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Check out what life is like as a FAO throughout the different phases of their training...
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Captain Quinn is a Judge Advocate General in training to be a Middle East Foreign Area Officer. He is currently at the Defense Language Institute developing language skills in Dari.

12 August 2011

Hello all…I’m Captain Seamus Quinn, a FAO in-training at DLI. I started Persian-Dari instruction just last week, though there will be very little actual instruction in the language for the first week or so. As always and everywhere, the first few days at a new command are dominated by administration and other welcome aboard requirements. Some of the DLI requirements— basic introduction to culture and history of your target language population, advice on study habits, and lectures on how to be a good soldier (the Army owns the school, after all)- can seem a bit tedious to Marine officers with college and deployments and NPS behind them, but there’s a method to the madness. The vast majority of students at DLI are linguists in training, from all services, just out of basic training. The earliest days of the course are geared very much toward them. Of course, even this orientation week is an opportunity to excel: getting through it shows, yet again, that Marines can handle anything.

I’ve attached a picture of the Berlin Wall memorial here at DLI. It sits in a small courtyard outside the multi-language schoolhouse, just a short walk from the MarDet. It seems to me a good reminder that the FAO/RAO mission— thorough knowledge of our enemies and sustained engagement with our allies— has contributed to great victories in the past. Victory in the Cold War did not always seem certain. But for forty years we persevered, and the Berlin Wall started coming down in earnest in the early morning hours of 10 November 1989. Coincidence?

8 October 2011

Harry Paget Flashman, the “hero” of George MacDonald Fraser’s series of historical novels about a 19th century British Army officer, was under no illusions about the content of his character. He matter-of-factly described himself as “a scoundrel, a liar, a cheat, a thief, a coward—and oh yes, a toady." But Flashy was proud of two talents: horsemanship and an otherworldly flair for languages. Good horsemanship is easy enough to believe, but his claim to the ability to master any language upon hearing just a few words is more difficult to credit.

Learning a new language is not easy. It may come easier to some people than others, but rare—even non-existent, I think- is the adult who can learn a new language without concentrated effort and plenty of patience. Immersion in the target language culture is the best way to learn a new language, of course. A great advantage of the Corps’ FAO program is the opportunity for exactly that- ICT. But getting there, while satisfying, is not entirely pleasant. DLI’s courses are intense and demanding. As an undergraduate I took language courses, but they were just like any other course. The class met two or three days a week for an hour or hour and a half at a time. In other words, the pace was leisurely. Not so at DLI. The pace of learning here is much faster. Seven or eight hours a day of in-class instruction from native target language speakers followed by two or three hours of absolutely essential homework. The homework is essential not merely because it is a military and academic requirement, but because it often covers in depth material which might have only been touched upon during that day. Miss one night of homework, and you fall very far behind the next day’s expectations.

The workload is far from unmanageable, but it does take some getting used to, especially after the more familiar, post-graduate education level pace of work at the Naval Postgraduate School. For a Marine officer, the aspect of DLI which perhaps takes the most getting used to, and calls for the most patience, professionalism, humility and even sense of humor, is adjusting to the fact that the junior servicemembers with whom you study (DLI curriculum is designed to train military linguists, and accommodates FAOs to the best of its ability) might seem to be picking things up more quickly. This can be frustrating, but it is natural. No two people learn a new language at the same pace or in exactly the same way. That said, early preparation helps to minimize the frustration and friction which are part of learning a new language, at least at the beginning. Several great resources are out there to help a prospective FAO to get a head start on language training. Knowing simple greetings and basic grammar in the target language on day 1 at DLI helps immensely. The following links to a DLI-endorsed resource, but there are a lot of other great language learning tools out there besides. http://gloss.dliflc.edu/Default.aspx. Finally, DLI has a long and impressive record of training linguists. Trust in its system pays dividends. Also, a FAO-in-training is generally a class leader and, depending on the target language, has some influence on the training of as many as one hundred servicemembers. Seeing them succeed is very satisfying.

Studying a language at DLI is full of ups and downs. Avoiding the pitfall of language study consuming your life, while at the same time not letting complacency hurt your performance, can be a delicate balancing act. Spending time with family in the beautiful Monterey area and PT-ing are two things which should help any Marine officer keep a sense of perspective, and good humor. But just in case not, we can follow what should have been advice from President Abraham Lincoln: “When all other trusts fail, turn to Flashman.”

17 January 2012

The past few months at DLI have been remarkable for a number of reasons, none of which, fortunately, relate to my own language training. As I’ve alluded to in previous installments, language training is a marathon, not a sprint. Deep reserves of patience and good old-fashioned stubbornness are necessary for success. My wife is admittedly judging from a small sample, but she is confident that deficits in the patience department can be made up by stubbornness.

For Marines, the most significant event at DLI in the past few months was a change of command at the Marine Detachment. In November, Lieutenant Colonel Kenneth Enney turned over command to Lieutenant Colonel Edward Sullivan. The change of command coincided with LtCol Enney’s retirement from the Marine Corps after a long and successful career marked most recently by his tremendous leadership of the DLI MarDet. More than 500 Marines are here at DLI, studying dozens of different languages. Eventually these Marines head off to the fleet in a variety of capacities, the vast majority of which are intelligence related. LtCol Enney, as a decorated intelligence officer, was an excellent leader for these Marines. LtCol Enney was a Foreign Area Officer as well, and as such a wonderful mentor for those of us who have come into the FAO/RAO community in the last few years. He was, and remains, a great advocate for the FAO/RAO mission, and will be missed.

His successor, LtCol Sullivan, has hit the ground running as CO of the MarDet. LtCol Sullivan, who likely needs no introduction to the FAO/RAO community, comes to the DLI MarDet from the attaché billet in Oman and will be short-touring here since he has been selected for command of an intelligence battalion. Every day LtCol Sullivan has command here will benefit DLI’s Marines greatly, as evidenced most recently by the motivating field meet the MarDet conducted this past Friday at the start of the Martin Luther King, Jr Day Holiday. LtCol Sullivan and his staff- Maj Kaskovich, Capt Bowers, CWO4 Ostermann, MGySgt Capps, and GySgt Brown- put together a great series of events that began with an early morning detachment run and ended with a spirited, and very entertaining, pugil sticks match.

The field meet took up just one morning, but it is exemplary of the command environment fostered by both LtCol Enney and LtCol Sullivan. Marines at DLI may be deep into their very difficult studies but they are first and foremost Marines, as the detachment takes every possible opportunity to remind, and encourage, them. So too with FAOs. By necessity, FAOs are less incorporated into the MarDet command structure. But the exceptions prove the rule. FAOs such as Capt Dan Schierling and Capt Mark Rosenthal do double duty as company commanders at DLI. Knowing firsthand how time-consuming and mentally taxing language training is, I cannot be more impressed, and humbled, by their dedication. It’s worth pointing out here that the other services have permanent staff for their language training units, including officers whose only duty is as company commander.

Marines at DLI benefit from great leadership all through their chain of command, and as such the Corps benefits from the work of the best-trained, most motivated, and most capable linguists in the United States military. FAOs at DLI have an outstanding resource available at the MarDet, as well as a constant reminder of where the success of the Marine Corps truly lies.

Captain Molina Schaefer is currently completing her In-Country Training as an African FAO. Follow her on her regional travel throughout Africa.

Majestic Morocco

Sitting here staring out at the Mediterranean, sipping a glass of delicious Moroccan mint tea and feeling the breeze gently warming my skin, I reflect on the amazing journey I have just taken in the majestic country of Morocco. Currently, I am visiting Tangiers situated in the northern part of Morocco at the steps of the Straits of Gibralter. Gazing across the ocean and spotting Spain, I marvel at the fact that even though only 30 km away, Spain is a completely different world compared to the one I am sitting in now.

This is my first trip of my year-long in-country training (ICT) as an African FAO. I was fortunate enough to travel with Capt Crave who is just finishing up his ICT. This was sort of our “turnover” trip, in which he showed me how to plan and conduct ICT travel. His knowledge has been invaluable along with his company. If time permits, I urge all FAOs to take a “turnover” trip with those who they are about to replace. The advice and mentorship he has shared has definitely set me up for a successful year of ICT.

As I continue to sip my tea I am overwhelmed with the thoughts and things I have experienced in the past two weeks. Driving through famous Casablanca, navigating my way through the labyrinth of Fes’s medina, eating couscous in Rabat, experiencing Berber life in the beautiful mountains of Chefchouen, and smelling the fresh spices and roasted meats where the East meets the West in Marrakesh-all left an indelible mark on my life and my African adventure. All have also left a lasting impression on me - each location as different as the cities they originated from. However, one common thread connects them - the uncanny juxtaposition of the old and the new. The Mercedes zooming by the donkey cart on the highway; two girls, one in a hijab the other in western dress, walking arm in arm down the street; an old man in a djelllaba drinking tea while sitting next to a young man busy texting away sporting his new Levi’s and Nikes. Both from different worlds and different times, yet coexisting and each finding their place in society. This is the fascinating Morocco I have experienced and grown to love over the past two weeks.

The most special experience I would like to share with you was the four hours I spent talking and getting to know the ladies in a little hair salon nestled in the mountains of Chefchaouen. Because Morocco is a conservative Muslim country, it was difficult, if not impossible, for me to engage women in public. Nor was it acceptable for me to sit at the cafés with the men. Therefore, eager to learn about the people and their true way of life, I decided to go to the one place where all women find comfort - no matter what language is spoken or what religion is practiced. As I entered the tiny salon, I was greeted with a mix of French/Arabic by two women. As I was expertly coifed, my conversation with these women covered a large spectrum of topics - from economic issues in the country to the current instability in North Africa. With each sentence, the women revealed more and more about their lives and what it means to be Moroccan. As the younger lady skillfully applied henna to my leg, she talked excitedly about her future marriage to a husband she had never seen or talked to. Saying that I could never imagine this - she simply responded, “this is how things are done here- I know no other way.”

After four hours spent laughing and sharing stories, I felt as if I had gained two great friends and important knowledge about Morocco and its people that could not have been gained from some tour or museum. This moment was one of the reasons I became a FAO - to truly get to know people and their cultures. After leaving the salon that day, I contemplated the reality that despite the differences in language, dress, religion, or culture, people have a lot more in common than they think or even expect. I had taken a chance, put myself out there, and found a way to penetrate the strict cultural barriers. It was wonderful to have the opportunity to get to know Morocco a little more intimately.

While finishing my tea and this first blog entry, I think about how truly grateful I am for this opportunity. I look forward to sharing my experiences with you while continuing my travels in Africa. Until the next time, I wish you fair winds and following seas.

05 Aug 2011
Major McCormack is a Latin America RAO currently completing his "payback tour" as a Marine Attache in Bogota, Colombia.

August 22, 2011

As a Major in the RAO track conducting my payback tour, I want to give some background info to set the stage on how I came to be the Marine Attaché in Bogota, Colombia, one of the most challenging yet rewarding jobs I have had in the Marine Corps. I am an infantry officer with almost 14 years of service. I have deployed to Iraq five times and to Afghanistan once. After spending a significant amount of time overseas I learned the importance of cultural knowledge and came to appreciate those that could explain current events within a historical context.

My last operational assignment was as the Bn Operations officer for 1st Bn, 9th Marines in 2008 in Ramadi, Iraq. During that deployment I submitted and was subsequently picked up for the RAO program. I submitted for RAO instead of FAO because of career timing. I was due to go on a b-billet for Major and newly minted RAO are immediately utilized. The RAO track allows me to return to the Marine Corps at the exact time I am supposed to return, as a senior Major or newly selected LtCol. In either track you have to make sure you monitor your career timing to ensure you hold the billets necessary to be promoted.

My first choice was Latin America simply because I had never experienced Latin America. I wanted to learn about a part of the world that I had never experienced. While attending NPS I asked what the odds were of getting an assignment to Latin America as a RAO because I wanted to put my 18 months of studying to work. It was at the time I was told about the Attaché program and the fact that if I was selected for the Attaché program it would be considered a payback. I hit the grand slam when I was picked up for a Marine Attaché billet in Bogota, Colombia.

Following NPS I headed to the east coast for 4 months of language and 5 months of Attaché training. I have been in Colombia for three months now and can say without a doubt my 18 months at NPS has made me a better Attaché. First, officers from the other services that I studied with at NPS are scattered around the Latin American region which has allowed me to plug into a vast network that is built on relations. Several of my NPS classmates were also my Attaché school classmates. Lastly, the ability to put current events into a historical context has given me credibility with both my US and Colombian counterparts. Simply knowing who Simeon Bolivar is and why his image and words are still so powerful has set me apart from my peers in the Embassy world.

Below is a photo of me having a pushup contest with the Colombian Marines on San Andres, Islands.

Major Jeff McCormack

26 Sept 2011

What is a military attaché? I have to admit before attending Attaché School; I knew absolutely nothing about the responsibilities of a military attaché. Most folks think of a military attaché as the person who attends official parties on behalf of the ambassador. Though this is one of the responsibilities of a military attaché, it is far from being the only responsibility. A military attaché is an accredited diplomat who works on the country team and is responsible for maintaining relations with the host nation military. It is through these relationships that the military attaché is able to support the Country Team and the Regional Combatant Command. That support includes answering questions that the Country Team and the Regional Combatant Command have in regards to the host nation military. I am responsible for maintaining relations with the Colombian Marine Corps. How I answer questions for the Country Team and US Southern Command is by visiting Colombian Marine Corps units. Due to the close relationship the Colombian Marine Corps and the U.S. Marine Corps have, I have received outstanding support from the Colombian Marine Corps when visiting their units. As I like to tell the Colombian Marines I am their connection to the Country Team, Southern Command and to Washington DC. Below is a picture of me visiting a Colombian Marine Patrol Base.

Another responsibility of the military attaché is to escort US officials that visit their respective countries. Escorting is more than just taking the US officials to meetings. Escorting includes making hotel reservations, travel plans, scheduling meetings and coordinating with the Country Team. Visiting US Officials can be very senior or very junior. I have made sure that I treated the junior US officials visit the same as I would treat a senior US Official visit. Below are some photos of my last escort with a couple of visiting USMC FAOs.

25 Nov 2011

Southern Partnership Station (SPS) 2011 (SPS-11)

SPS is an annual exercise that USMC conducts in Latin America. The exercise revolves around an amphibious ship with a SPMAGTF conducting exchanges with militaries throughout Latin America. SPS-11 was initially planned to travel to Chile but due to constraints the ship could not travel to the southern cone. This left a three week gap in SPS-11 deployment schedule. So with a little under 60 days my counter-part in the Military Group and I had to coordinate with the Country Team and the Host Nation Military to have the SPMAGTF come to Colombia for that three weeks.

After receiving permission from the Country Team and the Host Nation Military to bring the SPMAGTF into Colombia the second problem to solve was where? It was identified that the Gulf of Uraba (which is next to Panama) was the best place for the SPMAGTF to have success. A Colombian Marine Battalion is located off the Gulf. Next we had to travel to the Battalion and get eyes on the area where the SPMAGTF would be operating. The Colombian Navy was extremely helpful in providing a helicopter to conduct an aerial reconnaissance of the area. The Battalion was more than willing to host the SPMAGTF.

During the offload of the SPMAGTF, I was able to coordinate with the ship to bring on several senior Colombian Marine Officers to watch the offload and visit the ship. Because I have deployed on amphibious ships I didn’t realize how impressive an amphibious offload is to someone who has never taken part in one. Through a little bit of work from the Ship and SPMAGTF the US has made a lasting impression with the Colombian Marines. Below is a photo of the Colombian Marine Officers with the Phibron Cmdr, SPMAGTF Cmdr, and Ship’s Captain.

31 January 2012

The month of December and January were extremely busy in Colombia. The Colombian Government and Military have refocused their efforts and developed a whole government strategy to finally defeat the FARC. This has required me to travel throughout Colombia and to the U.S. in order to assist in developing the U.S. strategy to support the Colombian Military in their new efforts. The main focus for both my counterpart in the Military Group and myself has been helping the Colombian Marines develop their requirements and then coordinating with Marine Forces South to see which of these requirements can be supported by the US Marines.

This is an exciting time to be in Colombia, the FARC is the oldest insurgency in the Western Hemisphere and after ten years of focused US aid in the form of Plan Colombia and an intense desire from the Colombian people, the FARC is no longer stronger then the Colombian Military. The unfortunate side effect is just like when an animal is cornered, the FARC have started to use tactics that the US military has seen for the past ten years in Iraq and Afghanistan. Everyday civic leaders are being assassinated in order to intimidate the population. The FARC have resorted to wearing civilian clothes in order to conduct attacks against Police Stations. Almost every day a Police Officer, Soldier or Marine is being killed or wounded. During one attack the FARC pretended to be civilians in trouble. They called in an emergency and as the Police departed their station the FARC ambushed the Police Officers. After killing the Police Officers the FARC set the bodies on fire in order to intimidate the other Police Officers. IEDs have become the norm, just three days ago four soldiers were killed by a cell-phone initiated IED. The more I see first-hand the damage the FARC is causing in Colombia the more I want to help the Colombian Military to defeat the FARC.

I see a lot of similarities between the US Marines experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan and what the Colombian Military is up against here. When I visit a wounded Colombian Marine the first question he asks me is if I can help make him better so he can re-join his unit. There is no doubt in my mind after seeing first-hand the professionalism and courage of the Colombian Military that in the end the FARC will be defeated.

A picture of me with a Colombian Marine Lieutenant who was shot three times to include one bullet that passed through his eye socket. The lieutenant will be participating in the Marine Corps Trials sponsored by the Wounded Warrior Regiment in Camp Pendleton. Those of you in Camp Pendleton I highly recommend you stop by and say hola!

4 April 2012

Time flies down in Colombia. I cannot believe it has been two months since I last wrote. The new strategy to defeat the FARC has started to take shape, on April 2nd the FARC released its last remaining military hostages, six police and four soldiers, that had been held captive for more than 12 years. Though the FARC still continues to hold dozens of civilian’s hostages it was a joyous day for those that were finally released and for the Colombian Nation. Can you imagine being held for 12 years, being forced to move from one jungle prison to another, not knowing what the next day held for you? The strength that these 10 showed in staying alive for 12 years is astonishing. In November 2011, the Colombian Military tried to rescue five hostages who had been held for ten years; instead of allowing them to be rescued the FARC executed four of them, while the fifth was able to escape. As I stated in my last blog it is our mission to assist the Colombian Military in their fight against the FARC and the cocaine trade that the FARC uses to fund their operations. It is unfortunate that the United States is one of the largest consumers of cocaine in the world, thus providing a funding source that allows the FARC to carry out acts of terrorism.

To accomplish the mission in February I traveled to the First Marine Brigade in Corozal and the 30th Riverine Battalion in Yati. Both places are located in Northern Colombia. 10 years ago these units had daily contact with the FARC but now operate more in a police function, carrying out security operations to support economic development. I visited the San Andres Islands and unfortunately the day I departed a Colombian Marine was killed by a gang during a mission to support the arrest of the gang leader. At the end of February and beginning of March I traveled to Puerto Leguizamo which is located on the Putamayo River, separating Colombia from Peru and Ecuador. The Colombian Marines have an outstanding relationship with the Peruvian Marines. They conduct daily patrols together. This is a huge deal because the FARC operates along the frontiers of Peru, Ecuador and Venezuela. The more Colombia can cooperate with these countries to control the borders, the less freedom of movement the FARC will have. Later in March I visited Tumaco which is on the Pacific Coast. I went to a Police Station that had been destroyed by a motorcycle bomb and killed several police officers. The Colombian Marines are guarding the station as it is being re-build. I asked the Colombian Police Chief why re-build in the same spot and he said the people have to see that the Police and Military are not afraid of the FARC. Lastly, I visited an Army EOD unit in Armenia in order to share TTPs and experiences from Iraq and Afghanistan.

I was able to host the USMC FAO conducting his ICT in Brazil, Major Ed Silva. I took Maj Silva to the hospital were the wounded Marines recover. We were also able to visit Tumaco together and attend a Riverine Conference. Major Silva went to Cartagena and attended a reception for the newly commissioned LPD-22 San Diego.

25 May, 2012

Working with the Marine Component, in my case Marine Forces South (MFS), is an important aspect to the mission. My job is to ensure that MFS understands the enemy situation in Colombia and how the Colombian Marines are operating in order to ensure MFS can develop the best engagement plan possible. Recently, the Narcotics Affairs Section in the Embassy hosted a riverine conference and invited all the Riverine Battalion Commanders to Bogota to participate. I was able to extend the invitation to MFS who in turn accepted. The event went extremely well. MFS personnel were able to listen first hand to the various problems that each riverine battalion is experiencing in their fight against the FARC and the drug trade. MFS personnel were able to talk to the entire group of commanders and explain their position and how they might be able to assist. A few weeks later the MFS CG, Major General Croley visited Colombia. The highlight of the five day visit was being able to escort MGen Croley to one of the new Joint Task Forces were he was able to see firsthand the difficult operating environment and the enemy situation. Between both events, MFS was able to return to Miami with a better appreciation for the problem set in Colombia. It cannot be undersold the value of face to face conversations between key leaders.

                                                            After running an 11k Land Mine Awareness Race with my British friends in Bogota, Colombia

By now everyone has heard about what happened in Cartagena, Colombia during the Summit of Americas. The bad decisions of a few have had a tremendous impact on the overall mission in Colombia. The amount of questions the embassy and my office have been asked and needed to respond to has detracted from our primary mission. Of course being one of the few Marines who lives in Colombia and the fact that Marines were involved in the incident has resulted in me personally being asked if I was involved! I am happy to report no one involved in the incident was actually stationed in Colombia. I remember learning about the strategic corporal and this is a perfect example of how a few can impact the many.

                                                                                           Supporting the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff visit

Captain Adams is an Infantry Officer on exchange with the Royal Netherlands Marine Corps as part of the Personnel Exchange Program (PEP).

27 January 2012

Hey readers, this is my first post covering the USMC PEP program and my role in it. I am the current exchange officer to the Royal Netherlands Marine Corps. I think if I go into a formal introduction and explain the ins and outs of the PEP (commonly said "PEP program" but that would then be personnel exchange program program...) you guys will get bored to death. So, in the spirit of just jumping right in, I will spare the PME on the program itself and get straight to what I have been up to.

When I first arrived here in The Netherlands, I had about a week to jump through the proverbial check-in hoops, get some Dutch CIF gear, and ship off to Otterburn Camp, England for a 3 week live fire training package. I had no role at the time other than "observe" what is going on and try to understand what people are saying (in Dutch obviously...). I had a quaint little barracks room that I shared with eight Dutchmen and 50 sheep for the duration of the training. Dutch chow is pretty much amazing to say the least. The Dutch Marines do a great job of providing coffee at every available opportunity too...

My time spent in the first three weeks here was a massive learning experience and complete culture shock. (not only ethnic culture shock but military culture shock as well...) Overall the training went well - no major injuries, lots of live rounds fired, lots of cheese eaten, drank my bodyweight in coffee, and had some nights out in Newcastle on the weekends. I saw my first proper English "football" match with live hooligans and everything. Oh yeah...the trip over...that will have to come in the next post. Stay tuned...

Capt Rodney Adams

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.

Captain Tempone

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.