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Career Story: Manager Of The Usda Foreign Agricultural Service

Manager Of The Usda Foreign Agricultural Service

Job Title: Supervisory Program Manager, USDA Foreign Agricultural Service

Type of Company: I manage a staff of 20 people focused on implementing preparedness reconstruction and disaster response programs of USDA Foreign Agricultural Service. The focus these days is on recruiting, selecting, deploying and supporting USDA employees interested in serving as agricultural advisors in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Education: BA, International Relations, University of Illinois (Urbana, IL) •• MBA George Mason University (Fairfax, VA)

Previous Experience: I worked as a Peace Corps volunteer, training officer and associate Peace Corps country director before obtaining my first position with USDA

Job Tasks: My key responsibility is managing a staff responsible for recruiting, selecting, deploying and supporting USDA employees who are serving as agricultural advisors on provincial reconstruction teams (PRTs) in Iraq and Afghanistan. Given that the reconstruction of Iraq and Afghanistan are urgent foreign policy objectives, there is tremendous pressure to deploy agricultural advisors as quickly as possible. Additionally, since the PRT program is very new, every week we run into policy issues that need to be addressed. We have no manual of standard procedures for many of the situations we face. We are literally writing the rules as we proceed. That makes it exciting but very stressful work. And there is always the possibility that one of our agricultural advisors will be injured or killed.

Therefore, I spend a good deal of my time counseling my employees, re-allocating work as needed to ensure that no one is suffering from burn out. It is extremely rewarding work to support individuals who are deployed in war zones but it is not easy in many ways.

If needed my staff travel to Iraq and Afghanistan but given the dangers involved, we do not make it mandatory. What I do require is flexibility and an interest in pitching in to do whatever it takes to get the job done on any given day.

Best and Worst Parts of the Job: The best part of my job is knowing that the work my staff and I are doing to support the agricultural advisors in Iraq and Afghanistan gives them a chance to make a difference to the people of those countries and contribute to the safety and security of American military men and women who are serving in the theatre of war.

The worst part of my job is that, despite the selection process and orientation for Agricultural Advisors, a few are unable to make the adjustments and are not able to perform successfully in Iraq and Afghanistan. Then I am required to participate in the removal of these individuals. It is a necessary but not an enjoyable responsibility.

Job Tips: Although not essential, exposure to international development work overseas such as serving two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer or working for an NGO overseas is useful. More important, however, is an interest in and aptitude for administrative support skills and the ability to feel rewarded by supporting others who are doing development work in the field.

Additional Thoughts: Persistence and the tenacity to pursue a solution to a problem are often more important than sheer intelligence. You can outwork people who are smarter than you are but who lack your tenacity.

However, it is important to maintain a proper work and personal life balance. Remember always that you are working to live, meaning to spend time with and to provide for your family, significant others. You are not living to work, and there is no doubt that greater rewards lie in being with your family/significant others no matter what exciting and challenging work you are doing in your career. Do not make the mistake of being confused about what is more important to your happiness and well-being.

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