Dear FAO Colleagues,
I had the pleasure of speaking to a group of new Army FAOs at the FAO Orientation Course, which was held from July 14-16 at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, CA. The audience was comprised of senior Captains and junior Majors who were just starting out on their FAO careers, beginning with language training at DLI. I was impressed by the enthusiasm of the audience and, judging by the number of right-sleeve patches, this was an experienced group of combat seasoned officers. So language training should be a piece of cake!
I thought I would share with you some of the opening remarks I made at the course. They reflect a few of the personal observations I have made over the years. I hope they were able to provoke some thought and provide some useful insights:
Understand the world you are entering. You have all had successful careers in the Army. Otherwise you would not have been selected to be a FAO. However, you need to recognize that, for the most part, you have left the tactical and operational Army. Beginning now, you are entering the joint, interagency, multi-governmental, and multinational environment, which will place different demands on you. A key to success will be an ability to draw from your knowledge, experience, and judgment to be able to provide senior decision-makers with informed advice, analysis, and recommendations. Learn to write and communicate effectively!
Grow networks. You will continue to count on the peers that you meet in language training long after you complete FAO training. Develop and nurture what in many cases will become long-lasting relationships. You will meet lots of people – both military and civilian – who could play an important role in your future. To illustrate, one of the professors in my program at graduate school is now my boss – a Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense – and the Ambassador under whom I served in U.S. Embassy Moscow is my next higher boss – an Assistant Secretary of Defense. Build relationships!
Develop your skills. Keep in mind the three pillars of Leader Development: institutional training, operational assignments, and self development. The Army will provide the initial tools required to help you succeed: language training, advanced civil schooling, and in-country training, but it will be incumbent on you to continue your professional FAO development throughout your career. Operational assignments will play an important role, but self development is critical. Maintain your intellectual curiosity!
Advocate. The good news is that FAO is a successful brand name with a solid reputation. However, most FAO assignments exist in the joint world and are therefore largely invisible to “Big Army.” Advocate for FAO by sharing our good news stories!
Gary Espinas Colonel, U.S. Army