FAO Quotables

"But being right, even morally right, isn't everything. It is also important to be competent, to be consistent, and to be knowledgeable. It's important for your soldiers and diplomats to speak the language of the people you want to influence. It's important to understand the ethnic and tribal divisions of the place you hope to assist."
-Anne Applebaum

Monday, January 27, 2014

How to be an SCO/SAO--great article from fellow FAO

Having arrived in country a few months ago to a location that did not previously have a dedicated Office of Security Cooperation, I can say that the task of starting one is at times overwhelming, frightening, exciting, and bewildering (often all in one day).  

A few days ago I came across an amazing article in the DISAM Journal by a fellow OSC Chief.  It was so good I knew I needed to share it in its entirety here.  Incidentally, you should add the DISAM journal to your RSS feed--a lot of useful articles in there: http://www.disamjournal.org


Reflections of a Security Assistance/Security Cooperation Officer by LTC Michael McCullough, USA

While waiting in the office of my Senior Defense Official (SDO) I came across a hardcover copy of the DISAM Annual, Vol 2.  In it there was an article on security cooperation programs which caused me to reflect on my 2 tours as a Chief of Security Cooperation and motivated me to write this article. Below are some thoughts, advice and observations that I hope may help newly minted Security Assistance Officers (SAOs) and or cause the many professional SAOs with knowledge in this field to add their own experiences.

“Six Principles for Effective Military Cooperation”

#1: Create a program that is “Simple, Predictable and Nimble.”  This has been my guiding principle through two SAO assignments and as the operations officer in the USAREUR G3 Multinational Training Division (MNTD).
  • Keeping it simple does not allude to making things basic.  I suggest that a program that is easily understandable by your staff, the Country Team (CT) and most importantly the Partner Nation (PN) is extremely important.  You can lose valuable time trying to explain the intricacies of budgets, plans and policies when you should be executing engagements. An SAO (note: now referred to as a SCO- Security Cooperation Office/Officer) should be able to explain a vision, goals and objectives in easily understandable sound bites/bullet comments.
  • Predictable. Developing an annual plan and distributing it to the Embassy and to the Partner Nation facilitates organization and alignment of resources. You will inevitably receive calls of short notice changes or opportunities.  It will be your job to manage this.  Don’t put your country in a position of declining unplanned events. This will create unnecessary friction and hardships. Do what you can to 
  • keep the training providers on a timeline in accordance with YOUR plan.
  • Technique: Construct an “Activities List” that captures every event, seminar, training opportunity and IMET course that your program offers.  Review that with your PN primary contacts regularly.  This list will become invaluable to your staff, the multiple desk officers and country team as it lays out the significant amount of investment that the US/DoD is contributing to military cooperation.
  • It’s okay to say “no”. It is better to execute a clear and well organized plan than to take every last minute offer. Because of vetting requirements, logistics and country team clearance last minute opportunities can be more destructive than productive as your staff, the PN and the CT will likely suffer ripple effects for something that was not originally planned.
  • Nimble. Partnership implies that there are at least two sides to a relationship. Try and incorporate your PN goals into the CT and numerous country engagement plans. Military Cooperation is meant to be a win-win situation for both the US and PN.
#2: Develop A Plan…Put it in Writing
  • One of your first priorities as an incoming SAO should be to review all plans (State, DoD, USAID, US Embassy, Component, and State Partnership Program) related to your country. You should find overlapping priorities and gaps in these documents.  This is where YOUR plan can re-enforce overlapping objectives and fill critical gaps.
  • Everything should have a strategic objective and be linked in your plan. To include International Military Education and Training (IMET) funded events, Foreign Military Financing (FMF), Humanitarian assistance (HA) etc.  Showing linkages will also facilitate obtaining greater funding because you will be able to communicate why it is that you are conducting a particular program or project.
  • Many US organizations will not have written plans or current plans on your country - Do not let this hold you back.  By making a plan you help others write or adjust theirs.  You may become a catalyst for a deeper discussion on policy/engagement for your country.
  • Time Management. Having a plan will also help you manage your time.  Your plan should outline short, medium and long term goals.  By monitoring your milestones you can evaluate which elements of your program are successful and which areas need improvement. This can also help drive your budget process as well.
#3: Communication. This is traditionally a weakness in engagement programs.  It takes extra effort but will pay off if you are tenacious and consistent.
  • Partner Nation.  Nothing beats regular communication with your PN. If you do not have regularly scheduled meetings - establish them.  This facilitates “predictability.”  Eventually, your conversations can lead to a PN improvement on planning and providing you valuable feedback.
  • Desk Officers.  You should know every desk officer from DoD, State, COCOM and Component Commands that touch your country/program.  They should be receiving regular activity updates (or an activities list) from you.  By pushing information engagement becomes proactive and not reactive.
  • Technique: Write your plan and have all the desk officers provide feedback on the drafts.  You may or may not receive anything but if you do it will help you see engagement from another angle and make you a better Chief of OSC. It will also keep your plan in alignment.
  • Country Team. In addition to disseminating information among the different offices in an Embassy, be particularly mindful of Public Diplomacy (PD). PD serves many functions but they can help you get the “story” out into the press.  Regular press (Television, radio and print) coverage helps ensure your efforts are communicated to the public and to key PN politicians.  This will elevate your influence along with the US Embassy.
  • Technique: Invite the press to all closing ceremonies.  If there are exercises or skill application lanes and or maneuvers then have them attend and record.
  • In the Congo, PD facilitated a “Face Book campaign” during a month long exercise that OSC developed.  This was a huge success.
  • SDO/Attaches. Much like getting the press to cover your activities so should you encourage observation by your Attaché colleagues both US and international.  Rarely are there any secrets surrounding SAO engagement activities.  Why not invite foreign Attaches to your events?  They may reciprocate which would be beneficial to both the SAO and DAO.  Remember, more than likely there is an SAO in that foreign Attaché’s country. Military cooperation is about dialogue and networking.  You can really make a difference by being inclusive.
  • Miscellaneous: Write about your experience.  In AFRICOM we have the Africa Defense Forum (ADF) Journal.   There are also trade related journals (medical, engineering and international publications (print and online) that are always looking for new material.  Your experience living and engaging with another government and culture should not be underestimated.  Get the information out.  You have firsthand access and knowledge. The more you do it the easier it will become.  Our leaders make decisions based on information…it is all of our duty to push the information out.
  • By communicating frequently, you will foster an air of transparency which will lead to trust.  The US is often the source of negative communications and conspiracy theories.  You can be a piece of the solution by communicating often.
#4: Marketing
  • You are a salesperson whether you like it or not. First off, you are selling US partnership. Depending on your program, you may be advocating US defense contracts or participation in engagement.  As a salesperson you need to have regular positive contact with your partner nation.  Always dress and present yourself in a professional matter.  Never let them see you get agitated (unless you do it with an intent). Personality drives everything and your conduct will have long term effects on those around you.
  •  Travel.  Salesmanship requires travel. You need to get to all of the key Headquarters in your country.  The more you travel the more likely the US message will be heard.  Travel is not only in the PN though.  It is very important to take advantage of any opportunity to visit your desk officers in person.  Always carry your plan with you and distribute it.  You should also have a briefing that covers the basics of your country.  Carrying your message wherever you go will lead to open doors and expanding opportunities for your office and your PN.
#5: Maximize Your Resources
  • Don’t let a single dollar go to waste.  Your budget should be absolutely synched with your plan. You will inevitably be encouraged to take on an engagement event that falls outside the “plan”.  Ask the hard questions about why it should be executed.  If it does not fit try and have it swapped/traded with another country.
  • Technique: In an attempt to maximize Military to Military (M2M) events I convinced component commands and State Department funded training program managers to concentrate all activities during one month to facilitate a “capstone” like event.  By consolidating M2M events we ended up with what appeared to be a month long exercise.  The combined nature of the event made planning with the PN less difficult, it was dynamic in nature due to the variety of topics and created a significant PAO/PD venue. I highly recommend attempting this in your country.
#6: Don’t Be Stingy.
  • As a US military officer you will more than likely be paid much better than your PN equivalent.  Though SAOs do not have representational funds, make the effort to host PN officials at your home or a restaurant.  The same goes for your Locally Engaged Staff (LES). This will create camaraderie that will be very useful during your tour.
  • Develop a coin. Some may say it is cheesy, but almost everyone appreciates them or wants one.  As an SAO you will likely manage millions of dollars yet you have no gifts.  This is a fluke in our system that can be easily remedied.  What you gain in return from presenting a coin will far outweigh the minor costs associated with the design and production.
  • Technique: Try to include your LESs into the design phase.  They are your best advocate and this will build a more cohesive team.  Make sure they all get one.
  • Take the time to put your LESs in for an award. If you have a solid plan and are proactive then your LESs should be very busy.  They will earn the awards. Conversely, if they are not up to par then counsel them.  If they do not change, fire them.  Regardless of country there are bright, motivated people who would work well in your program.  The US generally pays the best salaries.  There is absolutely no reason to settle for mediocre performance in your office.
I know there are many great military cooperation programs around the world and I do not claim to have the sole solution for success.  The “Principles” written above are a result of several years of working with partner nations in three AORs. I hope this creates a dialogue between the more experienced SAOs and the junior SAOs in order to foster collegiality and help kick start some new ideas in the field.


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