Remarks at AFSA Awards Ceremony
Thank you, Susan. Pat, Linda, and Johnnie, thank you all for being here.
As a man whose checkered past includes thirty years as a proud AFSA member, I speak from personal experience when I say: thank you -- for honoring and taking care of all those remarkable diplomats who came before us; for advocating for today’s diplomats; and for reaching out to tomorrow’s. AFSA is a critical member of the Foreign Service family, and all of us are grateful for what you do on a daily basis to advance peace and prosperity, serve the American people, and improve the lives of people all over the world.
I know the sacrifices and demands that go into life in the Foreign Service and just how much is on all of our plates these days, from the churn of the Middle East to the rise of the Far East. So it’s a special pleasure to take a moment to step back from our daily challenges to take stock of what we accomplish. And I am delighted to recognize the remarkable achievements of some of the Foreign Service’s finest men and women. You will receive your awards later in the ceremony, but I wanted to congratulate each of you myself.
Joshua Polacheck -- who took the term “out of the box thinking” more literally than most and urged us - in a dissent cable - to think beyond protecting the four walls of the embassy to serve our larger mission. He is the sole recipient of this year’s dissent award.
Jeff Jacob -- whose tireless and courageous advocacy in support of colleagues serving in Embassy Kabul earned him the title of AFSA Post Representative of the Year.
Leila Gupta -- a Foreign Service family member who founded the first library in the Mathare Valley (ma-THA-ray) region of Kenya, giving hundreds of Kenyan schoolchildren access to books for the first time.
Sara Hurst Butler -- whose work in post-earthquake Port-au-Prince helped turn a hardship post into a home and a supportive, family-friendly community.
Finally, James Velez - an outstanding Foreign Service Office Management Specialist who seems to have performed every single job in Mazar-e-Sharif, at all hours, in multiple languages.
This is a group that has gone above and beyond the call of duty and offered bold and creative solutions to perennial problems. Their peers, their host countries, and America have all benefited from their contributions. Congratulations, and thank you to each one of you.
Let me also take a minute to offer a few kind words about Bill Swing, an old friend of mine and this year’s winner of AFSA’s award for lifetime contributions to American diplomacy. Nelson Mandela once told Bill “sometimes I feel like we are in physical contact with history.” And it’s remarkable to think just how much American diplomatic history Bill Swing has touched and shaped. This is a man who began public service as a young Foreign Service Officer in South Africa when Nelson Mandela first went to prison in the early 1960’s and then served as Ambassador to South Africa when Mandela was finally set free, many decades later. Bill was already an Ambassador when I joined the Foreign Service over thirty years ago and remains a trusted expert and friend to Africa and Haiti. It’s humbling to realize that this is a man whose service at the State Department spanned from the period just after the Cuban Missile Crisis to just before 9/11.
So it should surprise no one that, when Bill left the Foreign Service, he scarcely paused before throwing himself into a second career, this time working for international organizations: as UN Envoy to Western Sahara, as the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which he knows so well; and now as Director General of the International Organization for Migration. Through it all, Bill has remained an idealist and a doer, unflappable and gracious, a born diplomat and consummate North Carolina gentleman.
Under his leadership, the International Organization for Migration has responded quickly and effectively to crises in Haiti, Libya, and Pakistan. He has made sure that those who leave their home countries behind do not also lose their rights, security or dignity. On behalf of Secretary Clinton and the President, we are pleased to announce our support for Bill’s candidacy for a second term as Director General. He has our admiration for all he has already accomplished, and our steadfast support for all that he hopes to accomplish in the years ahead.
Today, Bill Swing joins the elite ranks of past winners such as Roz Ridgway, George H.W. Bush, Tom Pickering, and George Shultz. No one deserves it more. Congratulations, Bill, and thanks for your lifetime of sacrifice and achievement. From all I’ve said, it should be clear that Bill Swing is a man who needs no introduction. And yet he’s also a man with no shortage of admiring colleagues eager to introduce him. I’m pleased to share the honor of doing just that with Assistant Secretary Johnnie Carson, who will convey AFSA’s Lifetime Contributions to American Diplomacy Award.