Foreign liaison officers foster international partnerships
February 6, 2013
NEW CUMBERLAND, Pa. -- The U.S. Army Security Assistance Command is known as "the Army's Face to the World" because of its relationships with more than 145 countries around the globe. USASAC personnel oversee more than 4,600 Foreign Military Sales cases from start to finish, and this involves support from numerous organizations that comprise Army Materiel Command's Security Assistance Enterprise. But some of these international partners also provide their own military officers to represent their countries and help manage their FMS cases on-site.
These representatives, called security assistance liaison officers, or SALOs, are funded through their countries' cases and have been a part of USASAC for more than two decades.
"The program began in February of 1991," Christ Megoulas, USASAC SALO program manager, said. "We currently have 10 countries and have additional ones that would like to join, such as Japan, Iraq and the Netherlands. We also have a SALO located at Redstone who represents Chile."
Expansion of the program is not limited by the number of countries that would like to place SALOs at USASAC, but rather by facility space constraints. Except for the Chile SALO, the other officers are located at Defense Distribution Depot Susquehanna, Pa., in a modular facility dedicated specifically for the officers in 1996. Each country pays to lease the office space, just like other tenants.
The liaisons' work is meant to benefit both their respective country and USASAC by improving communications and response times. Activities performed by officers include determining FMS logistics, financial and technical data; inputting requisitions and modifications; coordinating with freight forwarders and transportations companies; coordinating supply discrepancy reports; participating in Case Management Reviews and Program Management Reviews; and presenting their respective countries' FMS policy or operation concerns to the SALO Committee chairman and International Customer User Group.
According to Megoulas, the majority of the officers are located at USASAC's New Cumberland, Pa., office because the country case managers, who handle FMS implementation issues such as supply, requisition, transportation delivery and budget/finance, are located there and it allows easier interface and coordination. The USASAC New Cumberland office is also close to Washington, D.C., where each country has an embassy and allows for frequent visits.
Having a representative on-site has many benefits for the countries with officers.
"Colombia calls me or contacts me, many times to speed up the cases, or the requisitions, or find the right person to resolve an issue," Col. Henry Quintero, Colombian Air Force and SALO representative, explained. "So basically I get the support I need to improve or speed up the cases."
While Quintero is an Air Force officer, he also represents the Colombian Army and Navy for FMS cases.
"Currently we have Army and Air Force representatives," Megoulas said. He noted that some countries, such as Jordan and Israel, have both an Army and Air Force representative on-site at New Cumberland.
Capt. Paul Walsh, the Canadian SALO, describes his role as "the face of my country at USASAC."
"I deal with the logistics side of issues, not the technical," Walsh said. "You can't really quantify what I do in dollars and cents. You can simply say that when they (USASAC) need to speak to Canada, I'm here and available and I can contact -- I have a web of contacts in Canada I can open USASAC up to if they should have a question or need any answers.
"Every SALO is different. … My job specifically is to look at the logistics of the requisitions for the CLSSA (Cooperative Logistics Supply Support Arrangement, which is employed by the purchasing countries to support their end item weapon systems that come from U.S. inventories with spares, repair parts and secondary time support) cases. Other SALOs may work with blanket orders, direct orders, and with technical issues, but for me, because we have other people in the United States filling those roles, I simply deal with the CLSSA cases."
Quintero noted that reconciling budgets items can be a challenge for officers based on countries having different fiscal year-end dates from that of the U.S.
"The United States budget, the fiscal year, ends in September, while the fiscal year (for Colombia) ends in December. So I must try to accomplish the United States government cases and the Colombian cases between those times," Quintero said.
Walsh interacts with his USASAC country team on a daily basis. The central case manager for Canada, Cynthia Berkoski, also sees the value of everyday interaction with the officers and the program benefits.
"I believe in it," Berkoski said. "They work with the depots, supply agencies and USASAC to expedite shipments, resolve shipping, quality, whatever type issue that may come up."
Berkoski also noted that while they are not permitted to go directly to any AMC Life Cycle Management Commands or visit, USASAC case managers can schedule the visit and accompany them. Restrictions on officer visits to U.S. government facilities are the same as with other foreign nationals in regard to security requirements, so even when the officers visit the New Cumberland office located two blocks from the SALO facility it must be a scheduled and escorted visit.
This is where the SALO project manager plays an important role. Megoulas assists with coordination that includes everything from official visits to assisting with IT requirements, and even questions and needs that may arise during off-duty hours.
"We're like a family. While we have many different cultures here, the SALOs are here with their families living in a foreign country, so sometimes they need guidance," Megoulas said.
While all officers are required to be proficient in English, that doesn't mean some need help now and then. For Walsh, the only officer who is a native English speaker, that means stepping up and sometimes explaining when additional translation is necessary. "You learn to speak very clearly and very slowly," he said.
The officers also hold regular potluck events so they can share food and stories about their countries and families, which increases understanding of how their government and cultures are similar and different.
"We learn many things about how their government works and why things are important to them when perhaps we feel it isn't important," Berkoski said. "But the most enriching thing is the personal things we learn about them and their country and the things we teach them about us and our country."
The USASAC central case manager for Colombia, Deanna Paul, cited the importance of the SALO program in improving the efficiency of the FMS process, but like Berkoski, she views the relationships built with these country representatives as a lasting bond.
"The previous (Colombian) SALO has repeatedly invited us to visit his home if anyone on our team must go to Colombia. This isn't unusual -- many of the SALOs stay in touch and have hosted our personnel when they are in-country later on," Paul said.
The interaction between the officers and the Americans they work with and encounter during their assignment at USASAC is another way of strengthening relationships through security assistance and the FMS program. Quintero noted that the experience Colombian military officers gain through the SALO program is considered so valuable, their rotation time is short (one year) so more officers can participate.
"It is a relationship we have developed over many years, and we will stay in the same relationship and continue dealing with the concerns for our countries," Quintero said.
Both Megoulas and Walsh cite the efficiencies for the U.S. and its international partners that result from the relationships.
"The SALOs have visibility of the processes and they make the business of FMS efficient," Megoulas said.
Walsh views the efficiencies as coming from SALO program resolutions that eliminate numerous countries working the same issues with different USASAC country teams.
"You start to see common issues across the board. That's why the ICUG and our SALO quarterly meetings really help out because these individual issues become group issues when you are able to communicate with each other," Walsh said. "That's one of the benefits. … We don't have to bang our heads against the wall. We can get together and talk with USASAC and see if we can solve it."
For Walsh and his officer peers, the SALO program lends truth to the USASAC creed, "Strength in Cooperation."