots of the younger agents to run around after private security contractors at the high threat posts, experience which does not prepare them well for normal DS agent duty as Regional Security Officers.

The generation gap works both ways, of course. I've heard senior agents, men in my greying peer group, refer to their juniors as immature and "gear-queer." I can sympathize a little with both sides of the divide, having once been a trigger-happy young punk myself in my Army days, and then, a few years later, having led young(er) punk troops when my 28 year-old self provided the adult supervision for an antiterrorism/force protection unit.

The gap presents a serious problem for both cohorts of agents. The young guys need better-rounded 'normal' work experiences, and the old geezers certainly don't want to have to keep up with the Blackwater types in Iraq. So, I say in the spirit of Rodney King, "can't we all just get along?" Adopt the many good recommendations for more rational management of private protection contractors that were made in that thesis linked above, and reward those young punks like #4 who have paid their dues in Iraq and deserve to get developmental tours at normal posts.

There. I hope that problem is now solved, because Matlock is on TV and I need to go find by bifocals.


By the way, the title of this post ["We used to pass out ammunition, now we trade medications"] is a remark made by a DS agent friend of mine as he looked around at the balding heads gathered at his retirement luncheon.


Domani Spero said...

Thanks for the link TSB! I enjoyed reading your perspective on this. I am wondering if the larger FS will actually have a similar gap after all is said and done in Iraq - between those who have been there and done that and those who have not.

Consul-At-Arms said...

I've quoted you and linked to you here: