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Foreign Area Officers gear up for 21st century tasks
|By Natela Cutter, Strategic Communications Imagine someone telling you that you may end up working for the Secretary of Defense, giving senior civilian leaders advice about how the U.S. military operates on the ground and how best to achieve U.S. national security ends by working with foreign militaries; or that you may find yourself advising a U.S. commander in combat about the local customs and traditional power structures to help achieve success on the battlefield.|
Sound crazy? Not for some 80 Foreign Area Officers who attended the Foreign Area Officer Orientation Course from February 11 to13 at the Presidio of Monterey’s Weckerling Center.
“I love my profession. For those who like working with foreign militaries through Embassies and on battlefields, studying languages and international relations, and traveling around the world, this is an absolutely fantastic career,” said Col. Dino Pick, director of the FAO program at the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center.
The FAOOC, held semi-annually at DLIFLC, brings together newly designated FAOs for a three-day training session, designed to introduce them to their new career path and future training and educational requirements. Today, the Army FAO program consists of about 1,000 officers, 850 of whom are actively working around the globe in various positions to include Combatant Commands, Army Service Component Commands, the Joint Staff, the Army Staff, the Office of the Secretary of Defense, almost every embassy in the world, the Department of State, various other Department of Defense and Federal agencies, and the National Security Council.
“DoD is expanding the program because of the value of the FAO’s ‘total package:’ professional military skills, regional expertise, language competency, and military-political awareness to support the warfighter and advance U.S. interests at home and abroad,” said DLIFLC Commandant, Col. Sue Ann Sandusky, a Sub-Saharan Africa FAO who spent 10 years working in U.S. Embassies in the region.
Col. Michael Curci, division chief for the FAO proponent office at the Pentagon, was a guest speaker at the conference. Curci opened his remarks with a message from the Army leadership. “Gen. (George) Casey is a strong advocate of the Foreign Area Officer Program,” he said, referring to the Chief of Staff of the Army.
“Gen. Casey predicts that the need for Army FAO skills will grow exponentially as we progress to enhance regional stability and provide security assistance in Iraq, Afghanistan and other parts of the world,” Curci said. “The Chief was very clear about our mission. Our primary mission is to support the warfighter, in both the strategic and operational context. In order to be successful, we must train long and hard to be able to operate simultaneously on multiple levels with high levels of competence,” he said.
Curci reminded the conference attendees that individual Soldier skills, knowledge, and attributes make the difference on the battlefield, not inanimate objects. “Indeed, training is the bedrock of our success; I cannot overemphasize the importance of what you are doing here at DLI and in your other blocks of training,” said Curci.
As a result of military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, new strides have been made toward rebalancing the Army in order to reduce the strain felt by Soldiers faced with frequent deployments. Along with this change, Curci says the Army is looking for new ways to bring up accessions numbers for FAOs.
“We have not met the needs for accessions to sustain the demand (for FAOs),” said Curci. “The resulting shortfall in FAOs requires the FAO proponent to look for efficiencies in accessions, training, and billets to meet and sustain present and future needs,” he explained. “The number of FAOs currently entering the force each year has fallen below our desired numbers necessary to meet and sustain the demand.”
To achieve this goal, Curci said the Army is looking to bring officers into the program who already have a masters degree in appropriate disciplines, fluently speak a foreign language and understand the culture and customs of a particular region.
“Accessing the right officers into the FAO program helps reduce the training pipeline without compromising our core competencies,” said Curci.
Another option to reduce the training time is combining language and In-Country-Training (ICT) where feasible.
“This type of training will obviously not be available for every country, and it certainly won’t be the answer for every officer, but we are looking at the possibilities,” said Curci.
Speaking to an audience of young officers, nearly all of whom have served multiple combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, Curci said, “It is important to remain relevant to the Army and to our customers. By providing a political/ military perspective with regional and cultural understanding, FAOs have become imperative in today’s operating environment.”
Guest speakers at the FAOC were Ambassador Edward Peck and retired U.S. Army Brigadier General John Adams, a former European FAO.