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Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Why I Serve 
by Courtney Beale
Courtney Beale serves as Acting Spokesperson at the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan.  The following is from the Department's DipNote blog:

The insistent ringing penetrated my slumber. I woke up and looked at the clock. It was only 1:00 am, so it couldn't be the alarm. Then I realized it was the press phone, the one that all the journalists knew to call when they had questions for the U.S. Embassy. What now? My contact's questions shook me wide awake. An American official, he said, had been taken into custody at the airport trying to leave the country with sensitive military equipment. "Is it true?" he asked.

In a highly charged press environment leery of America and Americans, the last thing we needed was another inaccurate story to fuel further suspicions. I spent the next hour on the phone with the embassy's security office piecing together what had really happened, which was -- as usual -- much less newsworthy than the rumors. Just as the papers went to press, I was able to call back the journalist, tell him he had his facts wrong, and stop the non-incident from becoming front page news that morning.

In press work, especially in Pakistan, we often count our victories in what we prevent rather than what we create. 

I volunteered for a tour in Islamabad wanting to serve my country. The same motivations prompted my father to join the Navy 45 years ago. He flew F-4 Phantoms off aircraft carriers during the Vietnam War, putting his life on the line to defend our country. He also developed a lifelong passion for flying. I had always deeply respected him for having seen history in the making, and for helping make it himself. I grew up inspired by his service to America. Seeking an unaccompanied assignment and spending a year away from my husband was my own way of giving back to our nation.

While I can never compare squashing rumors during middle-of-the-night phone calls to flying a jet over a war zone, I feel honored to work in the press section at the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad. I was drawn to press work in this volatile region, because it is the great nexus of policy, public diplomacy, and national security. Pakistan has arguably the most intense and freewheeling media environment in the world, and conspiracy theories and misinformation about the United States run rampant. Having served in India and speaking Urdu, I felt called to use my skills and experience to tell America's story sensitively but honestly, and help create an environment of opinion conducive to U.S. policy goals.

From the massive U.S. relief effort after last summer's historic floods to the death of Osama bin Laden this spring, there has not been a dull moment since I arrived. I have certainly collected a few tales to tell my own children one day. But more than that, my service has also helped me discover new passions of my own -- the music, the people, the food, and the history of South Asia -- that I'll carry with me wherever I go in life.

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