What is a FAO?
A Foreign Area Officer (FAO) is a commissioned officer from any of the four branches of the United States armed forces who are regionally-focused experts in political-military operations possessing a unique combination of strategic focus, regional expertise, with political, cultural, sociological, economic, and geographic awareness, and foreign language proficiency in at least one of the dominant languages in their specified region. An FAO will typically serve overseas tours as a defense attaché, a security assistance officer, or as a political-military planner in a service's headquarters, Joint Staff, Major Commands, Unified Combatant Commands, or in agencies of the Department of Defense. They also serve as arms control specialists, country desk officers, liaison officers, and Personal Exchange Program officers to host nations or coalition allies. Roles and responsibilities of FAOs are extensive and varied. They advise senior leaders on political-military operations and relations with other nations, provide cultural expertise to forward-deployed commands conducting military operations, build and maintain long-term relationships with foreign leaders, develop and coordinate security cooperation, execute security assistance programs with host nations, and develop reports on diplomatic, information, military, and economic activities. Each branch has its own process for developing Foreign Area Officers to address their specific needs.
The Army FAO program is the oldest and best established of the services. Unlike their counterparts in other services, the Army FAO transitions from his primary career field to a full-time FAO career track. The typical Army FAO first attends the Defense Language Institute (DLI) for his language training and then follows with a year of in-country immersion. During the immersion, the Army FAO is given a travel budget to manage to visit the country and surrounding region. He thereby is afford extended opportunity to build on the language program from DLI as well as increase his knowledge of the region.
Following a one-year immersion, the Army FAO generally returns to the US and enters a master's program either at the Naval Post Graduate School or some other institute that specializes in regional security studies. For more information on the Army FAO program, please visit the Army FAO Proponent Office.
For information on the US Marine Corp FAO and Regional Affairs Officer (RAO) programs, please visit the USMC International Issues Branch. And here is a detailed document from the Commandant of the Marine Corps on the Defense Attache System, including how to apply and duties of the position.
To achieve national security objectives and success in current and future operations, including The Long War, the United States Navy must be prepared to conduct operations in a variety of geographic, economic, cultural and political circumstances, and across the entire range of military operations. Of particular importance to the naval service, whose forces are forward deployed to shape events unfolding overseas, is detailed regional knowledge of these operating environments, including the ability to communicate effectively with both friends and foes in the area.
The goal of the Foreign Area Officer (FAO) Program is to produce a cadre of officers with the skills required to manage and analyze politico-military activities overseas. FAOs will serve as regional specialists on fleet staffs, defense and naval attachés, security assistance officers, mobile training team officers and foreign war college students or personnel exchange program office.
Check out the Navy FAO Community website!
Air Force RASs/PASs
The dynamic and evolving global security environment challenges us to perform our mission under an expeditionary concept requiring rapid, world-wide deployment. To ensure our continued success in this environment, we need a cadre of International Affairs Specialists with the insight and skills to build effective relationships with global partners. A review of the former Foreign Area Officer (FAO) program made it clear that a transformation was needed. Under the old FAO program, officers were not developed sufficiently nor managed effectively to become foreign area experts and most faced significant career progression hurdles for serving outside of their primary AFSC. The new International Affairs Specialist (IAS) program replaces the FAO program and deliberately develops (selects, trains, assigns) officers with international affairs expertise while keeping them viable and competitive in their primary AFSC development track. The program consists of Regional Affairs Strategists (RAS) and Political Affairs Strategists (PAS).
For more information, check out the Air Force International Affairs website.