Captain John Tempone is a Middle East/North Africa (MENA) FAO currently assigned to Marine Forces Central Command and working as a Theater Security Cooperation Officer. His area of focus for MARCENT is the Arabian Gulf.
August 28, 2011
I’ve just begun working at MARCENT this week in what is my first full utilization tour as a FAO. I’m going to be working on security cooperation issues in the Arabian Gulf and my counterparts are working on the Levant and Central Asia.
You may have noticed that Central Asia is one of our areas of focus at MARCENT, but as a MENA FAO it is somewhat outside of my own area of training. As a FAO, you need to be a true generalist and ready to apply your training and education in areas outside of your comfort zone. In fact, before I began working at MARCENT I spent one year in Helmand Province, Afghanistan working as the FAO for I MEF (FWD) G-2. I worked in the Political Section at the Helmand Provincial Reconstruction Team. I had daily interactions with Afghan government officials and tribal elders, much of which was done using basic Pashto language skills that I learned at a two month immersion course taught at San Diego State University (SDSU). This was several years after graduating from the Arabic Basic Course at the Defense Language Institute. The below picture is of me at an informal meeting in Kajaki District with a member of the Helmand Provincial Council.
When I returned from Afghanistan and before beginning work here at MARCENT I was able to take advantage of two unique opportunities that became available to me because of my background as a FAO. First, I was invited to attend a conference on transition in Helmand Province at King’s College in London by the RAND Corporation. Along with other colleagues, I was able to speak on a panel about the challenges to transition based on my experiences there; focusing on the role of local security agreements as a way to achieve near term security.
Secondly, I realized that after working in my primary job field (Military Police) for 18 months and then working for the MEF and focusing on Afghanistan for 12 months I needed to brush up on my Arabic skills before starting work at MARCENT. After selecting a full time Arabic program at SDSU my command granted me the opportunity to attend the course on a permissive temporary assigned duty basis (which means the orders were at no cost to the government). The course itself was excellent with a very qualified instructor and motivated students. I found that the course material complimented what I learned at DLI and also exposed me to concepts (especially grammar concepts) that were entirely new. I highly recommend the SDSU Language Acquisition Resource Center to FAOs looking to brush up on their language skills. SDSU offers many courses, including Arabic, Pashto, and Farsi.
1 October 2011
The Arab Legion in the 21st Century
My colleague and fellow Middle East Foreign Area Officer, Major Peter Munson was in Amman, Jordan last week. He was there assisting in our on-going partnering efforts to help prepare the Jordanian Armed Forces (JAF) for their deployment to Afghanistan. While reading the Jordanian daily newspaper Ad-Dustour (in Arabic), Peter read an article, which you see below, announcing the arrival of the Jordanian Protection Force to Helmand Province, Afghanistan. This article represents the “ends” of what are aiming to do with security cooperation in the region.
Jordan has a long history as a moderate Arab country that actively partners with the West in order to build a capable and respected military, and to use that military in a constructive manner. Today we can see the tangible benefits of this partnership in the many deployments the Jordanians have made to Afghanistan, other world hotspots as peacekeepers, and recently flying combat air patrols over Libya. In the FAO community, T.E. Lawrence’s book “Seven Pillars of Wisdom” is often read for inspiration. While it is an entertaining read, I’d point FAOs or anyone else interested in security cooperation to Sir John Bagot Glubb’s “A Soldier with the Arabs.” It is a first hand account of his instrumental efforts to build the army of Trans-Jordan, the Arab Legion. Jordanian officers have long since replaced western ones, but the partnership remains. I myself was lucky enough to attend a six-week urban fighting course run by the Jordanian Special Forces in Zarqa, Jordan during the in-country training period of my FAO education.
Another benefit of our strong partnership with the Jordanians is the “strategic messaging” affect that reaches a regional and even global audience. Oftentimes, Western military intervention is seen to be a part of “neo-colonialism” or efforts to exert our foreign policy aims or even culture on someone else. To avoid these “clash of civilizations” perceptions, the U.S. recognizes that we must fight as coalitions, partnering with capable and diverse foreign militaries. We can’t measure success with quantitative analysis, but when I see articles like this in the local newspaper I suspect that domestic audiences must be proud that their sons and daughters (Jordan is one of the most progressive Arab states when it comes to integrating women into the security sector) are equal partners with Western militaries, fighting far from home. Seeing Jordanians, Afghans, Iraqis, or any other foreign military forces assuming a meaningful role in national or regional military operations is much preferred to the image of Western soldiers patrolling the Arab Street and this is the essence of our security cooperation efforts.
21 November 2011
You can probably tell from reading these blogs that FAOs get to travel to exotic locations throughout the world. It is no doubt one of the most exciting aspects of being a FAO. I’ve heard about an Army FAO who traveled the Trans-Siberian Railway and one of my friends, a Farsi FAO, traveled the fabled Silk Road to the Registan Madrasahs of Samarkand. This month was no exception for me; I journeyed from Tampa to 29 Palms, California!
It was actually a great trip. As I blogged about in last month’s post it is tremendously satisfying to see Security Cooperation activities move from concept to reality. I was at 29 Palms for an after action review on some recent training completed by the Presidential Guard Unit of the United Arab Emirates. Like the Jordanian task force mentioned last month, the Emirati military has made great strides in modernizing and professionalizing their armed forces. When I was in Helmand Province, Afghanistan last year I was surprised to find Emirati soldiers there as well, in fact they are serving in a very dangerous and critically important area of the province.
This is not a new development in U.S./Emirati relations. For years now both governments have worked closely to promote regional stability and strengthen economic ties. In fact last week at the Dubai Air Show, Boeing Company secured its biggest deal in history with an $18 billion order from the Emirates. Considering the location of the UAE ( it sits astride one of the most critical choke points in the world, the Strait of Hormuz, from which approximately 40% of the world’s oil supply passes), it is imperative to maintain this relationship.
The Presidential Guard Unit is a relatively new organization within the United Arab Emirates and our Marine Corps is actively partnering with them to build their capacity and capability. Marine advisors can found from the capital city of Abu Dhabi to the booming metropolis of Dubai, working closely with their Emirati counterparts, including the Presidential Guard Marine Group.
The training evolution was conducted last month by a company from the Presidential Guard Unit and represents a major step forward for the young force. They were able to deploy from the UAE, half way around the world to partner with a U.S. Marine infantry company for two weeks, working on basic infantry skills from individual marksmanship all the way to a platoon level live fire attack. Getting to that point on Range 410 for the platoon attack took several months of planning, coordination, and training between Americans and Emiratis.
As you can see from the pictures though, it’s not just about selling equipment or training; it’s about building relationships and increasing cross-cultural awareness. The Marines and the Emiratis held a warrior night together; this was a great event after two weeks of intense training in the desert. The Emirati soldiers also had the chance to travel to Los Angeles for a day of tourism. Moments like this are priceless, whether you’re American or Arab, in this age of globalization we live one must have a broad awareness and acceptance of cultures different from our own.
Emirati Presidential Guard Unit Solider during a live-fire and maneuver exercise at Range 410, 29 Palms
PG Company Commander speaking at the joint mess night between US Marines and PG soldiers, also at 29 Palms.
13 December 2011
Major Peter J. Munson wrote this month's blog entry. Major Munson is a Middle East/North Africa FAO and he works alongside me at MARCENT. He is the desk officer for the Levant Region and as such covers Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, Egypt, and Iraq. Peter is the author of Iraq in Transition and maintains his own blog on national security and economic issues; peterjmunson.blogspot.com. His entry is below, enjoy!
Perhaps the best part of being a Marine foreign area officer (FAO) is the opportunity to operate independently, doing unique things. This November, I traveled to Beirut, Lebanon to carry out the duties of my billet as Levant Security Cooperation (SC) Desk Officer at U.S. Marine Forces, Central Command. SC desk officers plan and coordinate the SC activities between Marine and partner forces. These activities include exercises, combined training, seminars and conferences, and other military-to-military exchanges. I was in Lebanon to visit training facilities and evaluate opportunities for future cooperation.
Few U.S. military members get the opportunity to travel to Lebanon. Due to force protection concerns there, stemming from a legacy of high profile bombings, kidnappings, and attacks, military presence and freedom of movement in Lebanon is very limited. There is not even a Marine Security Guard detachment at the Embassy there. Nonetheless, U.S. Marines engage with our partner forces there in an attempt to share our professionalism and our values. These engagements are all the more important given the instability that continues to haunt the country. Our partners are the ones to keep the peace and stand the front lines when situations should arise.
While some militaries in the region are less than serious, our partners in Lebanon take their mission seriously, from the top down. Lacking a non-commissioned officer corps as we know it, Lebanese officers lead from the front, quite literally, with high casualty rates to show it. While this is perhaps not the preferred method, it nonetheless reflects positively on a dedication to country and mission that makes our interactions very positive.
My trip was a site survey, which meant that my interaction with our partners was limited. What interaction I did have with Lebanese officers, however, was extremely positive. While some have concerns with the government of Lebanon, the military itself is very professional and truly happy to work with us. The visit got me outside of the Embassy and even beyond Beirut, as we drove north, south, east, and west, traveling to various installations. Lebanon is tragically beautiful. Mountains overlook Beirut, which sits along the sea. The geography is stunning, but it also provided a plethora of artillery positions from which militias and armies could range the city. The scars of the civil war there can still be seen everywhere on the buildings left standing. It was in this bowl that the Marines of the 24th Marine Amphibious Unit came to conduct a peacekeeping mission and found themselves in the middle of a war.
The Marines presented a lucrative target. On October 23, 1983, a massive truck bomb struck the battalion landing team barracks building at the Beirut International Airport, early on a Sunday morning. Two hundred and forty-one Americans were killed. Despite this most tragic day of the Marine Corps’ long history with Lebanon, the Corps is still committed to engaging with forces that, like us, stand ready to confront the very real threats that lurk in that part of the world.