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 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. AF FAOs are either traditionally developed through a vigorous pipeline of academic and immersive language, culture, and strategic training or recruited through Direct Accession (DA) from among those candidates who already have the requisite skills and experience of a certified FAO. Some academic programs such as Olmsted or Mansfield Scholarships and Overseas Developmental Education exchanges may also lead to additional development and certification as an Air Force FAO.
For more information, please visit the Air Force International Affairs website (https://www.safia.hq.af.mil/Force-Development/International-Affairs-Specialist/)