United States Air Force International Affairs Specialist Program

By Sarnoski, Robert R. | DISAM Journal, Fall 2005 | Go to article overview

United States Air Force International Affairs Specialist Program


Sarnoski, Robert R., DISAM Journal


Today's dynamic security environment and expeditionary nature of air and space operations require a cadre of the United States Air Force (USAF) commissioned officers with international insight, foreign language proficiency, and cultural appreciation. These Airmen give the Air Force the required capability and depth in foreign area expertise and language skills to successfully sustain coalitions, pursue regional stability, and contribute to multi-national operations.

The International Affairs Specialist (IAS) Program offers commissioned Air Force officers exciting opportunities to learn and fully develop these key military skills applicable to the 21st century international security arena. Through a competitive process, candidates, officers at the mid-career point will be selected, assiduously developed, and employed in demanding international and politico-military assignments as international affairs specialists. These officers' career progression will be carefully managed so that they, while developing a strong foundation in international affairs, will remain viable and competitive in their primary career fields. The expertise that will be brought by IAS officers will prove to be a boon to Air Force expeditionary operations around the world.

Humble Beginnings

The Air Force Foreign Area Officer (FAO) Program was created in 1997, in response to the Department of Defense (DoD) Directive 1315.17, Military Department Foreign Area Officer Programs, which directed each military branch to create formal FAO programs that meet service-specific needs. The Air Force's program identified and tracked officers who possessed the cultural and linguistic skills for the potential to serve in FAO positions. However, no formal commitment existed to deliberately create or manage a well-trained cadre of officers with the regional expertise needed to effectively support DoD and Air Force global mission requirements. Key challenges that hampered the USAF FAO Program included the following:

* Lack of deliberate development. A viable FAO career track did not exist.

* No utilization leverage. No management priority was given in the primary career field assignment prioritization plans to ensure that FAOs were available or assignable.

* Heavy reliance on individual officers' self-obtained skills. With no formal training program, the viability and capabilities of the FAO cadre relied heavily on the individual officers' own initiative in developing their international outlook, language skills, and cultural appreciation.

* Career killer perception. Because there was no viable career track and little or no formal recognition of international skills as a critical warfighting enabler, the decision to be a foreign area officer was perceived as a career-ending move.

The 28 April 2005, revision to DoD Directive 1315.17, requires services to deliberately develop a corps of FAOs with the in-depth international skills required to represent the DoD in the conduct of politico-military activities and execution of military-diplomatic missions with foreign governments and military establishments. Consistent with the more demanding requirements of the new directive and the USAF Force Development concept, Air Force officers will now be deliberately developed (selected, trained, assigned, and retained) under the new IAS Program.

International Affairs Specialist Program Concept

Under the IAS Program, officers are competitively selected for IAS development at mid-career (typically at seven to twelve years commissioned service) and receive formal training and education with an appropriate follow-on assignments on one of two distinct development paths. Most will do this as a politico-military affairs strategist (PAS) in a well-managed, single career broadening opportunity to gain international politico-military affairs experience. Others will engage in a more demanding developmental opportunity as a regional affairs strategist (RAS) formerly titled the Foreign Area Officers, with multiple IAS assignments designed to create a true regional expert possessing professional language skills. …

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