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Holiday Cheer at State
Diplomatic Pouch / December 1, 2011

By Larry Luxner

Christmas trees, clowns, chocolate cake and kids — lots of them — filled the Benjamin Franklin Room on the eighth floor of State Department headquarters Dec. 14 in celebration of “Diplomacy at Home for the Holidays.”

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who usually deals with weighty issues ranging from the Arab-Israeli conflict to North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, found herself sharing the stage with Frosty the Snowman and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. The event, now in its third year, brought together nearly 300 people to honor the families of U.S. diplomats serving in dangerous places around the world.

“This is a way for us to say ‘thank you’ for everything you’re doing, and thanks especially for your understanding that your mom, your dad, your loved one needs to be where he or she is, even during the holidays, on behalf of our country,” said Clinton.

“There are common threads of these unaccompanied tours: long months without visits, extra burdens on the mom or dad or the parent who is at home, and the usual challenges facing our Foreign Service families, picking up and moving from time to time,” she said.

“But in particular, I want to say a thank-you to all of you who are children of our diplomats. I know how much you miss your moms and dads. I see them when I travel all over the world, and particularly in places where they can’t let you come with them. They think about you all the time, and we are very proud of you for being so strong and brave while they’re gone. And I hope that you understand that the work they’re doing around the world is to make our country and our world better for you in the future.”

The secretary of state was introduced by U.S. Protocol Chief Capricia Marshall, who thanked corporate sponsors Hallmark and Skype for using new and innovative technologies to bring families together.

One such family is the Mauldins. Jennifer Mauldin, whose husband Jimmy is currently serving a year-long assignment at the economic section of the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan. She knows what being a diplomatic spouse is like. During their 18 years of marriage, the Mauldins have moved 11 times; they’ve lived in Ghana, India and Morocco — and she’s getting ready for their next posting in New Delhi.

But in the meantime, Jennifer is taking care of the couple’s four children — Jack, 11; Anna, 12; Caroline, 14, and Kate, 16 — in Falls Church, Va.

Jennifer Mauldin started by thanking FLO, the State Department’s Family Liaison Office, for making the transition easier.

“Having our family separated for a year is a challenge, and I miss not having my husband here to share in the day-to-day,” she told her audience. “During this time apart, we have had the earthquake — I’m sure you remember that one — we have had a hurricane, and then there was the tropical storm that sent 12 inches of water into our basement of a rental home. In addition to that, there is now the responsibility of mowing the grass and raking the leaves and cleaning the bathrooms. These are all mundane, everyday tasks that are really important, and my husband used to take care of all of them. And now I have to do them all.”

After Jennifer Mauldin spoke for a few more minutes, her husband suddenly appeared on the big screen behind the stage, direct from Pakistan and courtesy of Skype.

“I just want to tell you, Jennifer, you’re absolutely fantastic, and I couldn’t ask for a better wife or a better friend,” said Jimmy Mauldin, prompting several tears from the audience. “You’ve given me four beautiful children, and I appreciate you so much. You’ve been the encouragement behind me that pushed me out of the peanut fields of south Alabama to the front lines of diplomacy here in Pakistan, and I wouldn’t be here at all if it wasn’t for you.”

During the festivities, Mac laptops outfitted with webcams were set up around the reception room, allowing dozens of other families — mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, sisters, brothers, aunts and uncles — to Skype with their loved ones serving at U.S. embassies and consulates around the world. In addition, children of U.S. diplomats serving unaccompanied tours prepared Hallmark cards, recordable storybooks and art projects for those serving overseas. Frosty, Rudolph, Rumpelstiltskin and their colorful friends appeared courtesy of the Bay Theatre Company of Annapolis.

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