Kelli is a DSS Special Agent who joined the Diplomatic Security Service in 2011. In this Q&A interview, she shares how this role requires flexibility, adaptability, and the ability to “think on your feet.”
When did you become a DSS Special Agent and why did you choose this career?
After I graduated from college, I ended up working in a corporate job, which I found pretty monotonous. So, I took a position working at the U.S embassy in Baghdad, Iraq, and my supervisor there was a DSS Special Agent. He told me all about his career with the Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) and convinced me to apply. I joined DSS in 2011. And my biggest motivation for joining was the opportunity for travel and the opportunity to live overseas that the Diplomatic Security Service provides.
Where have you been posted and how long do DSS Special Agents stay at each post?
Each post is between one and three years. I started in the San Francisco field office, investigating passport fraud. I then went to the DSS Command Center, which is a 24/7 operation. In the command center, we closely monitor major events unfolding around the world. For example, while I was there, we were monitoring the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. After the command center, I went to Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, where I was the assistant regional security officer and managed a portfolio of security programs. I then spent several months at the Foreign Service Institute learning Armenian, in preparation for my assignment as a fraud investigator in the consular section at the U.S Embassy in Yerevan.
What has been your favorite assignment and why?
My two assignments that I’ve had overseas have been my favorite so far. I really enjoyed living in another culture and working with our host nation counterparts. I’m currently in a domestic office but I plan to go back overseas next year, because I really love the work that we do in our consulates and embassies around the world.
What would you say is your most memorable or fulfilling experience as a DSS Special Agent?
Some of my most memorable experiences have definitely been serving on protection details around the world. I’ve had the opportunity to visit places like the Great Wall of China, the Souk in Marrakech, while simultaneously helping to provide a safer environment for the conduct of U.S foreign policy.
What is the most challenging aspect of being a DSS Special Agent?
As a special agent with Diplomatic Security, you will need to be flexible, adaptable, and able to think on your feet. We frequently work in dynamic, rapidly evolving environments and those skills will help you to successfully meet your objectives. At the same time, the nature of that work ensures that you will rarely be bored in this job: one day you might be conducting investigative interviews and the next day you might be boarding a plane to a foreign country to serve on a protection detail.
Do you have any advice for those who are applying for the Clarke DS Fellowship program?
My advice for those of you who are thinking about applying for this fellowship program is to look up the Physical Readiness Test standards and start to prepare yourself for that test. It currently consists of sit-ups, push-ups and a one-and-a-half-mile run.
The other piece of advice that I would give you is to look up the 12 Dimensions of a Foreign Service Specialist. You can look through the experience that you have and match that up with the dimensions that the State Department is looking for that will make you a successful candidate.
Photo: Courtesy of Diplomatic Security Service. DSS Special Agents provide protection for Prince William and Kate during their Boston visit.