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Foreign Area Officers (FAO)

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Updated August 20, 2006

The Army is seeking commissioned officers to volunteer for the special duty of Foreign Area Officer. The Army is working to increase its Foreign Area Officer corps by 30 percent to improve relationships between U.S. and foreign militaries.

Often described as Soldier-statesman, FAOs spend more than half their careers in foreign embassies serving as attachés, security assistance officers, staff advisors on military affairs and operations, and liaison officers to foreign militaries.

The FAO training program lasts three to four years and combines language studies, in-country training and graduate studies. Each officer receives six to 18 months of training in a foreign language, followed by a year of immersion training in a country in the officer’s area of concentration. After in-country training, the candidate earns a graduate degree in an area specific to his or her FAO duties. Candidates who already have significant experience or education may be given waivers to decrease training time.

FAOs combine military skills with specific regional expertise, language competency and political-military awareness to represent the Army and advance U.S. interests in one of nine areas: Latin America, Europe, South Asia, Eurasia, China, Middle East and North Africa, Northeast Asia, Southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

Col. Daniel Fagundes, chief of the FAO proponent said FAO candidates – like Special Forces contenders – must be exceptional Soldiers with strong cultural, linguistic and military intellects.

“You also have to like to interface with people and feel comfortable living and working in different cultures and environments,” he said. “It takes almost a chameleon-like personality. You never move away from being an Army officer, but you have to be able to understand and work closely with civilians and military people from other countries.”

Maj. Cainaz Vakharia recently completed in-country training in India. Adaptability and linguistic abilities are absolutes, she said.

“You also have to be someone who is open to other cultures. That can be difficult because we have been born and raised in our own value systems, so the FAO has to be open to other cultures and know what’s important to the host country,” she said.

“When I went to the Indian Defense Staff College I was interacting, in their language, with officers from 30 nations and about 350 Indian officers from their Army, Navy and Air Force,” she added. “We exchanged ideas and perspectives on many subjects, like how we do military operations and how they do theirs.”

According to Fagundes, the FAO is best described as a “pentathelete.”

“We need officers who can operate across a wide spectrum of operations and challenges,” he said. “FAOs must also be well-grounded in operations and in their basic branches, whether that’s logistics, military intelligence, Special Forces, infantry, armor… whatever their branch.”

More information is available at www.fao.army.mil.

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