News: Air Force general shares lessons with foreign area officers
Story by Natela Cutter
MONTEREY, Calif. - Air Force Brig. Gen. David Stilwell told a group of foreign area officers that their future assignments as defense attaches, security assistance officers, and political-military planners will change their lives and offer them an opportunity to participate in U.S. foreign policy making.
“As we wrap up activities in the Middle East, in Iraq and Afghanistan, and our forces draw down, the concept of building partner capacity becomes increasingly important. And to do that you have to have awareness of culture and language. The best way to understand culture is through language,” said Stilwell, at the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center- sponsored Joint Foreign Area Officer Course held Jan. 13-17.
The officer course, organized annually by DLIFLC, is designed for newly-minted FAO program members across the services who are either studying at DLIFLC or the Naval Postgraduate School and about to begin their career as advisers to senior leaders on political, military, social, and economic issues of the host nations where they will be stationed.
“This is an opportunity for you to participate in the highest levels of diplomacy and to help (foreign dignitaries) understand our position,” Stilwell told some 65 attentive officers, conveying that their future jobs will require an exceptional depth and breadth of regional expertise as well as language and culture understanding in order to advise their superiors on often sensitive foreign policy matters.
“When your comments get into the presidential brief, and you get that Presidential Ribbon, it will hit you,” said Stilwell, referring to the political analysis reporting duties of officers that are read by Pentagon and White House staff and officials.
But understanding foreign policy and having the ability to analyze complex political situations is not the only skill officers need to know, said Stilwell, a DLIFLC graduate, who has served numerous times abroad in Asia, most recently as the senior defense attaché at the U.S. Embassy in China and currently the deputy director for Politico-Military Affairs for Asia where he advises the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the secretary of defense.
“Regardless of where you are, what you are doing, or what time it is, you are always on duty. Never forget that you are a military officer first. And remember, (foreign dignitaries) are always looking to us as an example” he said.