Most Company Grade Officers know of the Foreign Area Officer (FAO) Functional Area – FA 48 – and many know something about the training required to become a FAO. However, it seems that almost none of the prospective candidates know a thing about what FAOs actually do for the Army prior to applying for FA 48. In fact, most officers selected for FAO training continue to struggle with this question even into their 2nd year of the program. My contribution to this professional blog will be to answer this question (using my own experience) by explaining the FAO Training Program and describing the types of jobs that are available for FAOs. My target audience is Company Grade Officers who have not yet selected their Career Field Designation (CFD), and my goal is to generate a discussion that can help young officers make better informed decisions. I must admit up front that I do not work for HRC (and I never have), so I am not an authority. My knowledge on this topic is from having completed the Training Program in Dec 2010. The date of this blog is 11 Jan 2011. Please keep in mind that policy evolves over time, and therefore this information has a shelf life.
Chapter 28 of DA Pam 600-3 (1 Feb 2010) is the primary reference for everything FA 48: qualification, selection, training, assignments, characteristics, values, etc… The pamphlet is carefully organized and quite detailed, but it can also be quite vague and sterile. Having just finished the 3-year Training Program, it all makes sense to me. However, it doesn’t provide the candid dialogue that speaks to the candidate who is trying to make sense of this AR 25-50 writing style. Allow me to interpret the key points into plain text.
I. Selection. Around the 8th year of commissioned service, each officer will select a CFD, and it is then that one can submit an application for consideration to become a FAO. There are eight minimum criteria that a candidate must meet to even be considered for selection (see DA Pam 600-3, p.261 for the full list), but be mindful that FAO accession is in high demand. Meeting the minimum qualifications often results in the dreaded FQ-NS (Fully Qualified – Not Selected). Candidates must submit a standardized application form to FAO HRC during the CFD process, and it is at this time that the candidate must sell himself. My recommendation is to start preparing for the CFD board early: if you already speak a language, you should submit current DLPT scores; take the Defense Language Aptitude Battery (DLAB) early enough that you can take it again if needed (you can only take it every six months); prepare your written statements early and get some feedback from senior officers. As the purpose of this blog is to discuss training and assignments, I will stop here on the selection process. However, please feel free to ask questions about it.
II. Training. The FAO Training Program is divided into five steps: (1) Language Training, (2) In-Country Training, (3) Advanced Civil School (aka: Grad School), (4) the FAO Orientation Course, and (5) Intermediate Level Education (ILE). There is no standard path through these training requirements; each individual navigates through them in his/her own way (the reason for this will become apparent in the discussion of the steps). What is common to everyone, however, is that a FAO Training Officer at HRC (Knox) tracks the trainees to develop a training plan, approve exceptions, ensure timelines are met, and generally to provide some top cover. I will cover each of these steps individually:
1. Language Training. 95% of all trainees’ first step in the FAO Training Program is to PCS to the Presidio of Monterey, California to attend a Basic Course at the Defense Language Institute – Foreign Language Center (DLI-FLC). Course lengths differ depending on language: Spanish is 6 months, Russian is 12 months, and Arabic is 18 months. Officer and NCO trainees get assigned to E Company, 229th MI BN, which is a TRADOC unit and, therefore, necessitates a unique environment. Officer students are exempt from the bulk of non-language related TRADOC training requirements; however, there are some extra-curricular activities that even the we cannot get out of (ie.. BN runs, award presentations, mandatory quarterly training requirements, etc…) Many of these events distract from studying (and are somewhat annoying), but they are minimal and most are necessary due to DLI being a TRADOC institution.
The curriculum at DLI is constantly changing to reflect the demands of the DoD, and Teaching Teams have great flexibility to adjust teaching methods, so each individual’s experience will vary greatly. [On this note, I attended the Russian Basic Course in 1992-1993 as a Private and then I attended it again in 2008 as a Major. Although it was the same course in name, the experiences were absolutely unique.] Graduation requirements for DLI are to attain a minimum GPA of 2.0 (calculated from academic coursework) and to achieve at least 2/2/1+ (Reading/Listening/Speaking) on the Defense Language Proficiency Test (DLPT). BN Policy, in 2008, for Officers who failed to achieve the minimum requirements was to receive an Academic Evaluation Report (AER) marked, “Failed to Achieve Course Standards” (the equivalent to a Below Center of Mass). There was quite a bit of pushback on this point because most DLPTs transitioned from version 4 to version 5 at some time in the late 2000s. Despite the fact that neither the minimum standard for passing (2/2/1+) nor the course length/material changed, the transition from version 4 to 5 has made attaining a 2 much more difficult. Several officers, particularly those studying Arabic in the late 2000s, failed to achieve the minimum DLPT scores (even officers going into the DLPT with “A” GPAs) and, indeed, received poor AERs. It remains to be seen how this will affect their promotion to LTC.
Some officers assessed into FAO already speak a foreign language fluently, or at least well enough to pass the DLPT. In these cases, the officers do not get the opportunity to attend DLI. The FAO Training Officer makes this decision on a case-by-case basis. Another exception is for officers who chose to attend the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) in Monterey after DLI. Instead of the standard pattern (DLI-ICT-ACS), officers who attend NPS follow the pattern of DLI-ACS(NPS)-ICT.
2. In Country Training (ICT). In my experience, each trainee’s experience in ICT is absolutely unique. The purpose of ICT is to immerse the trainee (and family) into one of the cultures within that trainee’s Area of Concentration (AOC), and the varieties of different ways of accomplishing this are endless. Instead of attempting to illustrate (in vague terms) all of the different theories on ICT, I will simply provide my own experience as a case study. However, common to all 48 MOS’s, ICT lasts only one year.
I am a 48E (Eurasian FAO), and 48Es’ have a significantly different approach to ICT from other 48 MOS’s because the Cold War used to prohibit us from travelling into our AOC. During the Soviet era, the US Army sent 48Es to the George C. Marshall Center (GCMC) in Garmisch, Germany to study our adversary from afar. Although that reality has changed, tradition and bureaucratic inertia have kept GCMC in the business of training 48Es, and it served as my base of operations while I traveled into the former Soviet Union (Eurasia) for ICT. I maintained an on-post apartment (in stairwell-style German housing) in Garmisch where my family lived, and I used a GCMC work-station to arrange my trips, but otherwise I had very little to do with the GCMC community (I liked to think of GCMC as my logistics hub). The following are a list of my major training events while on ICT:
-Jan-Feb 2010: I attended a Russian language refresher course at the Partnership Language Training Center – Europe (PLTCE) in Garmisch. This five-week course helped me prepare for the rigors of traveling in the East by concentrating on the spoken language (as opposed to DLI which focused on reading and listening).
-Mar-Apr 2010: Language Immersion. I traveled to Kyiv, Ukraine and lived with a Ukrainian host family while attending an intense Russian language course at a civilian institute called Nova Mova. Upon first contemplating this course, I though four weeks (as compared to 48 weeks at DLI) would be insignificant. However, the benefits of immersion are very substantial (but difficult to measure). I feel that I have sustained a dramatic improvement in my Russian from this portion of my ICT.
-Apr-Jun 2010: Military Representative Assignment #1 in Kyiv. After Nova Mova, I moved into an apartment near the US Embassy and went to work for a LTC (48E) in the Office of Defense Cooperation (ODC) (more about the job in the next section of this blog). While working in the ODC, I received first-hand exposure to the Ukrainian military and to the inner-workings of the US Embassy as well as additional exposure to Ukrainian culture and Russian language.
-Jul 2010: Regional Travel (Baltic States). My family (wife and 6 year old daughter) traveled for two weeks with me to Tallinn, Estonia; Riga, Latvia; Vilnius, Lithuania; and Warsaw, Poland. In each city I visited the US Embassy for a brief on local conditions and US foreign policy objectives, and otherwise immersed into the local culture.
-Aug-Sep 2010: Eurasian Security Studies Seminar (ESSS). This three week seminar took place at GCMC and consisted of a series of guest lecturers (predominantly GCMC professors) on a variety of security related topics concerning Eurasia. On the last week the seminar visited USAREUR (Heidelberg), USEUCOM (Stuttgart), the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA-Darmstadt) and NATO (Belgium).
-Sep-Nov 2010: Military Representative Assignment #2 in Tbilisi, Georgia. I worked for the ODC in Tbilisi for another LTC (48E) while learning about the Georgian culture, history, and security problems.
After each trip I was required to submit a Trip Report detailing the events of the trip and describing how I had fulfilled major learning objectives associated with the FAO ICT Program. Furthermore, I was required to submit a 20-page research paper on a topic of my choice (I chose to write about Ukrainian President Yanukovych), and present the findings of the paper to my peers at GCMC. Having compared ICT notes with other FAO trainees from different AOCs, I have discovered that although methods differ, the end result (immersion) is always the same.
3. Advanced Civil Schooling (ACS). FAO Training maintains a list (a very long list) of suitable Graduate Schools that a trainee can attend and receive a Master’s Degree in an approved list of subjects. Although FAO Training will encourage trainees to take the shortest (meaning one year) and least expensive (meaning less than $13k/year) school possible, many trainees attend Harvard, Georgetown, Yale, and other Ivy League schools. Once approved by ACS and accepted by the school, the trainee will administratively PCS to the US Army Student Detachment (USASD) located in Fort Jackson, South Carolina (but will move to the location of the school) and ACS will pay all tuition costs. [I attended the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) in Monterey, California immediately after finishing DLI, and as this is a DoD institution I did not deal with ACS very much.] For the duration of the Master’s Degree, the trainee lives and works in a civilian environment, and there are virtually no requirements to ever appear anywhere in uniform.
4. FAO Orientation Course (FAOOC). Each trainee will typically attend this one week course while at DLI. The event is an introduction seminar consisting of various guest speakers who work towards defining the duties and characteristics of the FAO branch by providing theoretical and practical examples of FAOs in the field. Topics span from how to buy and wear a suit (possibly the most important thing I learned at my FAOOC) to the major assignment billets FAOs fill.
5. Intermediate Level Education (ILE). FAOs do not attend the full CGSC course at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Instead, we attend ILE (the Common Core Courses) at satellite campuses in various locations around CONUS (Fort Gordon, Fort Lee, Fort Belvoir, and Redstone Arsenal). Secretary Gates recently ordered that no Army officer would be promoted to O-5 without having first completed ILE (or CGSC depending on MOS). Therefore, on the topic of promotion, the importance of attending ILE has elevated from “important” to “vital.” This is part of the Army’s standard Professional Military Education (PME).
III. FAO Assignment Types. There are, broadly speaking, five categories of jobs filled by FAOs, and while DA Pam 600-3 lists the job titles, it provides neither job descriptions nor explanations of the various organizations where these jobs are found. Of note, there is no specified career progression pattern for FAOs, nor is there any particular job that is considered “key developmental.” While there is gossip that some jobs favor promotion more than others, senior leaders are always careful to point out that promotion hinges not on the job, but on the manner in which the job is performed.
1. Overseas US Country Team. The FAO jobs in our overseas embassies fall into two categories: Defense Attaché Office (DAO) and Security Assistance/Security Cooperation (SA/SC). No two country teams are alike; mission requirements dictate manning strength.
Defense Attaché Office (DAO): The senior position in the DAO is the Defense Attaché (DATT), who is typically an O-5 or O-6, and depending on the size and importance of the embassy the DATT has a staff. The senior Army officer working for the DATT is called Army Attaché (ARMA), and his helpers are called Assistant Army Attachés (A/ARMAs). The other branches have different terms for their officers (for example, the Marine Attaché is the MARA), but regardless of branch, these assistants all perform the same function on the staff of the DATT – One Team! The DATT has two primary functions: (1) serve as the representative of the US Secretary of Defense in that country, and (2) serve as the military advisor to the ambassador. These tasks are essential because many State Department workers have little or no knowledge of military affairs. Additional functions of this office include Distinguished Visitor (DV) escort, coordination/approval authority for US Military aircraft and personnel entering the country, and various other reporting requirements. DATTs, although physically located inside the border of some COCOM Commander’s territory, report to the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and have no reporting responsibility to the COCOM.
Security Assistance/Security Cooperation (SA/SC): COCOMs extend influence into most countries by maintaining an office that does report to them. The names of these offices vary from COCOM to COCOM, but they each have the same essential function (for example, EUCOM calls them Offices of Defense Cooperation (ODC), but CENTCOM calls them Offices of Military Cooperation (OMC), etc…). For the purposes of this paragraph, I’m going to use ODC. The senior position is the ODC Chief, typically an O-5 or O-6, and again depending on the size and importance of the embassy the ODC Chief has a staff, and the office is usually physically located near the host nation Ministry of Defense (MoD) and not in the embassy. In countries with ODC presence, COCOMs strike an agreement with the host nation (a contract bound by military integrity and good-faith) in a document called a Country Campaign Plan (CCP), which is nested in greater US foreign policy and spells out COCOM objectives for that state. For example, in many of the states of the former Soviet Union, EUCOM is trying to help develop the institution of the NCO Corps (which never existed in Soviet military culture). In this example, an NCO Corps helps the host nation military conform to NATO interoperability standards (doctrinally), and this benefits both the host nation (by serving as a pre-requisite to receiving the NATO Membership Action Plan (MAP) and developing the military along western principles) and it benefits EUCOM by building partnership capacity (which can be harnessed for use in Afghanistan and Iraq, for example). The ODC’s responsibilities, in fulfillment of the CCP, are to handle Foreign Military Sales (FMS) (ie.. selling weapon systems and other military hardware to the host nation); sending host nation soldiers to US military schools on a program called International Military Education and Training (IMET); coordinate for US Mobile Training Teams (MTTs) to train the host nation on some specific task; and a host of other programs all connected with the theme of security cooperation and security assistance.
Recent DoD policy has created a new position on the Country Team called the Senior Defense Official (SDO). Instead of providing an additional officer, however, this policy simply names one of the two key military officers (either the DATT or ODC Chief) as the SDO and, therefore, the senior military officer in country. It seems that this responsibility falls most frequently to the DATT, and although to most military minds the concept of “unity of command” seems quite reasonable, this new policy has been met with a degree of criticism. As I noted previously, the DATT reports to DIA and the ODC reports to the COCOM; therefore these two officers, although living and working in the same foreign capital, have completely divergent chains-of-command, authorities, and responsibilities.
2. Army Operational. FAO operational billets exist in the staff elements of the Army Service Component Command (ASCC) J5s (for example: US Army Europe (USAREUR) in Heidelberg), Corps Headquarters, and Army Staff. Officers in these jobs often server as “desk officers” for a particular (or sometimes multiple) states, and in this capacity they are the primary link between the ODC and the Command. Being closer to the apex of decision making, they are the commander’s subject-matter-expert (SME) on a country, the ODC’s voice to the command on matters concerning the Country Campaign Plan (CCP) (remember, the CCP is between the COCOM and the Host Nation), they help shape command policy based on events occurring in country, and they help the ODC resolve logistic issues. Far from being a wasted billet, these staff positions are critical because although the COCOM has tasking authority and funding, it’s the Army Operational Commands that own people!!
3. Political-Military. These billets exist in the “Joint” world – Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD), Joint Staff, National Security Council, Department of State (DoS), Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA), Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), and combatant commands (COCOMs). FAOs working in these jobs essentially perform the same jobs as for the Army Operational category, with the exception of the fact that they (1) are “joint” (meaning that the command serves the DoD at large and all services are represented) and (2) are concerned more with policy and strategy than with troops and tactics. DTRA is specific to the 48E (Eurasia) community because it specifically deals with treaty verification (which currently only exists in the context of US-Russia relations). Officers working for DTRA frequently travel into the states of the former Soviet Union to verify that states are conforming to the tenets of a particular treaty. For example, when the Russian Duma ratifies the new Strategic Arms Treaty (which should occur very soon (this article being written on 11 Jan 2011) and which, I believe, will be called START III) FAOs working for DTRA (who serve as Team Leaders) will receive the mission to travel to sites inside Russia where strategic nuclear weapons are deployed to (literally) count warheads. Team members consist of exceptional Russian linguists specifically trained on treaty language.
4. Broadening. Assignments of this type exist in a “gray” area – sort of belonging to the FAO community, but something thought of as outside the normal FAO assignment. For example, Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) Commander; MiTT Commander; Afghanistan-Pakistan (Af-Pak) Hands; and others. Because the FAO is trained in the art of maneuvering through foreign cultures, FAOs tend to be considered for these types of jobs (which frequently accompany a deployment).
5. Institutional. Finally, someone has to run the Army as an institution, and the FAO frequently meets the bill on this account. A FAO with a staff of more FAOs leads our section of HRC; the DLI commander and many of his/her staff are FAOs; foreign language instructors at both West Point and the Air Force Academy are FAOs; TRADOC has several FAOs serving as liaison officers with other allied/partner nations; FAOs serve as Presidential translators; and FAOs serve as professors at various levels of Professional Military Education (PME) such as CGSC and the War College.
In conclusion, please remember that the purpose of this blog is to generate professional discussion – questions are encouraged. I am obligated to state, at this point, that I have written this blog (although it truly came from the heart) in fulfillment of Combined General Staff College (CGSC), Intermediate Level Education (ILE) requirements. Once again, I do not speak for Army Human Resources Command (HRC); this is from my own experiences. I did not have the benefit of this type of explanatory article when I received instructions to choose a Career Field Designation (CFD). My hope is that this blog can help someone facing that career decision. Good luck!