Most African OSCs will be first tour Foreign Area Officers at the O4/Major rank. Although most should have just completed language training, some form of in-region training, and attended graduate school, not all services prepare their OSCs the same way. All OSCs do not come into the position with the same backgrounds and experiences. For example, some were born in Africa, and others had to google their country when they first received their assignment. It is a false assumption that one service produces better OSCs than the other, or that an individual branch or previous leadership experience within a service prepared an OSC more than the other. Yes, some countries are harder than others, and some OSCs will encounter obstacles others won’t, but at the end of the day it comes down to these four areas:
- Your character, reputation, drive, and communication capabilities;
- Knowing the programs and your country when you are talking to anyone;
- Knowing where to find an answer when you don’t know something;
- Understanding and accepting your role in the interagency process.
Your character, reputation, drive, and communication capabilities
Character. You will never be farther from your Service’s command post than when you are serving at a U.S. Embassy. Nothing will ruin your term as an OSC, and that of your career, more than if you forget your bearing as a United States Military Officer. I could write a book on this subject with examples galore, but at the end of the day, nothing changes just because you are now wearing a suit and tie instead of a uniform. Don’t let yourself, or a member of your OSC team, become a member of the USAFRICOM J5 UCMJ Squad!
Reputation. Your reputation as an OSC started the day you received your orders. You have already passed a few tests on your reputation just by USAFRICOM accepting your nomination from your service’s human resource manager. The next tests will be how you approach your PCS, including actions at DISCS, and how you present yourself during your office calls in Washington, D.C., and Stuttgart.
Drive. Some officers are at a point in their careers where their drive may be waning, others may have already lost it, or hopefully, you are emboldened by your new assignment and excited to learn and experience all that being an African OSC has to offer. Before arriving at DISCS, you should have conducted a deep dive on your country, if you haven’t already. From reading through your country on Wikipedia to the CIA’s Fact Book to performing your own DIME (Diplomatic, Information, Military, and Economic) and PMESII-PT (Political, Military, Economic, Social, Information, Infrastructure, Physical Environment, and Time) assessments. You should have a working level knowledge of the country as a whole.
Communication capabilities. Communications with the host nation and USAFRICOM will be essential to your assignment. These skills will range from speaking the local or colonial language, to effectively sending emails to all the agencies you work with, to developing staff products and security force assistance (SFA) proposals. If your assignment is to a Francophone or Lusophone country, you should have already had some form of language training. In any country in Africa, you should identify the local tribal languages used and further expand your language skills by learning the greeting of the day. If the language is not available online to learn, use your Locally Employed Staff (LES) to assist you in learning once you arrive to post.
Reputations of OSCs sometimes are made and broken by the emails they have written under stressful situations and hastily sent to their higher headquarters. As you are the point of the spear for many United States agencies in your country, you can expect your emails to be forwarded and even sent to General Officers and your Ambassador. Work with your Senior Defense Official/Defense Attaché (SDO/DATT) to outline their communication policy to higher headquarters to ensure there is a common message coming from both offices. One rule of thumb to use is if you are emailing an O6 or above discuss it with the SDO/DATT first, and also have them clear on your products before sending them to higher offices. Lastly, some of your time will be spent producing power point slides, answering surveys, and distributing bi-weekly reports. Keep in mind that as an OSC you will communicate with a lot of people you have never met and may never, and their only perception of you is when they read your bi-weekly report or your 30 minutes during an annual conference or during an SVTC. If you haven’t rehearsed your brief or proofread your reports, you should.
Every introductory email you send from the time you receive orders to the time you arrive at Post is your introduction. Write them carefully. If you happen to be introduced to your Senior Rater at Stuttgart – what is your elevator speech?
In DISCS, you will have several breakout sessions run by a retired African FAO. Use this time to ask them all the free questions you can. Read through the OSC’s Bi-weekly report and highlight what programs they are tracking and highlighting to the USAFRICOM J5. Use your time at DISCS to focus in on those programs. Your country could be heavy into FMF/FMS, or GPOI/PKO, or Counterterrorism. By the time you leave DISCS you should at a minimum understand the key steps to the FMS process, and your countries programs and where to find them (SCIP, OHASIS, G-TSCMIS, etc.). Familiarize yourself with “The Green Book,” The Management of Security Assistance by DISCS and The Security Assistance Management Manual by the Department of Defense. These are enormous books, and some OSCs prefer to ask the instructor or the program manager a question first. Be a professional and reference both of these books first before using someone else’s valuable time.
Once you’ve completed this in-depth review of your country before and during DISCS you should start building the working knowledge you need to discuss intelligently the programs your country uses when you are talking to anyone. Once you arrive in your country the partner nation will look to you to answer their questions, do some research before you talk to them about every program. There is nothing worse than talking to the partner nation about something, then having to go back and apologize because they don’t qualify for the program. Before you leave DISCS make sure you have all the right Points Of Contact (POC) for each program, agency, and service. These will be handy once you arrive in country and come out of a meeting with a question from the partner nation.
Understanding and accepting your role in the Interagency process
Two classes DISCS will give you will be Introduction to the Interagency and The Department of State Perspective. During this period of instruction, they will explain the block chart of our US Government agencies which you will work with and their roles. More than likely because they are talking to the entire class they may not drill down to the exact offices you will work with weekly. I have not put names below, but most of these civilians have been in these positions for almost a decade. During your visit to their office in Washington, D.C., use this time to seek out their guidance and to understand their perspective on your country. Keep in mind a few of them cover the entire continent by themselves. Get to know your desk officers well; they are your life blood into their agency or unit. The more you get along, you like each other, and you trust each other the easier your jobs will be. Each of you controls access and information – keep that in mind.
Depending on where you are coming from you may or may not do your office calls in Washington, D.C. Personally, I would insist upon them. Don’t be offended if some of these people end up not meeting with you. They are busy people and understand that they average around 27 new OSCs coming through their office, most of which are during the summer. If you do have office calls in Washington, D.C. you should try to meet with someone from each of the offices below:
- Office of the Secretary of Defense – Policy (desk officer)
- Joint Staff J5 – Africa (desk officer)
- Department of State – Political / Military Bureau
- Department of State – African Affairs Bureau (desk officer)
- Defense Security Cooperation Agency – Africa (desk officer and EUM monitor)
- Africa Center for Strategic Studies (if you have time)
- United States Army Security Assistance Command Washington LNO (if you have time)
I suggest you ask each one of them the following questions:
- What are your office’s policy concerns for country XXX?
- Historically, what has worked and not worked in country XXX?
- What are your main concerns in country XXX, and what do you need me to do about it?
Your week in Stuttgart is the most important week of your OSC tour. From personnel/admin actions to getting to know the people in the J5 office – do not leave there without talking to everyone. This week will show you the strengths or weaknesses of your USAFRICOM J5 desk officer. Keep in mind reputation – water cooler talk in the J5 headquarters is rampant, and everyone loves to talk about people on the continent and what they are saying or doing.
Overall Do’s and Don’ts
- Make sure your desk officer has entered you into the system and got you a badge to get in. The last thing you want is to have to be escorted everywhere.
- Make appointments, but don’t harass people. The desk side fly by is just as easy as bothering someone too much to set up a particular time and place. I did the entire J5 Programs in an hour just moving from desk to desk.
- Ask for an intel brief.
- Spend some time with the J5 MSD. They process your OERs and awards. They also are responsible for all your logistics (vehicles, comms, budgets, etc.). Bring them coffee and roses – make a friend of every single one of them.
- Have a business card. The problem with this is that you won’t receive your state.gov address until you in-process the embassy. You can always forward emails and advise them of your new address later. Business cards handed out signal professionalism. Don’t go crazy with flags and colors, just put the relevant information there.
- Make sure you leave plenty of time to get to and into the buildings. Being late ruins your credibility up front, and is one of the “10 Things that Require Zero Talent.” On the other hand, don’t show up an hour early.
- Complain to USAFRICOM about your travel voucher not being settled by the student detachment – J5 MSD can’t do much about it.
- Sit around. You’ll never be back to D.C. or Stuttgart again for two years…don’t waste any time. Take the time to talk to every single FAO that is there. Find a new mentor, talk to the French, or British LNO about operations in your country, take care of medical issues, take a new photo for your ORB, take the DLPT, or get a new CAC card. You are about to go to an Embassy where you won’t be able to do any of these things. Think ahead – don’t be the complainer on the continent because you failed to think ahead. Go to Dupont Circle and attend think tank sessions on Africa. Attend a FAO On Tap session (I would try to arrange your visit around one of these).
- Show up knowing nothing on your countries programs. If you haven’t been to DISCS before your Washington meetings, you should read through the bi-weekly reports from the current OSC and understand the main issues they are highlighting.
As you board the plane for Africa contemplate on the differences in perspective between those in Washington, D.C. and those in Stuttgart. As you arrive in your country you will need to observe many more perspectives.
This is it…on to your country and being the point of the spear!