By Patrick BrayFebruary 1, 2016
MONTEREY, Calif. - It takes cooperation to solve international problems such as Ebola in Liberia, the Syrian refugee crisis, island disputes in the South China Sea or how best to deal with ISIL, but Foreign Area Officers are up to the task.
Every FAO is an expert on political-military issues in a particular region of the world, is knowledgeable of security cooperation, highly trained in language skills and interpersonal skills, and is an experienced officer. As the largest FAO program, Army officers transition from their primary-career fields to a full-time FAO-career track. However, all four branches of the U.S. military contribute to the FAO program.
A portion of FAO training takes place in Monterey, California, at the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center where FAOs study a foreign language. The institute hosts the Joint Foreign Area Officer Course biannually, an added bonus while the FAOs are studying at the Presidio of Monterey, for the purpose of bringing in seasoned experts on international affairs and career FAOs with numerous foreign assignments. The most recent course was held Jan. 25-29.
Retired U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Randy Kee, a former political-military planner, as keynote speaker gave a presentation titled "Reflections ... the arena of Political-Military" Jan. 26.
"As you serve, you are the dash between the political and the military," said Kee.
Kee drew upon experiences from his multiple assignments around the world. He spoke about a myriad of strategic challenges facing the U.S. in 2016, citing the Middle East and ISIL as an example. He also spoke about access to resources around the world and that competition for resources creates conflict.
"Being good at political-military may ultimately save us in our resources. We talk a lot about building partner capacity. When we do, we can underinvest in that area and focus elsewhere," said Kee.
"Nations we have invested in are much more resilient when bad things happen."
In his final assignment, Kee served as U.S. European Command director of strategy, planning and coordination before his retirement in December 2015.
"Nations will choose to make contrary policies to us simply because they have grievances with us. As a FAO, you can help change that narrative," said Kee, as he cited the current situation in Russia and Ukraine as an example.
During his time in Europe, Kee dealt with situations concerning Russia and the current security situation in the Ukraine. He was also faced with how some European countries dealt with the migration crisis emanating from Syria.
"This is just one example of displacement from one area to the next and it causes a security concern. Where some of you serve will be impacted by these immigrations. That's going on in Europe right now," said Kee.
Retired U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Matthew Brand spoke about the language enabled FAO Jan. 28. He served as a defense attaché in the Republic of Georgia and is a Russian linguist. He also served as the former deputy chief of staff for strategic plans and policy at NATO, his final assignment.
"We are training you in this language so you can talk to people. You cannot get access to somebody if you can't speak their language," said Brand. "The most important tool in your kit is your language."
As part of their training path, a FAO could spend anywhere between 26 weeks to 64 weeks in class, seven hours per day at DLIFLC studying a foreign language.
"The most important person you should know is yourself," said Brand, who recommends that the FAOs become familiar with the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator questionnaire to assist in their language learning.
In theory, Myers-Briggs determines how humans process information and which of the four psychological functions is dominant for one person most of the time - sensation, intuition, feeling and thinking.
"How does this apply to language learning? One thing we all have in common is we learn every day. If the language learning piece is tough for you, try a different technique," said Brand.
Brand's final advice to the FAOs was to assimilate all the wisdom from the guest speakers at the Joint Foreign Area Officer Course and take it with them abroad, but if they ever find something that they do or learned does not work, "change it to something that does."
Former ambassador to Fiji David Lyon spoke about embassy settings Jan. 26, where FAOs will work with Foreign Service Officers together on a day-to-day basis to promote diplomacy and solve problems before they become disputes.
"In the field the most important relationship is between the ambassadors and the geographic combatant commanders," said Lyon.
Ambassadors are appointed by the president, confirmed by the Senate and are the personal representatives of the President in a foreign state. All U.S. personnel in a country are under the direction of the ambassador except in a situation where a geographic combatant commander has jurisdiction over Defense personnel, such as U.S. Pacific or European Command.
The second most important person in an embassy is the deputy chief of mission and is the key adviser to the ambassador.
"FAOs live in both worlds (Department of State and Defense). You have to satisfy your immediate boss in the embassy and your home agency," said Lyon.
Breaking down the staff structure of an embassy, Lyon informed the FAOs of who they will be working with when they arrive at their duty stations. U.S. embassies and consulates are made up of consular and management sections, political and economic sections, public diplomacy and public affairs sections, and regional security officers and U.S. Marine security guards. FAOs work with Foreign Service Officers and other officers from every section on any number of issues.
All of these sections work together combined with strategic planning to promote U.S. diplomacy abroad, but it is still difficult to plan for what could happen next in the world.
"Foreign affairs is too squishy. It's so difficult to predict the future. If someone had predicted the Arab Spring we could've had more Arabic linguists and more Foreign Service Officers in those countries," said Lyon.
"Foreign Service Officers, just like FAOs, sign up for service and adventure, but without the expectation of putting our lives in danger. I really want to commend you for what you do and your service," said Lyon.
Lyon retired from the U.S. Foreign Service in 2005 following a 33-year career with the Department of State. His final posting was to Suva, Fiji, where he served as Ambassador to the Pacific Island countries of Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, Tonga and Tuvalu.
Rear Adm. Todd Squire, director for international engagement, Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, at the Pentagon in Washington. He is a two-time graduate of DLIFLC in German in 2002 and Turkish in 2010, and he served in Japan, Germany, Turkey and India. He spoke briefly about the FAO role in security cooperation Jan. 26.
Squire defines security cooperation as DOD interaction with foreign defense establishments to build relationships that promote specific U.S. interests.
"It sounds daunting, but at the end of the day, it's really not that hard," said Squire.
Squire said that a good beginning is to understand the U.S. codes and recommend that FAOs learn these among other policies. Security assistance under Title 22 is a Department of State responsibility and security cooperation under Title 10 is a Department of Defense responsibility.
Between State and DOD, Squire echoed what many speakers at this and previous Joint Foreign Area Officer courses said - FAOs have many bosses and to get used to that, but to remember that the ambassador is the President's direct representative in a foreign country and the closest at hand.
All of the speakers agreed on the importance of having cultural understanding and language skills as key to being a successful FAO.
"We spend a lot of time learning about foreign cultures otherwise we wouldn't be FAOs," said Squire, who wants FAOs to enjoy the experience as much as he enjoyed his assignments abroad.
Kee also told FAOs to understand the culture of where they serve and that they have to be able to be a bridge between cultural differences.
"Give them dignity, courtesy, respect and kindness. This goes a long way," said Kee.
Brand also spoke about having empathy, understanding, and broad perspective regarding certain situations, which will ultimately make one a better FAO.
"We're going to ask you to learn more than foreign language. Step outside your culture. Learn something better and new," said Brand. "Exploit things you're good at and work on things you're not."
Once their FAO training is completed, they are expected to serve as defense attachés, security cooperation officers and political-military planners worldwide. The concept of equipping military officers with regional expertise, language skills, and knowledge of U.S. and foreign political-military relationships dates back to 1889 when the U.S. sent permanent military Attaches to London, Paris, Vienna, and Saint Petersburg.
DLIFLC provides resident instruction in 23 languages with the capacity to instruct another 65 in Washington, and has graduated more than 230,000 linguists since 1941.