What is a FAO?


A Foreign Area Officer (FAO) is a commissioned officer within the United States armed forces that is a regionally focused expert 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. A 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 vary by service branch. 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 (or in some cases, international affairs officers) to address their specific needs.


Army FAOs

The Army FAO program is the oldest and best established of the services. Like most of their counterparts in other services, Army FAOs transition from their primary career field to a full-time FAO career track. The typical Army FAO first attends the Defense Language Institute (DLI) for 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. In-country immersion gives new FAOs the opportunity to build on the language program from DLI as well as increase their knowledge of their assigned 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 university that specializes in regional security studies. For more information on the Army FAO program, please visit the  Army FAO Proponent office*. *Note:  this website is CAC-enabled.

Navy FAOs

The Navy FAO program is similar to the Army, in that members transition from their original primary career field to a full-time FAO career track.  Navy FAOs 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, Senior Defense Official/Defense Attaché, Naval Attaché, Security Assistance Officer, Joint, Fleet and Interagency Staffs, as well as Liaison Officers to foreign militaries.  The leadership, regional expertise, local contact, and unity of effort provided by Navy FAOs extends from the low end of conflict (day-to-day competition) to the high end (war).

Officers are accessed into the community via the Active Duty Lateral Transfer and Redesignation Board.  The FAO Community seeks officers with a minimum of 5 years of commissioned service (YCS).  Officers should be within 18 months of PRD to be accepted as a FAO and must be available for overseas PCS at next PRD.  Qualified Restricted Line and Staff Corps officers may also apply.  Qualified applicants must be due course and have demonstrated sustained superior performance within their parent warfighting community as well as strong international experience and linguistic aptitude.

To learn more about the requirements and deadlines to apply to be a Navy FAO, check here.

To learn more about the Navy FAO community, please click here.

Marine FAOs

The Marine Corps is the only service branch that continues to use a "dual-track" program for its FAOs, meaning that officers must balance their primary MOS requirements with their FAO assignments.  The USMC FAO program is one portfolio of international affairs programs managed by the Marine Corps International Affairs Programs (IAP).  IAP is advocating with the Marine Corp's Intelligence Information Division (IID) to create a single-track International Affairs MOS for FAOs, but in the interim, the dual-track model still applies for FAOs.

IAP identifies, develops and manages a professionalized cadre of subject matter experts in regionally focused political-military affairs who will possess advanced education in regional security studies, regional experience, and advanced linguistic skills. In order to serve as leaders, principle staff, planners, and advisers on capabilities for assignments on tactical, operational, and strategic-level staffs, joint and combined assignments, and for duty with interagency organizations in order to improve Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF) plans, operations, security cooperation, and intelligence efforts.  IAP Marines, including FAOs, will be primary nominees from the USMC to serve as Marine and defense attachés, security assistance officers, and regional plans/policies staff officers. IAP is responsible for selection, designation and assignment of Marines to the following programs:

(1) Foreign Area Officer (FAO)

(2) Regional Affairs Officer (RAO)

(3) Foreign Area Staff Noncommissioned Officer (FAS)

(4) Personnel Exchange Program (PEP)

For information on the US Marine Corp FAO and Regional Affairs Officer (RAO) programs, please visit the USMC International Affairs Branch.

Air Force FAOs

On January 15, 2022, the Air Force took a huge step in transitioning their FAO program from exclusively “dual track” to offering a primary MOS. This change was the latest positive step in the Air Force's evolution of its FAO program. The Air Force has historically had an informal International Affairs sub-specialty for which they provided advanced education and language training.  In the mid-1990s, based upon DoD guidance, the Air Force initiated a formal designated Foreign Area Officer (FAO) program, albeit without the supporting career infrastructure and management of the Army model.  By 2005, it became 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.  Air Force created the International Affairs Specialist (IAS) program to replace the FAO program and deliberately developed (select, train, assign) officers with international affairs expertise while keeping them viable and competitive in their primary AFSC development track. The program consisted of Regional Affairs Strategists (RAS) and Political Affairs Strategists (PAS).  In 2015, the Air Force renamed the program the Air Force FAO program to re-align the naming convention of the Air Force IAS (RAS/PAS) system with that used by DoD and the other services. 

For more information on how to become an Air Force FAO or for additional resources for current Air Force FAOs, please click here*. *Note: this website is CAC-enabled. 

Coast Guard

Coast Guard officers interested in FAO/international Affairs issues can apply for sub-specialty in International Affairs (CG-SEI14).  International Affairs Subspecialty Officers coordinate and execute USCG international affairs and support U.S. foreign policy efforts through engagements with Foreign Governments, U.S. Interagency, Embassies, Office of Secretary of Defense, DOD Combatant CDRS and Components, CGHQ Programs, and Area/District Staffs. International Affairs Subspecialty Officers execute the Commandant's international strategic intent. International Affairs Subspecialty Officers also develop, implement, and/or influence USCG, DHS, DoS, and DOD international engagement strategies; manage DOD Security Assistance program projects; negotiate international agreements; work in Foreign Military Sales and/or transfer of Excess Defense Articles; participate in deliberations with international organizations; arrange/ support capacity building activities including training of foreign personnel; serve as a member of U.S. Embassy Country Team (COGATT, CGLO, SDO/DATT, SCO, Maritime Advisor); serve on a joint staff/COCOM promoting USCG international engagements; and serve in the IPS Program.

For more information, please check out the Coast Guard's official website here.

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