The Office of the Program Manager-Saudi Arabian National Guard Modernization Program welcomed its new deputy Sept. 29.
Since his arrival at OPM-SANG headquarters on Riyadh's Eskan Village, Col. David Matthew Fee said he has been impressed with the amount of expertise on the small compound.
"The team is very well-led and experts in many fields," said Fee, whose job is to synchronize the vast talents of the organization's diverse workforce.
OPM-SANG's core mission -- to maintain and enhance the relationship between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United States -- has remained unchanged since its 1973 inception. To do this, U.S. military and civilian teams assigned to Saudi Arabia provide advice and assistance in modernizing the SANG. This modernization covers everything from training, equipment, maintenance and supply, to procurement, management, organization, health care and facilities.
"OPM-SANG provides an incredibly important partnership with the military of one of our strongest allies in the Middle East -- the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia," Fee said. "The relationship is the most important part, but our support to the SANG in the procurement, maintenance, training and long term care of incredible U.S. military hardware helps our partner maintain balance and security in a very unstable part of the world."
The Army has maintained its special relationship between the Kingdom and the United States through the OPM-SANG program since 1973. Specifically, the Army and OPM assisted the SANG in modernizing from a small infantry and cavalry force to a force of more than 10 brigades, capable of land combat operations. Modernization priorities also include the development of a combat training center and the establishment of a command and general staff college. The cumulative program value exceeds $35 billion.
"Because the Kingdom pays the cost of most of the effort, this incredibly important relationship between our two militaries and governments comes at a low cost to the U.S.," Fee said.
The SANG partnership supports U.S. national security strategies; provides interoperability for American and foreign forces; and promotes regional stability. The 42-year-old partnership has been called a security assistance success story, benefiting both countries and displaying trust and friendships forged over four decades.
"Our partners are very supportive, welcoming and kind to us and we owe them the same in return," Fee said.
And that is why obtaining the right personnel is critical to mission success. It is equal parts diplomacy and dedication.
"The Saudis display a very gracious culture. They are very welcoming," Fee said. "At every first engagement with any Saudi officer, I have enjoyed coffee, tea and food during the meeting, and we talked about our families. Can you imagine that taking place in a business meeting in the United States?"
Fee said hiring high quality people "to do a very important job in a great environment with a longstanding mission, although far from the U.S., is one of our greatest challenges." Despite this and other challenges, he is enjoying working in this new and unique setting.
"I'm looking forward to the opportunity to lead and learn in a very different environment with different skills in foreign military sales, contracting and budgeting," he said. "And I'm looking forward to working with high-level commands to include (the Army Materiel Command, Security Assistance Command, Program Executive Office for Aviation), program managers, ground and air systems and U.S. industries that support this important partnership."
Fee is no stranger to conquering unfamiliar territory. As a teenager, his plan was simple: attend college and become a successful businessman, like his father. He had no interest in the military.
"My dad took me for an interview at the U.S. Military Academy Preparatory School at West Point to play football," said Fee, whose father loved the academy and had promised the coach he'd bring his son in.
"I argued with him for two weeks that it was the worse decision ever," Fee said. "As soon as I went to basic, I loved the Army and have never looked back."
Fee admits today that it was a great move orchestrated by a great man. He further described his father as compassionate and family-focused. Although Fee didn't grow up in the military, his family moved seven times as his father -- a successful salesman -- moved up the professional ladder.
Despite the numerous moves, he labeled his childhood as the "American Dream" --very stable, having lived in remarkable neighborhoods, played competitive sports and attended quality schools.
After graduating high school, the Mountain Lake, New Jersey, native attended basic training at Fort Dix, New Jersey, in 1982 and received a regular Army commission to infantry in May 1987 from West Point.
His first assignment was to 1st Battalion, 501st Infantry Regiment (Airborne) at Fort Richardson, Alaska, as platoon leader, after which he branch-transferred to aviation.
His three-decade military career has taken him from Korea and Kentucky to the United Kingdom, Bosnia, Kosovo, Italy, Iraq, California, Alabama and Afghanistan. He has served as a flight commander, professor of military science, director of Department of Evaluations and Standards, rotary wing chief and deputy G3.
But his choice assignment was as the commander of the 1-82 Attack Reconnaissance Battalion in the 82nd Airborne in Combat in Iraq and for the Unit Fielding and Training Program. Fee calls it simultaneously the biggest honor and challenge of his career.
"My command of the 1-82 ARB was the culmination of a career dedicated to serving Soldiers, leading aviators and flying in support of ground forces in combat," he said.
Fee is married to the daughter of a decorated Vietnam vet, a chief warrant officer who served as a Bird Dog crew chief and Chinook pilot.
His decorations and awards include Master Aviator Wings, British Aviator Flight Wings, the Combat Action Badge, the Expert Infantry Badge, the Ranger Tab, Bronze Star with oak leaf, Defense Meritorious Medal with two oak leaf clusters, Meritorious Service Medal with five oak leaf clusters, Air Medal with 4 device, Valorous Unit Award with oak leaf cluster, Meritorious Unit Commendation and Overseas Ribbon with 5 device.
Fee earned his master's in human resources from Webster University and the Army War College (strategic studies).
Fee considers himself personable and hard working, "a slow learner, but I don't forget what I am taught."
He knows he'll learn a lot during his OPM-SANG assignment and he plans to live and promote his principles -- selfless service, loyalty, spirit and attitude -- to make it a successful tour for himself and the OPM-SANG team.
After all, he said he is a pretty simple guy with a pretty simple vision: "I love my family. I love Soldiers and the Army. And I am looking forward to a great next year."