Robert Reis, a longtime State Department official, is a perfect example of how far one can come from the American Heartland. Born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri, he eventually served in all corners of the globe, including Somalia. Throughout his broad career, he worked in a range of positions dealing with all matters including visas, policy related to banana and animal trade in Somalia, and even whale hunting in Japan! In this “moment” in U.S. diplomatic history, we see that Robert Reis’s career displays just how extensive a Foreign Service career can be.
The coming of age of a Foreign Service officer is not always linear by any means. Robert Reis spent a year at the Department of Labor and a private corporation, Graybar Electric, before joining the Foreign Service. Reis’s nonlinear path to joining the Foreign Service occurred during a pivotal time for U.S. foreign policy: the end of the colonial era, which was accelerated by the end of World War II as the British and French empires fell. The start of Reis’s career marked the early years after the decolonization moment hit full force, and the path of his assignments took him to the recently independent countries of Somalia, Malaysia, and Zambia. While in Somalia, Reis enjoyed many memorable experiences, such as camping on the beach in his Volkswagen Van. These memories were juxtaposed with images of Somalian police walking around with old British rifles, a remnant of the only recently gone colonial era. Most of Reis’s days, however, were not spent on the beach; instead, he focused on expanding agricultural capacity through collaboration with U.S. university programs in Somalia. Reis also served in Zambia, Washington D.C., and eventually, Tokyo, Japan. He retired after his last assignment as Deputy Chief of Mission in Malaysia in the aftermath of the Asian Financial Crisis.