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WASHINGTON — The Army plans to increase its number of foreign area officers, and soldiers serving overseas will have an advantage over their U.S. counterparts.

Currently, the Army has about 1,000 FAOs, commissioned officers specially trained in foreign languages and cultures. Col. Daniel Fagundes, chief of the service’s Strategic Leadership Division, said the FAOs essentially serve as military diplomats, providing units overseas with information on local customs and attitudes.

The foreign area office program is highly selective, open only to individuals who are O-3s or above and who score high on the Defense Language Aptitude Battery.

But Fagundes said preference is given to troops who have spent considerable time overseas, either in their tour of duty or in their civilian life, because of the cultural lessons they have already absorbed.

He has already heard from soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan interested in turning that experience into a new military career path.

Proficiency in a foreign language is not a prerequisite, but an aptitude for learning other tongues is. Training includes four years of foreign language training, overseas immersion, and graduate-level college courses.

The FAO expansion is part of an effort announced earlier this month by defense officials to spend $750 million over the next five years on improved foreign language and cultural training, developing programs such as predeployment language lessons for troops and better recruiting of native speakers for foreign missions.

Fagundes said his division has made an effort in recent years to expand the billets available for FAOs, especially in operational slots with units deployed to places such as Iraq and Afghanistan.

Officials anticipate an increase in the program’s numbers in coming years to correspond with those new openings.

“If you have a mission in say, South America, the Army will be able to push down an expert whose sole job it is to keep his eyes downrange, and he or she knows that they need to have tight relationships with the attachés and liaisons in country,” he said. “They could deploy down early, and be the cultural adviser for a commander.

“Imagine what they would bring to the mission.”

For more information, visit www.fao.army.mil.

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