The concept of equipping military officers with regional expertise, language skills, and knowledge of U.S. and foreign political-military relationships dates back to 1889 when the U.S. sent permanent military Attaches to London, Paris, Vienna, and Saint Petersburg. Here's a quick history of where we've been and a look forward to where we'll go as a professional community of foreign affairs experts.
1889 U.S. sent permanent military Attaches to London, Paris, Vienna, and Saint Petersburg.1
1945 U.S./Allied victory from World War II and Nazi war tribunals had begun. The U.S. had military attaches in 45 capitals (38 of which had air attaches and 28, naval attaches). In parallel, the United States Army (USA) had developed the Language and Area Training Program to provide officers with high level staff potential with knowledge of language and areas to form sound intelligence estimates and to provide command decisions. The program required four years of training; language school, graduate degree from a civilian university, and two years overseas in, or near, the region of specialization.2
1953 The USA Language and Area Training Program was redesignated Foreign Area Specialist Training (FAST) with continued management and oversight under the Department of Army (DA) Assistant Chief of Staff, Intelligence (ACSI).
1956 The FAST Program expanded beyond the principal intelligence responsibilities and control to include other functional interests like psychological warfare, the Attaché system and civil affairs and military government, with the Deputy Chief for Military Operations sharing responsibility for program review with the ACSI. By 1956, the U.S. had 166 Attaché posts in 71 countries: 68 Army, 45 Navy, and 53 Air Force personnel, in contrast to sixty (60) foreign countries that had established 121 Attaches in Washington D.C.
1963 The FAST program was further expanded to specifically designate positions requiring FAST qualifications, which included advisor duty, special warfare operations, DA General and Special staff, area study instructors at service academies and schools, and within the national intelligence community.
12 Dec 1964 Secretary of Defense (SECDEF) Robert McNamara announced the decision to designate a Senior Defense Attaché in each country and established the Defense Attaché System (DAS). This was the first step toward bringing the DAS under the full operational control, which the DIA Director gained on 1 July 1965.
1969 A complementary program was merged with FAST called the Military Assistance Officer Program (MAOP), which focused on aspects of military advisory duty, stability operations, and civic action having social, political, economic and psychological impact. By the beginning of the 1970s, the USA had established two international-oriented career programs; one driven by intelligence requirements (FAST) and the other by operational needs (MAOP).
21 Apr 1971 President Richard Nixon proposed a realignment of foreign aid into two programs; one oriented to military assistance, the other to economic and humanitarian assistance. What became the International Security Assistance Act establishing foreign policy tools like foreign military sales (FMS), international training, and excess military equipment developed the term, “security assistance.”
Sept 1971 Nixon doctrine also led to Department of Defense headquarters reorganization that established the Defense Security Assistance Agency (DSAA). Later, Congress passed the Foreign Assistance Act of 1971 and to increase FMS in line with greater Pentagon objectives, the Army suggested and began to dispatch briefing teams from DSAA, military departments, and industry to orient and instruct U.S. country teams and host country representatives on the various aspects of FMS.
10 Mar 1972 To acknowledge the collaboration with security assistance, the DA Chief of Staff approved a merger of the MAOP and FAST to form the Foreign Area Officer (FAO) Management System. As the year closed, an estimated 900 positions were identified for the consolidated program.
17 Oct 1995-1 Jan 1996 An informal discussion took place between a small group of FAOs located at the Pentagon. The FAO Association (FAOA) officially incorporated in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
22 Feb 1997 The term, “security cooperation” was first introduced by the Defense Reform Initiative. Deputy Secretary of Defense John P. White signed DoD Directive 1315.17, Service FAO Programs. Leveraging Title 10 authority for each of the services; Chap 303 (DA), 505 (Office of the Chief of Naval Operations), and 803 (Dept of the Air Force), this was the first directive that established policy and assigned responsibilities for the development of FAO programs within the military services.
1 Oct 1998 To better reflect its enlarged mission and diverse functions beyond security assistance to other agencies, the private sector, and foreign governments; DSAA was redesignated the Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA).
28 Apr 2005 FAO Policy (DoDD 1315.17) was further revised, adding Title 10, Section 163, leveraging authority for the Combatant Commands (COCOMs), stating, “The COCOMs shall have the requisite war fighting capabilities to achieve success on the non-linear battlefields of the future.”
14 Feb 2005 Defense Language Transformation Roadmap approved by the Deputy Secretary of Defense.
28 Sept 2007 DoD Instruction 1315.20 was signed providing further guidance for the management of DoD FOA programs to include the establishment of a standardized format to be used by the military services, DoD components, and COCOMs for the Annual Report on DoD FAO Programs. The instruction also identified the Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Plans within the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness as the principal staff advisor to the SECDEF for DoD FAO Programs.
20 May 2010 Annual FAOA Dinner, which hosted keynote speaker, Ambassador Ryan Crocker; the first color print FAO Journal was introduced along with the unveiling of a new seal recognizing the three disciplines that represent FAOs; Political-Military Affairs, Intelligence, and Security Cooperation.
Aug 2010 – Present DoD FAO Program Review and Report published, “Progress has been achieved, but additional work remains to ensure that the Department is producing qualified FAOs to meet joint mission requirements.” When the FY09 report was released in August 2010, the restructured DoD Joint FAO Program had been in its fifth year of implementation with an increase of nearly 1,860 officers holding the FAO designation; an increase of an estimated 90 from FY08. The FAO program traditionally managed by the active duty military services expanded within several Defense Agencies like DSCA and the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA). In FY09, the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence established a Civilian Foreign Area Specialist (CIVFAS) program, which was also proven successful with the U.S. Navy having identified several Force Protection Detachment (FPD) civilian special agents with a FAO designation. Additionally the FY09 report encourages more FAOs to serve as Senior Defense Officials/Defense Attaches (SDO/DATTs), but also serve in new SCOs and recommends more focus on the development and growth of Reserve FAO programs. The FAOA continues to thrive with a growth in membership and corporate sponsorships.
1 Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) History Office, 1994.
2 Pike, Verner N. (Ret. LTG), Military Police Corps, “Study Project: The Role of the Foreign Area Officer in National Security Policymaking in the 1980s,” U.S. Army War College, Carlisle Barracks, PA. 18 May 1979.
For more information, here's a more detailed history of FAOs and FAOA .