Careers in the U.S. military vary greatly across the branches of the U.S. Armed Forces, ranging from active combat roles to a number of non-defense logistical positions. One role common to all five divisions is that of the Foreign Area Officer (FAO). Given the crucial role of an FAO in promoting the global interests of the U.S., the position requires highly qualified individuals with extensive educational, service and leadership backgrounds.
The role of FAOs in the U.S. can be traced back to the mid-20th century, particularly to World War II in 1945. By the time the United Nations was established that same year, the U.S. military had foreign operatives working in forty-five regions around the world, and the Army had also established the Language Area Training Program as a way to provide an education and training initiative for foreign operatives. This would later become the Foreign Area Specialist Training (FAST) program, which would define the role of the Foreign Area Officer. Initial FAO roles focused on foreign intelligence and military defense, but soon expanded to cover foreign military aid initiatives, civilian affairs, and other duties.
Duties & Responsibilities
FAOs play an integral role in the U.S.’s foreign defense planning, working to establish military and governmental relationships with allies and ambassadors of foreign powers around the world to promote the foreign interests of the U.S. government. FAOs are considered specialists in their foreign regions and must develop a level of expertise in foreign affairs in their respective regions. This includes fluency with the local language, alongside extensive knowledge of the local political and cultural history, governing structures, and regional customs.
Some FAOs work as leading correspondents at U.S. embassies across the globe, while others work in supporting leadership and advisor roles alongside foreign military and government personnel, serving as security assistance officers, political-military planners, and defense attaches. Furthermore, experienced FAOs can also find full-time, part-time and contractual positions working with both public and private entities that have a stake in foreign interests. Such positions can include managing foreign projects for a number of organizations.
FAOs must undergo extensive educational training and gain direct experience in regions specific to their assignments to effectively fulfill the many roles associated with the position. Chief among these educational requirements is an appropriate education in the foreign languages spoken in the regions the officer will serve. The Army FAO program is the most established of the five branches and has the most explicit and extensive guidelines for officer training. In this program, prospective officers receive language training from the Defense Language Institute, and they must then gain direct experience by living in the region where they will operate for at least a year. During this time, they strengthen their foreign language competency while developing a solid base of knowledge and experience concerning the region. After gaining this direct experience, officers return to the U.S. to obtain a master’s degree in regional security studies. Those with backgrounds in foreign area or language studies coupled with a history of military service are especially geared for potential careers as FAOs.
Salary & Benefits
Service in ranked positions of the armed forces is typically accompanied by an extensive list of perks and benefits. Military officers, such as FAOs, earn a desirable monthly salary and can receive steady pay increases based on rank and years of service. Salaries for FAOs can range from around $60,000 to $167,000 annually, with some private organizations offering salaries of $78,000 to $100,000. Due to their specialized roles, FAOs can receive extra bonuses as well. In addition to free medical treatment at military hospitals for all military officers, FAOs can also have a wide range of federal health insurance packages and health maintenance options. FAOs with foreign assignments are also provided with a travel allowance during their first year of direct experience in the foreign region where they operate. Many FAOs are also eligible for the Student Loan Repayment program as well as the GI Bill, which covers a partial cost of the tuition at higher education institutions.
FAOs around the world play a pivotal role in keeping the U.S. safe. Individuals looking to do their part to defend our national interests, develop a keen awareness of other nations and cultures, and travel the world can find this career path extremely rewarding. Governmental entities and U.S. constituents provide an abundance of potential roles in this important position in the field of international diplomacy.
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What is a FAO?, Foreign Area Officer Association (FAOA)
Military Careers, Bureau of Labor Statistics
DoD Directives Division, Executive Services Directorate