May is Military Appreciation Month and the Bureau of Global Public Affairs’ Employee Communications team is pleased to highlight three Veterans from the Department of State workforce who have made their mark on U.S. foreign policy.
Meet Zachary Parker, Christine “CJ” Johnson, and Joseph Giblin, all former board members of the Veterans@State Employee Affinity Group.
Zachary A. Parker, Director of the Office of Directives Management
Zachary A. Parker is the primary advisor to the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Global Information Services and the senior leader on the day-to-day operations for the Foreign Affairs Manual/Handbooks (FAM/FAH), Rulemaking, Information Collection, Plain Language Writing, and Federal Register (FR) programs for the Department and related issues. Prior to this position, Zachary worked for the Department of Defense as a military member and as a civilian, including two director positions within the Department of the Navy and one business management officer position as a civilian. He served in the U.S. Navy from 1986 to 2008, and later as a civilian, Zachary was the first Director for the Civil Liberties Program for Defense Privacy and Civil Liberties Office (DPCLO) in the Department of Defense.
You spent a large part of your career in DoD, what made you decide to join the Department of State? How are the work cultures different? How are they the same?
The difference in cultures of the DOD and DOS is that DOD is majority military, so it was very easy for me to transition after retiring from the military with my position with the Department of the Navy. At DOS, the military members are the minority and Foreign Service Officers are the majority, so I had to learn more about the Foreign Service when I started at the department.
Yet, I believe DOD and DOS are more similar than you think. Both agencies believe in ethos and professionalism—although DOD’s mission is to protect the United States and allies with the military, and State’s mission is to advance the interests of the American people, protect and enforce the diplomacy of the United States and our allies, and they both go hand in hand.
Why is it important for the Department of State to recruit veterans?
I believe each veteran brings a variety of experiences and expertise to the department that you may not get with those coming from college. Veterans learn early to follow direct orders and their chain command, and many times veterans are also responsible for the lives of other servicemembers or million dollar equipment. Veterans tend to be very responsible and great leaders.
As a veteran, I’m proud to be a part of something bigger than myself.
Joseph (Joe) Giblin, Political and Economic Officer, U.S. Consulate General in Matamoros, Mexico
Joseph (Joe) Giblin currently serves as the Political and Economic Officer at U.S. Consulate General in Matamoros, Mexico. His active duty tours included Fort Dix, New Jersey; Baghdad, Iraq; and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. In 2009, Joe retired from the Army as a lieutenant colonel, the same year he joined the Department of State as a Foreign Service Officer. His previous overseas tours as an FSO include Bogota, Colombia and Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and he has served two domestic tours in Washington, D.C. with the Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs.
You joined the Department of State after retiring from the Army, why did you choose to apply for positions at the department?
Early in my six-month tour in Baghdad with the Army (October 2004 – April 2005), I was waiting on a helipad for a ride from one side of the city to the other, preferable at the time due to the danger posed by IEDs. A man in business clothes was in front of me in line. I started a conversation with him, and he told me he worked for the State Department. I had never before met someone who worked for the State Department, and I asked a lot of questions. One fact which surprised me the most: you didn’t have to know anybody to get a job with the department, normally a prerequisite for jobs in my hometown of New York. I knew I couldn’t stay on active duty forever, and this sounded very attractive, even though the gauntlet had been thrown down: “the test is the hardest test in the world,” he told me. This was a challenge that I accepted, and a few years later I took the test.
How does your background as a veteran impact your perspective and contribution as a Foreign Service Officer?
There have been advantages and challenges as a result of my military background. One advantage has been the ability to do a job with whatever resources are around you. I had it drilled into me: every war is come-as-you-are. It helped me to react in tough circumstances. In emergencies, check yourself, check on your people, and report up. Goal-oriented thinking is another advantage: Always complete the mission.
The difference in cultures between the Army and the State Department was especially stark for me. The Army has a very directed, obey all lawful orders approach, while the department has much more consensus-based thinking, with all points of view welcome.
Christine “CJ” Johnson, Foreign Affairs Officer, Office of Global Partnerships
Christine “CJ” Johnson is a Foreign Affairs Officer specializing in public-private partnerships and private sector engagement to promote innovative practices for diplomacy. CJ previously served as an aerospace medic in the U.S. Air Force, completing three wartime tours covering trauma and mass casualty. She is a licensed nurse that worked for the Department of Veterans Affairs in mental health.
Coming from the military, what made you want to join the Department of State?
I come from an average American family with no ties to the government, politics, or foreign affairs. However, my family believed in the American dream and they instilled in me that I could do anything if I worked hard, honestly, and did that work, not for myself, but to help others. My parents encouraged me to experience things for myself before coming to my own conclusions. I believe this was an innate call to public service. For many reasons, I joined the military, but foremost I felt called to act and respond in some way.
After being deployed multiple times to a war zone, working as a trauma medic and being exposed to the multifaced environment of a government system, there was one milestone that sticks out and really set me on the road to where I am today. During one evening in Iraq, we received a call for an emergency response to a casualty of war. An Iraqi interpreter voluntarily working with the U.S. Army got caught in a cross-fire. This young boy chose to help U.S. armed forces in their pursuits for civil affairs. He was courageous and fearless, putting his life on the line for what he believed to be right. We tried exceedingly hard to save him and as he laid there, lifeless, I looked up to see American soldiers in the doorway weeping.
In this moment, I asked myself why. What led us to this moment, to this situation and I desperately wanted to learn more about the structure and decision making at the top. This is when I decided to make the move from defense to diplomacy. If I could learn more about world politics, international affairs and somehow be a part of the policy-making process—maybe I could better understand what promotes peace, what builds resiliency, and how to respond in a world full of different lines of messaging, various movements and belief systems.
What would you advise current service members or veterans who are considering applying for positions in the Department?
Take opportunities when they come your way and create more opportunities for others as well. If you want to be a good leader someday, start by being an example of what a good leader should be today.
Don’t take any experience for granted, inventory your own defining moments and turning points—repurpose those negatives for positives and never stop learning how to translate fieldwork into relatable skill sets. Be honest and courageous, take risks to the support others and develop attainable goals. Always heed good advice and never stop growing.
My hope is that my story will inspire and challenge someone to take the steps necessary to make a difference in today’s world.
More about the Diversity and Diplomacy Series
In the Diversity and Diplomacy series, we highlight the contributions of employees from all backgrounds. Those interviewed were recognized in the Spotlight@State series led by the GPA’s Employee Communications team members Roberta Mather and Shalom Konstantino.
We extend our thanks to Zachary, Joe, and CJ for contributing their time and effort to share their stories and the advocacy of Veterans@State (VETS), an Employee Affinity Group that strives to promote the full and equal participation of the estimated 7,000 military Veterans Department-wide. For more information, please contact Veterans@state.gov.