Foreign area SNCO program provides regional expertise
When Marines are stationed, deployed or training in a foreign nation, language barriers and cultural differences may create challenges when completing the mission.
To help alleviate this, the Marine Corps is developing a foreign area staff noncommissioned officer program to provide units with Marines who possess the skills needed to hurdle these barriers, according to Marine Administrative Message 724/11.
Marines selected for the initial testing of the program went through three phases of training consisting of education, immersive language training and in-country training, according to MARADMIN 724/11.
Gunnery Sgt. James A. Cornwell, a Korean linguist and foreign area SNCO with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, III Marine Expeditionary Force, is one of
nine Marines involved with the beta-test phase of this program and in the process of the in-country training phase.
“My job as a foreign area SNCO is to provide cultural, language and regional expertise to commanders to support decisions on the operational and tactical level of the Marine Air-Ground Task Force,” said Cornwell. “My purpose is to eliminate points of friction caused by language, cultural or political sensitivities when working with other countries.”
One way this is accomplished is by educating commanders and Marines about the countries in the Asia-Pacific region through meetings, according to Cornwell.
In addition to this a FASNCO serves as a translator and interpreter for his command.
The goal is not to make individual Marines experts, but to give them information to avoid miscommunications and to build friendships with partner countries, according to Cornwell.
The 31st MEU received two FASNCOs in December 2012 and began using them in support of Korean Marine Exchange Program 13 and Exercise Balikatan 13 in the Republic of the Philippines.
Conducting bilateral training with professional partners is crucial for strategic-level objectives in the Asia-Pacific region, according to Maj. Michael S. McDowell, a fire support officer with the 31st MEU.
“Our FASNCOs were part of not only the execution of annual and biannual training events at the tactical level, but also crucial in the functional and detailed planning that occurred during planning conferences months in advance,” said McDowell. “They were able to build dialogue with foreign military leadership in the area of operations and coordinate support crucial to a safe and effective execution of company-level training evolutions in both South Korea and the
Republic of the Philippines.”
A FASNCO needs to be more than a linguist and expert on just one nation, according to Cornwell.
“They should be able to talk about the history, economics, politics and religion of a country or region,” said Cornwell. “These are not subjects you can discuss in depth after reading a single article or taking a weeklong course. It takes months and years to develop a basic expertise in any of these subjects.”
Although the FASNCO program is in its infancy, the Marine Corps is testing to find the best way to develop Marines to meet job requirements, according to Cornwell.
“We are working to find answers to questions like what educational requirements should the Marines have, what should the language requirement be, and most importantly where and how should a FASNCO be employed,” said Cornwell.
Unit leaders at all levels can benefit from having a FASNCO in their command, according to McDowell.
“I hope to see more of these Marines soon,” said McDowell. “They provide not only cultural and language expertise, but also senior SNCO leadership input and recommendations as necessary at the staff level. They are a combat multiplier and a fantastic resource for the accomplishment of all assigned missions. These military professionals enable us to accomplish the mission quicker and more effectively.”