In order to work together when it matters, it is
important that we continue our international engagement efforts with our counterparts around the world.
Not just at the highest levels of our Navy, which [CNO]
ADM [Jonathan W.] Greenert certainly does, but at
lower levels as well, and we do that in many ways.
I like to say that we are in the “ship” building industry
and, when I say that, there is always a pregnant pause and
a blank stare. We are in the business of building relationships, partnerships and, in many cases, friendships, and
that is something that takes time to develop. Our engagement at various levels is important, to include, for example, our PEP [Personal Exchange Program] which often
happens at the O3 [lieutenant] level.
A bridge watch stander, for example, will serve in a
foreign navy and gain experience in that country, and
at the same time could be learning a language, learning
a culture and developing friendships with counterparts
around the world. It is important to do that early in
one’s career, because those relationships can develop
more deeply over time and that is very important to
our future leadership and our Navy.
How do international exercises strengthen
VENLET: Exercises such as Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training and RIMPAC [Rim of the Pacific] are
important for strengthening cooperation. The International Mine Countermeasures exercise that takes
place in CENTCOM [U.S. Central Command] teaches
us collectively how to operate together, how to communicate in areas where we have common concerns.
Working in these training environments helps us to
more effectively perform all different types of missions
around the world.
As I’ve said, we need to develop those relationships
over time — it doesn’t happen overnight. Often, our
ships pull into a port for three to five days, for example,
and perhaps months or years later another ship will
Port visits are important to demonstrate presence, to
share a bit of America with our foreign partners around
the world, and what I think is even more important are
the long-lasting, long-developing relationships with
our counterparts that we develop through persistent
presence in country.
As a Foreign Area Officer, how does your community build those relationships?
VENLET: FAOs serve in over 70 countries and speak
roughly 30 languages. We often serve repeated tours in
the regions of our specialty. As a result, we have the
opportunity to learn about other cultures [and] continue to hone the language skills that are important to
building relationships and trust.
Over the long haul, FAOs understand the perspective of the host country, their view of the world, their
history, culture, their military, and this helps FAOs provide a perspective that is useful to senior leadership in
a variety of situations.
Prospective FAOs come into our community at
about the eight- to 12-year mark of their careers,
because we believe that the warfighting background is
very important to the work we do as FAOs. Often,
when we serve in a foreign country, we sit across the
table from a counterpart who also has a warfare background. There is a certain instantaneous camaraderie
between sailors, for example, who serve in that common environment of the sea that helps build relationships. There is a common ground right from the start,
so the military-to-military aspect of a warfighting
background is a great help. It helped me when I was in
Moscow as our defense attaché when I spoke with my
military and Navy counterparts.
How has the FAO community matured since
its 2006 establishment?
VENLET: The impetus for starting up the community
in the Navy was a realization that we needed to have
regional experts serving around the world with
LREC [language, regional expertise and cultural
We have matured to about 300 FAOs since 2006.
The largest share of the community comes from the
unrestricted line: surface warriors, aviators, submariners. We bring in officers from other communi-
WWW.SEAPOWERMAGAZINE.ORG SEAPOWER / MARCH 2014
“As we face budget challenges, I believe the demand for FAOs may go up. If
we have fewer assets, we need those door openers. We need officers serving
in these countries to maintain the dialogue, to maintain the relationships, to
assure that we are there, that we are still engaged. To me, a relatively small
investment in specialized skills for our people offers large strategic returns.”