A Montesano High School graduate, who grew up on a farm near Brady, has risen through the ranks as a diplomat and is about to become U.S. Ambassador to a country in central Asia.
President Barack Obama has nominated Allan Mustard to become U.S. Ambassador to Turkmenistan, which shares a border with Iran and Afghanistan along the Caspian Sea in Asia. Mustard is the son of the late veterinarian Donald H. “Doc” Mustard and the late Barbara Mustard, a teacher.
During Mustard’s career over four decades as a member of the Foreign Agricultural Service, he has had a front row seat to everything from the collapse of the Soviet Union to the recent economic revitalization in India.
But everything started for him as a boy in East County.
“I was introduced to foreign cultures and cuisine at age 5 during a visit aboard the M/V Jaladuta of the Scindia Steam Navigation Company from Bombay, while it was docked in Hoquiam to load logs,” Mustard said in a University of Washington biography.
Kate Breckon, who is Allan’s sister, said she still remembers that visit.
“This Indian merchant marine ship and the crew were at the Port of Grays Harbor and were given shore leave because, while the cargo was being loaded, there was nothing for the officers to do so Dad and Rick, my older brother, and I were on our way home from Aberdeen when we spotted these two dark-skinned men hitchhiking in Central Park,” Breckon said. “Dad stopped to give them a ride since they were obviously not from around here. They came home with us and were exceedingly polite. We fed them and they decided to reciprocate and invited us to have dinner with the captain and the other officers. …
“This exposure to a different culture changed Allan’s perspective for the rest of his life. Eventually, when he graduated from college with a degree in Russian/Slavic Languages and in political science with a knowledge of agriculture, I told him that the only thing he was qualified to really do was negotiate wheat deals for the Russians. He said, ‘I know’ — and that’s what he went off to do.”
He became an agricultural economist at the Foreign Agricultural Service from 1982 to 1986 and landed a job for two years after that as the assistant agricultural attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow.
Mustard graduated from Montesano High School in 1973.
Childhood friend Eric Nelson, who is the city attorney for the city of Aberdeen and graduated from MHS in 1974, recalls fondly how Mustard met with a career counselor, who tried to convince him to become a farmer like his dad.
“Back then, counselors didn’t have a lot to go on,” Nelson said. “In our case, the basketball coach, who was also the history teacher, became our guidance counselor, probably because of some state requirement that the school have a counselor. The counselor spent some time trying to convince Allan that he should just go to WSU. But, Allan had big dreams of being in the foreign service. And the counselor laughed that away. Really, Allan has given a lot of credit to the counselor to help inspire him and prove the guy wrong so badly.”
Nelson would continue to be friends with Mustard as they both attended Grays Harbor College together and the University of Washington. Mustard would go on to get his Masters at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
A University of Illinois biography notes that his career has taken him to more than 50 countries, primarily in Europe and the Middle East.
Mustard’s responsibilities gave him a front row seat to the collapse of the former Soviet Union, the university biography notes. As the primary planner of former Secretary of Agriculture Edward Madigan’s mission to the USSR, he worked on inter-agency policies, implementation of the largest food aid package at the time since World War II, and formidable technical assistance.
“I have been part of a lot of experiences over the years that were either interesting or had an impact, but perhaps the most satisfying was the food aid to Bosnia in the wake of the Balkan wars of the 1990s,” Mustard told the university.
Mustard noted that he was able to see the devastation of the “ethnic cleansing” led by Slobodan Milosevic and helped see some of the recovery in action put in place by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and private charities, which provided food aid, job training as well as microloans for starting businesses so the women could become independent.
“A year after the program started, Catholic Relief Services asked me to stop by the town of Visoko during my next trip so I could meet some of the widows, who wanted to thank the USDA,” Mustard told the university. “It was about the most emotional thing that has happened to me in my career, meeting those widows and hearing their gratitude. Knowing what they and their children had been through, I was deeply humbled and also grateful for the opportunity the USDA had given me to help them. We take a lot for granted in America.”
After working in Russia, an official biography for Mustard provided by the White House states that he served as Agricultural Trade Officer at the U.S. Consulate General in Istanbul, Turkey from 1988 to 1990. From 1990 to 1992, he became Deputy Coordinator for the Eastern Europe and Soviet Secretariat of the Foreign Agricultural Service.
“President Bush had asked each Cabinet department to form a nerve center to deal with change in the East Bloc, including the USSR, and I was responsible for the Department of Agriculture’s analysis of what was going on, evaluation of the changes, and then recommending policy alternatives,” Mustard said in a posting on the University of Washington’s Slavic program website. “This job quickly evolved into a broader mandate as State Department created an inter-agency group revolving around the coordinator of assistance to the newly independent states, following the Soviet Union’s collapse in December 1991.”
From 1992 to 1996, he served as Deputy Director of the Emerging Democracies Office of the Foreign Agricultural Service. For four years after that, he was the Agricultural Counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Vienna, Austria. Then he was the Assistant Deputy Administrator for Foreign Agricultural Affairs at the Foreign Agricultural Service from 2000 to 2002 and a fellow at the Senior Seminar in Foreign Relations at the Department of State from 2002 to 2003.
For the next five years, he returned to the U.S. Embassy in Moscow as the Agricultural Minister-Counselor, where part of his job was to keep track of Russian grain production. He was among the first in the world to note that Russia would emerge as an exporter of wheat by as much as 20 million metric tons in any given years — “to the hoots and laughter of many other analysts at the time,” he noted to the University of Washington.
“When that actually happened two years after my forecast, the laughter faded, and the world grain market was not taken by surprise, thanks to my office’s public reports,” he wrote. ” I would not have learned what was happening on the ground if I had not been able to converse freely with farmers, rural bankers, grain merchants, and managers of rural cooperatives in their own language. One tactic I used to get past suspicious and sometimes apprehensive Russians was to quote liberally from the works of Il’f and Petrov, particularly ‘The Golden Calf.’ They sensed my love of Russian literature and in particular of Russian satire, and that often helped build a mutual trust.”
From 2008 to 2011, he served as the Agricultural Minister-Counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City, Mexico. Today, he is the Agricultural Minister-Counselor at the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi, India.
Mustard was unable to comment for this story because Senate confirmation of his nomination is pending. Last week, the U.S. Senate referred his nomination to the Committee on Foreign Relations
Mustard tries to make it back to East County to visit friends and family, but Breckon figures at this point, most of his life has been spent overseas.
“He’s probably the most focused, most driven person I’ve ever known in my life,” said Breckon, his sister. “He sets his sights on something and goes for it. There’s been no detours at all. I also think he is probably the only true statesman I’ve ever encountered.”