Marshall Center seminar intertwines years of Foreign Area Officers’ training
By Christine June
Public Affairs Office
George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies
GARMISCH-PARTENKIRCHEN, GERMANY (Sept. 28, 2015) – Years of training for U.S. Army officers who foster diplomacy in foreign countries intertwined during a three-week seminar held Sept. 6 to 26 at the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies.
Held every September here, the Eurasian Security Studies Seminar provides U.S. Army Foreign Area Officers-in-training a better understanding of their duties, roles and responsibilities in working on regional security issues at various command headquarters and U.S. embassies, said U.S. Army Lt. Col. Kelly MacDonald, director of the Eurasian FAO program at the Marshall Center, who oversees this training seminar.
Adding to more than 1,300 graduates from 90 classes, 26 U.S. Army FAOs throughout Eurasia began this integral training. Program alumni include 19 general officers, 20 ambassadors and numerous other high-ranking dignitaries.
MacDonald explained that FAOs are regionally-focused experts in political-military operations who possess a unique combination of strategic focus and regional expertise, with political, cultural, sociological, economic and geographic awareness, as well as proficient in at least one of the dominant languages in their specified region.
“This seminar brings all of the different components of their training together, regardless of where they are in their journey to become a FAO,” said MacDonald, from Keene, New Hampshire, who started his Army career as an enlisted Russian linguist. MacDonald added that FAOs-in-training can attend this seminar at any time during their in-region training.
A FAO will typically serve overseas as a defense attaché, a security assistance officer, or as a political-military planner in a command headquarters, Joint Staff, Major Commands, Unified Combatant Commands, or in agencies of the Department of Defense, MacDonald said.
“So just as this seminar ties all their training together, FAOs provide a sophisticated linkage between foreign and U.S. political-military institutions,” MacDonald said.
The journey to become a FAO also consists of a year of language training at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, Calif., a year of in-region training at either a Defense Attaché Office, Office of Defense Cooperation or at the Marshall Center, and 12 to 18 months at a grad school earning a FAO-related master’s degree, such as International Relations, Political Science and Security Studies.
“Human terrain…that’s the essence of this seminar, which adds value to all of our training,” said U.S. Maj. Patrick Heim, who was born as an American citizen in Meerbusch-Strümp, Germany. “This seminar not only connects all of our training together, but it also connects us together as a team. And, it connects us to the organizations that we will be working with, and to the speakers, instructors…That’s what I think is so important…the Human terrain.”
To prepare FAOs, the seminar is broken down into an academic module with classes focusing on international security and regional studies, field study module consisting of visits to U.S. European Command, U.S. Army Europe Headquarters, Defense Threat Reduction Agency and NATO Headquarters, and practical module to prepare for life as a FAO.
“The structure of this seminar is very beneficial and fits very well into our in-region training, regardless if we take it in the beginning or the tail-end of it,” said U.S. Army Capt. Ross Kastner, from Ft. Bragg, N.C., who speaks Russian and has another three months to go in his in-region training at the Marshall Center. “I think it’s a great introduction for those beginning their in-region training on what they will be exposed to during the year, and for those of us who are further along in the training, it’s a great refresher and helps us to put what we have seen and experienced into context.
“We each have individualized experiences in a particular country’s embassy, and through this seminar, we are able to share with others who are just starting out in their training,” Kastner said.
This seminar is part of the 50-year legacy of the FAO training program in Garmisch-Partenkirchen.
“For more than a half a century here in Garmisch, the Eurasian Foreign Area Officer training program has shown itself to be adaptable and relevant to historic changes and our nation’s needs,” said U.S. Army Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Keith W. Dayton, the Marshall Center director, who attended the Soviet Union Foreign Area Officer Overseas Training Program at the U.S. Army Institute for Advanced Russian and East European Studies here from 1979 to 1981.
“Although the program started in a very different age, a resurgent Russia continues to threaten Eurasian peace and stability,” Dayton said. “If you look at just the last 10 years alone and watch events unfold in countries like Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Georgia and Ukraine, you’ll see that the necessity for these regional specialists, who see the world as others see it, hasn’t changed.
“The Army has always needed these Garmisch graduates, and needs them now, perhaps more than ever,” Dayton said.