Navy seeks officers to serve abroad as naval attachés
By David B. Larter
DA NANG, Vietnam (April 22, 2013) Lt. Cmdr. Brent Freeman, left, naval attache to the American Embassy in Hanoi, speaks with a member of the Vietnam People's Navy during an official call in support of a naval exchange activity. The exchange provides opportunities for U.S. and Vietnamese naval professionals to share best practices and exchange maritime skills. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Jay C. Pugh/Released)
Foreign postings, cocktail parties, diplomats and intrigue — the foreign area officer program has a tinge of James Bond to it, especially for sailors on gray hulls. And they have some good news: they're hiring. has it may not exactthe Navy's foreign area officers have a tinge of the James BIf rubbing shoulders with the leaders of a foreign military and boosting your diplomatic cred sounds good, the Navy Iis hiring.
The FAO foreign area officer community is adding about 50 positions over the next three years to serve as naval attaches and security experts overseas, growing from 360 in 2016 to 405 in 2019, and you don't even have to speak a foreign language, said Rear Admiral Todd Squire, the Navy's director of international engagement, but they are only looking for top candidates.
"Like anything in the Navy, sustained superior performance is what counts, especially when you are what we call a new-build FAO," Squire said in an interview. "When we do that, we will get you a master's degree, we will teach you a foreign language and we will send you in-country for some [overseas] experience."
Work for FAOs OA'scan ranges from working in plans and policy planning offices stateside, to overseas duty as a naval or defense attache and serving as a liaison with foreign militaries. to working overseas on host-nation military modernization programs, to working as the U.S. naval or defense attaché in a foreign country, Squire said.
During the day, attacheés work with other U.S. agencies to make sure efforts in the country are synched up. FAOsFOAs working on modernization programs are often called upon to manage military capabilities or hardware programs sold to the host nation, coordinating logistical and maintenance support.
Don't expect to knock off work in the afternoon. Attaches are expected to attend frequent cocktail parties to meeting dignitaries dignataries socially and are expected to keep their dressiest uniforms in tip-top shape.
"It sounds really neat at first, until you are going to about four or five of these per week," Squire said. "And the fact that you were out at a cocktail party until 10 or 11 [p.m.] at night doesn't mean the ambassador's meeting at 8 [a.m.] the next morning is going to be any later."
A FAO's work can be particularly exciting in countries with risingemergent security threats, such as in Eastern Europe, Squire said.
For attachée's, a polished set of dress uniforms is a must for the steady stream of cocktail parties that count as official engagement between nations in a social setting.
"If a nation feels threatened and is looking for the United States to assist in their concerns, they are going to get very close to you and you'll have a very close relationship with the host nation's government and you'll see it at very high levels," Squire said.
Squire, who joined the FAO ranks in 2005, said he recently had a FAO commander in Eastern Europe who fielded a call from the head of the country's navy, asking for a meeting to discuss investments to to what kind of Navy he would need to invest in to respond to threats by 2025.
"That's pretty powerful, and as a commander you are talking to the host nation's head of the Navy and he wants you to help determine the strategic direction of his force," Squire said. "In my mind, that's not stressful, that's neat."
Officer's looking to become an a FAO can be from any community, said Squire, who is a former EA-6B pilot, and must apply through the lateral transfer board. Those boards meet in June and November, and typically applications are due 60 days ahead of the board. Officers from all communities with eight-to-12 years in are invited to apply, Squire said.
Of the officers who applied for the latest round of selection, most spoke either a foreign language or had a masters degrees, but officers with great top performance records from all communities are still encouraged to apply," Squire said.
Squire said that because the community is growing and it is the right time to join up.
"We are required to access 46 officers a year, per year, through 2019," he said. "So now is the time, the poker is hot."
About David B. Larter
David B. Larter was the naval warfare reporter for Defense News.