Guest Post by LTC Walter Richter
Foreign Area Officer
Former Chief, Office of Defense Cooperation

Don’t miss Lesson #1: It’s All About People
or Lesson #2: Know your job and (more importantly) who to call

Lesson #3:  Set the Example.

This shouldn’t be a new lesson to anyone in the military.  However, some may mistakenly get the impression that being far away from the headquarters gives them more flexibility on military standards to include, fitness, appearance and standards of conduct.  Bad news always find a way back to your headquarters, and more importantly, it usually damages relations with the host-nation.  So, act as if someone is always watching, because they are, and it is the right thing to do.  Enough said.

Final Lessons from an ODC Chief: Set the Example and Don’t Be an IntrovertLesson #4:  Don’t be an Introvert.

As a foreign area officer working on an Embassy staff, it is imperative that you don’t stay in your shell.  Take the time to visit with your host-nation contacts in person.  They should be willing to come to you for explanations to complex issues or to request information.  They should never fear your reactions.  Look to include host-nation contacts in Embassy events and especially holiday receptions, as well as any military formal events like the U.S. Marine Corps Birthday Ball.  Your contacts are often outside the SDO/ DATT’s contacts and they will appreciate being included in Embassy events.  Also talk with your CCMD about funding for your own representational events.  Something as simple as a holiday luncheon for your contacts will make a positive impression that they will remember.

Be an advocate

Your Embassy Staff should ask for your input on the Integrated Country Strategy (ICS) and the Mission Resource Request (MRR). Take the time to provide quality inputs on these reports as they are an important factor in FMF allocation each year.  These reports will also provide a foundation for talking-points that your Embassy will frequently request for senior leader visits and host-nation engagements, often on short notice.  Always maintain concise talking points that a senior leader, unfamiliar with your country, can use in their engagements.

International trade shows and exhibitions also provide the opportunity for U.S. Senior Leaders to hold bilateral engagements with Ministry of Defense or Armament representatives from your host-nation.  The desk officers at your CCMD and at DSCA and its supporting agencies will let you know which of these events their seniors are attending.  This is an opportunity for you to travel with your host-nation representatives and to introduce them to U.S. senior leaders.  Before you go, ensure that everyone has the same meeting expectations and that you have a clear agenda so that senior leaders from either side are not surprised and that the meeting is productive.

Securing U.S. Forces for exercises in your country can be challenging, since there are simply too many requests to say yes to everyone.  However, working at the action officer level to find a mutually beneficial solution to present separately to U.S. and host-nation senior leaders for final approval is your best bet.  Ask U.S. units what training requirements that they are lacking that they can accomplish in your country then see what host nation exercise that training can support.  It may sound obvious, but cooperation can die easily when both sides are waiting for the other to be the first to ask.

Get the word out

Working away from a headquarters in a remote location is a dream for most Foreign Area Officers.  However, that comes with the obligation to work relentlessly to get your message out.  The mandatory reporting for the CCMD and the Embassy will definitely keep you out of trouble, but it won’t make you a success.  If no one outside the Embassy and your host-nation knows what you are doing, you won’t be able to get the support for your programs to grow.  As you prepare your reports, always be mindful of your audience.  Avoid acronyms, or at least spell them out the first time, as you will work with diverse audiences that often do not share the same technical vocabulary.

Conclusion:  Make your mark!

The ODC is a rewarding job during which you can have a dramatic effect on the military capacity and capabilities of an ally or partner and often see results during your assignment.  The lessons and observations I have presented here are far from an exhaustive “to-do” list.  They do reflect my experiences and what I have learned, often by making mistakes along the way.  I welcome comments and lessons learned from fellow Security Cooperation professionals.

Questions?  Comments?  Contact LTC Richter at


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