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Careers in Diplomatic Security – A Great Fit for Veterans

Featured Image – Diplomatic Security Service special agents, UN General Assembly, Sept. 2018 (Source: U.S. State Department/Public Domain)

By Wes O’Donnell
Managing Editor of In Military, InCyberDefense and In Space News. Veteran, U.S. Army & U.S. Air Force.

My introduction to the U.S. State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) came by way of fiction. While deployed to the Middle East with the 101st Airborne Division, my platoon sergeant would often deliver books to our outposts to alleviate the boredom of staring at sand for 12 hours a day.

And while my squadmates would frequently pick Stephen King novels, I was always partial to Tom Clancy.

The late Tom Clancy’s novels were always hyper-realistic and often depicted government servants in a positive light. Indeed, it was in his popular novel Patriot Games that I first encountered the idea that a federal law enforcement agency exists whose sole mission is to protect diplomats.

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The DSS has more than 2,500 special agents, security engineering officers, security technical specialists and diplomatic couriers working and traveling worldwide. Among the duties of a DSS special agent is the protection of personnel, facilities, and, in an era of increasing cyber-attacks, information.

What Makes Transitioning Servicemembers Such a Good Fit for Diplomatic Security?

InMilitary recently had the good fortune to chat with Assiya Ashraf-Miller, Deputy Assistant Secretary and Assistant Director for International Programs with the Bureau of Diplomatic Security.

Ashraf-Miller has oversight of security and law enforcement policy and programs for over 250 U.S. diplomatic posts.

When asked why servicemembers make such good DSS agents, she said, “Our prior-military folks bring an incredible level of discipline and problem solving to the State Department.”

Ms. Ashraf-Miller also stated that fully one-third of their entire workforce is prior-military.

Indeed, servicemembers are accustomed to operating in high-stress environments. They are also excellent at risk mitigation and possess an uncanny level of composure under pressure. In addition, many who serve in the military are deployed around the globe to friendly and not so friendly nations. A deep familiarization with different cultures and customs would align well with a career in the foreign service.

It is because of these attributes that transitioning servicemembers might consider a career in diplomatic security when contemplating their post-military options.

On November 9, 2009, President Barack Obama signed Executive Order 13518, Employment of Veterans in the Federal Government, which establishes the Veterans Employment Initiative. The initiative is a strategic approach to help the men and women who have served our country in the military find employment in the federal government. Special consideration is given to qualified veterans, known as Veterans’ Preference.

Not all veterans are entitled to this special consideration, however. Typically, veterans must have served on active duty for at least two years during a period of war, be disabled, or meet other criteria. It is important to note, however, that Veterans Preference does not guarantee a job.

Qualifications and Requirements to Become a Diplomatic Security Special Agent

Transitioning servicemembers or veterans can reach out to the U.S. Department of State Veterans Employment Program Manager at However, it’s important to review the qualifications first to see if you’re a good fit.

According to the State Department, you must be:

  • A U.S. citizen and available for worldwide service
  • At least 20 years old and not older than 36 years
  • Fit for physical exertion and pass a pre-employment physical readiness test
  • Able to obtain/maintain a Top Secret Security Clearance and TS/SCI access
  • Able to obtain an appropriate Foreign Service Medical Clearance
  • Able to obtain a favorable Suitability Review Panel determination

The State Department’s own language states the value of military experience when hiring for DSS Agent:

“Specialized experience in such areas as the administration of security programs, the conduct of investigations, threat assessments, service in a law enforcement agency, and service in the U.S. military are all highly desirable.”

Also, a bachelor’s degree is required and some of the more popular degrees found among current DSS agents focus on criminal justice or international relations.

Ultimately, a career in foreign service might be a great fit for many servicemembers who are transitioning out of the military. A continuation of government service can be appealing to men and women who are dedicated to making a difference in the world.

Leaving the military might feel like an ending to a good Tom Clancy novel. But with a post-military career at the State Department, it’s really just the end of one great chapter and the start of another.

Check out our deep dive into The Secret Lives of Diplomatic Couriers

Wes O'Donnell

Wes O’Donnell is an Army and Air Force veteran and writer covering military and tech topics. As a sought-after professional speaker, Wes has presented at U.S. Air Force Academy, Fortune 500 companies, and TEDx, covering trending topics from data visualization to leadership and veterans’ advocacy. As a filmmaker, he directed the award-winning short film, “Memorial Day.”

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