Managing overseas travel
May 17, 2012
FORT BELVOIR, Va. -- There are many factors to line up for a smooth trip overseas. The U.S> Army Security Assistance Command has a constant rotation of personnel visiting foreign countries as part of the Army's foreign military sales program. But many people don't realize the efforts of one co-worker taking place behind the scenes to ensure employees are able to travel.
"You can't go overseas without going through me," Mary Spindle, USASAC's administrative officer for passports and visas at the command's Washington Field Office at Fort Belvoir, Va., said.
Spindle has processed just over 100 passports and 200 visas since joining USASAC in 2010. Even though USASAC is a relatively small command with approximately 400 employees, it currently manages more than 4,600 FMS cases with 145 countries throughout the world providing security assistance and FMS requirements.
Keeping up with the time frame to have documents in a traveler's hand is always in the back of Spindle's mind. Due to the nature of USASAC's mission, all overseas trips can't be projected far enough in advance to allow for the lead time necessary to secure an official passport and visa. Typically, a passport takes eight to 10 weeks to receive. Visas, which more countries are also requiring for entry, take 45 days.
"We try to make sure new people get a passport when they come on board," Spindle said, "just to avoid a last minute request."
A large majority of USASAC employees work directly with partner nations throughout the FMS process and there is an increased opportunity for a trip overseas to attend meetings or materiel delivery ceremonies.
"You are at the mercy of a lot of other people," Spindle said. To get the job done, she stays organized and upholds a good relationship with the Department of Defense Passport and Visa Office in Crystal City and the Special Issuance Agency of the State Department. Spindle says it is important to maintain a good rapport with the people handling and approving applications to avoid jeopardizing someone's travel plans.
She enjoys her job because it's different every day and she has the opportunity to meet a variety of people. If she's not at her desk verifying forms are submitted correctly and headshots meet specific photo requirements, she's calling the State Department and DoD for status checks. Two to three times a week she drives to the DoD office in Crystal City to personally deliver passport application packets. And as needed, she'll visit various embassies in downtown Washington to drop off visa applications and return a few days later for pick up.
"It's more efficient for me to drop off applications," Spindle said. "There are a lot of factors that are out of my control that influence the process, this way I know it arrived, they have it in hand and it's not sitting at the bottom of a stack in a mail room."
At the end of the day, Spindle knows she's done a good job if no one had to cancel or change a trip because they didn't have the proper documents in time to travel.
"I like the work that I do," she said. "I get people where they need to go."
Despite having handled passport applications at her job with USASAC and at a former agency for the past six years, Spindle does not own a passport.
"In 33 years of government service, I haven't needed one for my job or had the opportunity to go anywhere overseas," she said.