Security Cooperation Goes Pro

By David A. Williams and Cathy VanderMaarelDecember 9, 2020

The Department of Defense Security Cooperation Workforce Certification Program is based on nine security cooperation competencies and 58 job tasks. It has three elements: training, experience and continuous learning. (Photo Credit: Photo by Richard Bumgardner, U.S. Army Security Assistance Command Public Affairs) VIEW ORIGINAL

Working in security cooperation isn’t like any other job in defense acquisition. It takes certain distinct skills and knowledge to build the capability and capacity of foreign security forces to respond to challenges they share with the United States.

For one thing, security cooperation professionals must understand their role in advancing U.S. national security and foreign policy interests—planning, executing and evaluating the programs and activities that further those objectives. Fulfilling such a role requires specialized training, experience and continuous learning.

The Army acquisition community has had these, including professional certification standards, at least since the passage in 1990 of the Defense Acquisition Workforce Improvement Act. Now, certification is coming to the 20,000-strong security cooperation community.

While security cooperation has long been a feature of U.S. relations with foreign militaries, authorities for such programs have been numerous and confusing, spanning permanent law and temporary provisions. The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017 contains a mandate to streamline existing authorities, reform DOD’s management of the security cooperation workforce and facilitate congressional oversight.

Secretary of Defense Mark T. Esper, said in July that one of the department’s priorities “is to develop a coordinated strategy for allies and partners, recognizing that these like-minded nations are an unmatched advantage that China and Russia do not have. We launched a whole-of-DOD integrated approach that includes senior leader engagements with key countries and security cooperation programs.”

Thus begins a new era for those working in security cooperation, with major changes to come.


In response to the legislation, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency has established the Defense Security Cooperation University—with campuses in Arlington, Virginia, and Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio—and launched the Department of Defense Security Cooperation Workforce Certification Program. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, in-person classes were adjusted in 2020 and by offering online options, Cara Abercrombie, the Defense Security Cooperation University president, said the staff is now able offer three times as many courses to the workforce online than were previously available. She said offering virtual learning “was a long-term goal. We wanted to offer a 21st Century education online and it was something we were toying with in a hybrid way” and invested in learning management system upgrades prior to the pandemic.

The certification program, along with Defense Security Cooperation University training and education, is based on nine security cooperation competencies and 58 job tasks developed by the Defense Civilian Personnel Advisory Service. The program has three elements: training, experience and continuous learning, for positions categorized in one of five areas of concentration:

  • Security cooperation planning, oversight and execution management: Broad planning, policy development, oversight and execution of security cooperation programs and activities.
  • Security cooperation case life cycle management: Security assistance policy and procedures, foreign military sales and building partner capacity cases.
  • Security cooperation organization operations and management: Security cooperation offices at U.S. embassies.
  • Security cooperation execution support management: Support security cooperation programs and activities.
  • Security cooperation acquisition management: Support acquisition in foreign military sales and building partner capacity cases, international acquisition or international armaments cooperation.

Each area of concentration has four levels of certification that personnel must meet based on the requirements of their specific position. Certification requirements must be satisfied within a designated time, as follows:

  • Basic—One year.
  • Intermediate—Three years.
  • Advanced—Five years.
  • Expert—Seven years.

For the current workforce, the time period begins on Jan. 1, 2021; for those who join the security cooperation workforce after that, it begins the date they enter their position.


The Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for Defense Exports and Cooperation (DASA (DE&C)) and Headquarters, Department of the Army G-3/5 are preparing for Army implementation of the program before it becomes mandatory and certification deadlines go into effect through the development of the “HQDA Memo: Department of the Army Implementation of the DoD SCW Certification Program” (expected to be signed in September 2020). The DOD program will be augmented by existing Army security cooperation workforce training and professional development.

Security cooperation isn’t just a job—it requires training, experience and continuous learning to execute programs that advance theater and national security objectives. Members of foreign militaries observe the functions of the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle at Fort Stewart, Ga., during a Foreign Military Attaché visit, April 29, 2019. (Photo Credit: Photo by Staff Sgt. Brian Ragin, 3rd Infantry Division Public Affairs) VIEW ORIGINAL

Security Cooperation or Security Assistance?

The terms security cooperation and security assistance are often used interchangeably, but there are important differences.

The security cooperation workforce comprises DOD civilians and military personnel in positions that interact, or support those who interact, with foreign countries’ security institutions to:

  • Build and develop the security capabilities of allied and friendly nations for self-defense and multinational operations,
  • Provide the armed forces with access to the foreign country during peacetime or a contingency operation, or
  • Build relationships that promote specific U.S. security interests.

The security cooperation workforce cuts across multiple military branches and specialties, civilian career programs and occupational series. It numbers more than 20,000 DOD personnel, of whom 4,500 are with the Army and 1,500 are in joint billets that the Army fills. The ratio of civilian to military personnel is 4-to-1.

The security assistance workforce is a subset of the security cooperation workforce, comprising billets or positions that routinely perform security cooperation functions that support programs whereby the U.S. provides defense articles, military training and other defense-related services by grant, lease, loan, credit or cash sales to further national policies and objectives. Many in the security assistance workforce are also in the acquisition workforce. All told, it numbers more than 4,000 members of the security cooperation workforce. (Sources: 10 U.S.C. § 301 (Section 301); DOD Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms; and the Security Cooperation Workforce Development Database.)

DASA (DE&C) has been conducting the U.S. Army Security Assistance Workforce Rotational Assignment Program since 2015. Selected personnel execute temporary duty assignments of 60 to 179 days between Feb. 1 and Sept. 30 each fiscal year. More than 60 security assistance workforce personnel have completed developmental assignments at the U.S. Department of State, the DOD’s Security Cooperation Offices and Defense Security Cooperation Agency, and in Air Force and Army positions since the program’s inception. In fiscal year 2021, DASA (DE&C) plans to expand opportunities to geographic combatant commands, the Navy, HQDA G-3/5 and the Army service component commands.

Since 2019, DASA (DE&C) has also managed the Security Assistance Workforce Personnel Exchange Program, which allows commands and organizations to trade personnel—a one-for-one exchange between organizations, versus one organization receiving an individual for a temporary duty assignment—for 60-179 days between Feb. 1 and Sept. 30 each fiscal year.

The two programs provide opportunities to personnel in the security cooperation workforce, to enhance their competencies by performing duties in other occupational, functional and organizational elements. “We’ve had such a positive response from past and current participants in the programs, and we’re excited to get more participants to experience security cooperation activities not just in the Defense Department, but also with our interagency colleagues,” said Elizabeth Wilson, the DASA (DE&C).

DASA (DE&C) is also developing Army-centric security assistance training and tools to help the workforce manage security assistance, foreign military sales and building partner capacity programs—the broad set of missions, programs, activities and authorities intended to improve the ability of other nations to achieve those security-oriented goals they share with the United States. DASA (DE&C) is collecting data and conducting assessments across the Army security assistance enterprise in fiscal year 2020 to determine unique Army training requirements. The resulting Army-centric security assistance training and tools will complement Defense Security Cooperation University training; some of which may qualify for continuous learning credit in the certification program.


Army commands and organizations have completed the data input into the DOD Security Cooperation Workforce Development Database to enable Army security cooperation personnel to see their area of concentration, certification level, certification requirements and status. To view the database, which requires a Common Access Card (CAC), go to, click on the “Certification Center” icon and explore the “Training Report” and “Certification Status” links.

Recognizing that many personnel in the current workforce have completed courses related to security cooperation in the past, the certification program gives “new” course credit for the completion of legacy courses that meet equivalency standards. More information is available at

For more information on Army-specific security cooperation programs, go to (CAC-enabled) or contact the training team using the form at

DAVID A. WILLIAMS is the lead for Army security cooperation workforce development and has worked in DASA (DE&C) since 2011. A retired U.S. Marine Corps officer, he has served in security cooperation positions since 2006. He holds a B.S. in industrial distribution; a Master of Military Science from the Marine Corps Command and Staff College; and a Master of International Relations from Troy University. He obtained Level II DOD International Affairs Certification and has met the requirements for Intermediate Level Security Cooperation Workforce Certification in the Security Cooperation Execution Support Area of Concentration.

CATHY VANDERMAAREL is a career Army public affairs civilian, having started in the field in 2003. She has served as a public affairs strategist at DASA (DE&C) since March 2020. She holds a Master of Public Administration from Norwich University and a B.A. in communications from the University of South Carolina. She has attained the Intermediate Level Security Cooperation Workforce Certification in the Security Cooperation Execution Support Area of Concentration.

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