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

I recently had the privilege of serving on a U.S. Embassy Staff as the Chief of an Office of Defense Cooperation (ODC) in Central Europe.  The ODC, also known as Security Cooperation Office (SCO), is often less visible than the Defense Attaché, but it has a critical role supporting capabilities and capacity of partnered and allied armed forces around the world.  More importantly, the ODC is a nexus of interagency cooperation for U.S. Embassy, Department of Defense (DoD), and host-nation military and governmental agencies, often working in host-nation Ministries of Defense.

Even more than the Defense Attaché, the ODC is that familiar face most host-nation officials see daily that will form their impression of United States Armed Forces professionals for better or for worse.   Ultimately, being an ODC or SCO is much like any other Foreign Area Officer assignment; it’s about knowing people, knowing your job, and setting the example in what you say and do.  If you are a passionate advocate of what you do, others will follow your lead, and you will have a great assignment.

Lesson #1:  It’s all about people

Expect to meet dozens, if not hundreds of officials in your first weeks.  As always, email is nice, phone calls are better, and face-to-face is best.  You will likely inherit a work cell phone from your predecessor, full of contact information, so have business cards prepared prior to arrival in-country.  It will save time and make a good initial impression as you grow your network.

Know your local staff

Prior to your arrival as an ODC or SCO, you will attend the Defense Institute of Security Cooperation Studies (DISCS) course for the Security Cooperation Management Overseas Course (SCM-O).  While the course provides an excellent overview of the mechanics of the job, it is your local staff that will know many host-nation Ministry of Defense leaders personally.  While you may be fortunate enough to have U.S. staff personnel, including a deputy, a Bilateral Affairs Officer (BAO), or even an operations NCO, be sure to seek the counsel of Locally Employed Staff (LES) (usually hired from the host-nation).  Often, these personnel have served for ten or more years in an ODC and have invaluable experience, so include them in planning and host-nation engagements whenever possible, and an interpreter when needed.  As you orient yourself to your office, learn rating schemes and evaluation deadlines immediately.  You don’t want to be advocating for a service member or civilian after their evaluation is already due to a senior official.  Finally, educate yourself on civilian evaluations (both DOD and DOS versions), merit-based compensation, and awards to ensure they receive appropriate recognition for their work.  Nothing erodes morale quicker than a boss who is clueless on how to evaluate and reward personnel fairly.

Know your U.S. Counterparts

As mentioned previously, the ODC is a “nexus” of interagency coordination.  You will soon find yourself dealing with U.S. agencies, to include your Combatant Command (CCMD) and its Components, the U.S. Embassy staff, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA), and other supporting agencies.  You will be rated by leaders in both the U.S. Embassy and your CCMD, though your position as an ODC is usually sourced through the DSCA.  Consequently, ensuring that counterparts at these agencies both know you and have a common picture of issues in your country is no small task.  Establishing distribution lists for regular updates is a good communications tool.  Beyond updates, take every opportunity to call counterparts to discuss issues and meet in person whenever possible.

Know your State Partner

If your country has one, I cannot overstate the State Partnership Program’s (SPP) importance to an ODC’s mission.  The SPP, created in 1991, has established partnerships between the armed forces of 74 countries and the National Guards of 50 States, 3 territories, and the District of Colombia.  National Guard Partners participate in host-nation exercises, conduct education and familiarization events, and even support modernization efforts through in-country Mobile Training Teams (MTT).  Beyond in-country events, State Partners also host exercises and personnel exchanges in the United States, bringing many host-nation Service Members to the United States for the first time.

Not surprisingly, many countries view their State Partner’s National Guard as the “force of choice,” and it is not unusual for Service Members from the host-nation and State Partner to maintain career-long friendships.   All of this gives each State Partner’s Adjutant General (TAG) a close relationship with host-nation military leaders.  As the TAG is a valuable asset in your engagements, always ensure U.S. Embassy and CCMD leadership are aware of SPP activities, especially any General Officer engagements. Work closely with your Bilateral Affairs Officer (BAO) to familiarize yourself with your State Partner’s National Guard Leadership and SPP personnel, then keep them involved in ODC planning as they are valuable resources for accomplishing the CCMD’s country engagement plans.

Know your host-nation

Within your host-nation, you will likely face an organization entirely different from your previous experiences.  In fact, it will likely differ from the organization your own predecessor knew.  Your Defense Attaché Office, predecessor, and local staff should provide you with a good summary of the organization of the host-nation Ministry of Defense.  If not, be sure to ask.  Request introductions from your Defense Attaché with senior contacts at the Ministry of Defense, General Staff, and the Armaments/ Modernization Agency (often a separate organization from General Staff).  After initial meetings with senior leaders, you will likely meet your host-nation desk officer.  Senior contacts you meet are important, but utilize your desk officer as much as possible.  Avoid always going to senior contacts first.  Host-nation action officers will respect you for it, and you will empower them.  Eventually, you will know the critical points of entry, and those are not always the most senior members within a Ministry of Defense.

Establish weekly working groups with action officer contacts to plan and de-conflict.  By having regular (as opposed to “as-needed”) meetings with a clear agenda and quality materials, host-nation coordination will increase as you empower contacts with information.   Discuss shared objectives for exercises, education and training, as well as operational deployments.  You will have your own objectives, but always look for areas of growth or those requiring assistance.  Host-nation cooperation with the United States and allies that is unknown at senior levels of your CCMD and the Department of State (via your Embassy) or that does not show linkage to CCMD Campaign Plans, Embassy Integrated Country Strategy, or other major multinational exercises and deployments, will not help you secure resources for future cooperation efforts.

Host-nation Foreign Military Sales (FMS) contact may be separate from the General Staff, and you may need separate FMS working groups.  Work with DSCA and its supporting agencies to familiarize yourself with ongoing modernization priorities, efforts and challenges.  When meeting your host-nation Armaments Director, request their priorities and any modernization white-papers, as well as what areas of concern they have.  Take the time to listen; don’t promise resources (!); and assure them you will review concerns and work with their staff to seek solutions.  In doing this, work to keep CCMD Campaign Plans and Integrated Country Strategy and host-nation modernization objectives aligned.

Finally, as you immerse yourself in these security efforts, do not forget to learn about your host-nation’s culture.  As a United States diplomat, you should take whatever opportunity to learn about the local language, culture, history, sports teams, and foods.  Serving overseas is an incredible privilege that should not be wasted by knowing only professional matters in your country.  Your contacts and local staff will appreciate your efforts to learn about their country.  It is the right thing to do as a guest in their country.

Stay tuned to the GSF Blog for Part #2…

Questions?  Comments?  Contact LTC Richter at walter.richter@outlook.com.