Small Wars Journal

The Strategic Opportunity in our Senior Foreign Official Advisory Mission

Wed, 02/15/2012 - 6:13am

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Military officers have frequently been called upon to serve as advisors to foreign officials and to play seminal roles in political (policy), institutional (strategic), and operational (tactical) realms overseas.  Historically, several high profile advisors are recognizable. [1]  Lawrence of Arabia’s military and nation building exploits with the Arabs became lionized in literature and the Hollywood big screen.   General Sir John Dill’s contributions played a significant role during World War II in the formation of the "special relationship" between the United Kingdom and the United States. Additionally, the role of allied military advisors in post World War II Japan and Germany are other well known examples of the impact military advisors to senior foreign officials can have on political evolution and development of effective institutions of government.

In the fall of 2010 I attended an interagency workshop and was introduced to several Army officers who served as advisors to senior foreign officials (SFO).[2]  During the discussion, I asked about their roles and how the Army prepared them to serve in such a challenging and strategically critical position.  Their responses were not what I had expected to hear. 

“As for selection and preparation; my assignment officer said I fit the screening criteria for dwell, rank and being a former brigade commander, frankly I wondered if I was the right person for this type of assignment.  There was no formal training provided or a repository of information to refer to for prep; I did a lot of googling...  The best training I received was the email dialog with my predecessor and the five days I was able to spend with him prior to departure.” 

“It took about 90 days to figure out what I was doing when it came to interagency and multinational collaboration.  Another concern was “What other organizations was I competing with who may not have our national goals as their priority?”

“Being aware of “Under-the table” allegiances and past friendships proved challenging.  It proved even more challenging with no Relief In Place (RIP).  I felt like I was back playing the childhood board game “CLUE”…trying to figure out who did what to whom and in what room and why!”

“After I arrived it took me about 90-120 days to both get a good grasp of what I needed to know and to build trust with the minister.” 

“As an advisor I worked with the minister, his deputy ministers and other executives.  I understood the minister’s priorities and his outlook on certain initiatives;…overtime, I was able to directly influence the host country’s strategic level decision making .” The fact is, having built a relationship which directly impacts our national security interests, I’ll likely never be leveraged again unless one of the senior officers I worked for does another tour and asks for me by name.”

“One thing I learned early is that reverse atmospherics to US leadership was critical, on many occasions I had to communicate to the coalition HQs the potential or actual strategic damage of certain policies and behaviors.”

--- Former U.S. Army Advisors to Senior Foreign Officials[3]


After hearing a common theme in every conversation that dealt with preparing senior personnel for their role as an advisor at the strategic and policy level, one thing became painfully clear.  The selection methodology, pre-deployment training and organizational support provided to senior personnel selected to serve as advisors to senior foreign officials was (and could potentially still be) woefully inadequate. 

For tactical level advisors we invest in ten weeks of pre-deployment training, convene Department of the Army level boards to select advisory team chiefs, and provide brigade infrastructure for reach-back and support.   Yet, for the several hundred personnel selected to advise[4] senior foreign officials at the strategic and policy level - where routine events and decisions can directly affect America’s security and political interests - we make no structured investments in the selection process, training, organizational support while deployed, or in capturing lessons learned upon redeployment.

A deeper exploration of this topic, fueled by articles, interagency forums and further discussion with friends and colleagues (in the Army[5], multinational forces and interagency institutions) led me to conclude  we can and should be doing more to reduce the strategic risk and leverage the strategic opportunity inherent inside our senior foreign official advisory mission.

I have broken this article out to  review: 1) the strategic impact of SFO advising; 2) the relevant policy and doctrine directing us to perform this mission; 3) the current selection processes for advisors; 4) training for strategic-level advisors; and, finally, 4) the implications of our current system.  In the last section, I present recommendations to optimize our capacity for advising at the strategic level.   My goal is to prompt debate that can leverage improvement of US capacity to shape the strategic institutions and processes   that govern the success of stability operations.  In my assessment this success will go unrealized unless we provide greater structure to the selection, training and support of our strategic advisors.

 The Strategic Opportunity Inherent in Advising Senior Foreign Officials 

Military officers have frequently served as advisors to foreign officials, playing a critical role in the advancement of political (policy), institutional (strategic), and operational (tactical) arenas thereby impacting political evolution and strategic success. The position is no less important in today’s world where obtaining support of civilian populations is as important as kinetic operations.  For example, over the last thirty years, Army advisors have successfully influenced those they advised in support of U.S. national interests with regard to the betterment of human rights, adoption of anti-corruption policies, ministerial capacity building, security sector reform, Rule of Law and much more.  

But with every success we have suffered just as many setbacks in our strategic advising mission.  For years we denied that stability operations and its inherent advising mission were the responsibility of general purpose forces[6].  When tasked to meet the shortfalls in interagency and coalition commitments during recent conflicts we did so on the cheap; sending the wrong people (improper rank, age, gender, technical backgrounds and psychological makeup).  We thereby alienated senior foreign officials to such a degree that we slowed significantly security development, political evolution and strategic success.  We also cost our nation dearly in both blood and treasure.  In these instances we were not as fully successful as early as we could have been had we prepared better for the role.   So have we learned from these past mistakes?  Are we now accepting the role as strategic advisor as  a core mission, and are we selecting, training and utilizing the personnel we place as senior foreign official advisors to optimize our chances for success

 Returning to the Past -- Policy and Doctrine

The U.S. Army has a long history of providing advisors at the tactical through strategic levels to rebuild indigenous institutions, including various types of security forces, criminal justice systems, and representative governmental institutions to secure and stabilize the environment (e.g., the taming the American Frontier and  operations in the Philippines, China, Japan, Germany, Korea, and Latin America).  Outside of U.S. Army Special Forces, this capability atrophied and was mostly pushed out of war fighting policy and doctrine with the end of the Vietnam War.  

 During the next thirty years (1975 – 2005) the Army participated in a series of short duration interventions (Panama, Kuwait, Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia and Kosovo) in which it strongly resisted planning for or being involved in stability operations.  Terms such as “mission creep” and “nation building” were terms of derision used to describe anything outside of Phase III (high intensity) combat operations.  Participation in these efforts was seen as competing with Army core missions; peripheral at best and more often a serious distraction.  So distracting, that major rehearsal exercises at the Brigade through Corps level consistently concluded after culmination of phase III operations.

When the Army commenced operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, it did so with a set of assumptions on the part of our national leaders that in hindsight has proven faulty.  Then National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice is quoted in an interview as saying, “We would bring in new leadership, but we are going to keep the body in place.”[7]  The concept of “keeping the body in place,” led to the following assumptions:   1) a grateful public will welcome U.S. intervention; 2) security tasks will be easily transferred, and 3) existing country infrastructure and governance will be reestablished in short order with the help of interagency partner capacity   These faulty assumptions - combined with the lack of preparation for stability operations - were based on 30 years of cultural bias towards warfighting. They led to the Army making little progress toward sustainable security and stabilization between 2001-05 in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Many would argue that we in fact lost ground.

By 2005, senior administration and DoD leadership realized that stability operations, including the associated capacity building and legitimacy tasks, were critical to success in even limited interventions and central to our own national security.   In November 2005, DoD Directive 3000.05[8]  “Military Support for Stability, Security, Transition, and Reconstruction (SSTR) Operations” was issued establishing stability operations as a core U.S. military mission.  It would be given priority comparable to combat operations and to be explicitly addressed and integrated across all DoD activities including doctrine, organizations, training, education, exercises, materiel, leadership, personnel, facilities, and planning.[9]  Service doctrine was consequently written and published, most notably FM 3-24 (Counterinsurgency) in 2006 and FM 3-07 (Stability Operations) in 2008.

With stability operations policy and doctrine in place, the conventional Army slowly adopted the concept of advising (euphemistically referred to as “helping others to help themselves”) as critical to sustainable operational success.  Organizational structures were modified to embed advisors.  Incentives were provided to solicit volunteers.  Department of the Army boards were designated to centrally select our best for advisory team leadership and a ten week program of instruction was created to prepare soldiers for advisory roles.  Sadly, however, this was exclusively at the tactical level.  All of these were critical steps towards success of developing stable institutions and processes.  But a major piece of the system was largely ignored.  For the several hundred personnel selected to advise senior foreign officials (SFO) at the strategic and policy level, where routine events and decisions directly impacted America’s security and political interests, we relied on an underdeveloped  personnel selection process, with training woefully limited to one week of training on basic individual soldier tasks, and no organizational support.  Tragically, this situation remains largely unchanged today. 

Selecting Advisors for SFOs

The success of the SFO advisor depends on influencing foreign officials to act in manners which create stable, democratically based, and ultimately pro-western and pro-US governments.   This requires vision, diplomacy and simple people skills – particularly cultural empathy and respect.  Current personnel policies have little invested in tools to identify such skills and personality traits; instead focusing on previous command success or technical depth.  Numerous advisory studies since 1957 as well as interagency forums found this selection method placed increased risk to the US and host country relationship while threatening to undermine the overall success of the strategic mission. 

I cannot say it too often. The selection of the right people for a senior level mentoring position cannot be over emphasized. Lots of time is spent (I hope!!) on the right paper qualifications and this is of course very important. A lengthy CV[10] showing a good mix of operational experience, administration, instructional and staff duties, education and training must not be overlooked. However it has been my experience on several missions that even highly qualified and professionally successful personnel who do not possess the right personality, attitude and /or temperament have been nothing short of a disaster. I would suggest coming up with a template for a screening process that would weed out candidates who are inflexible, overbearing, racist and egotistical would be a blessing for all concerned. There are psychological profiles that could be incorporated into the selection process.

--- Tom Haney, Former SFO Advisor, Canadian Army (Ret)[11]

In discussing the selection processes for advisors to SFOs with Department of Defense, multinational, and interagency colleagues, similar opinions to those expressed in Tom Haney’s email were common.   I also found a common theme in my academic research. General William C. Westmoreland, in a letter to his advisors in 1967 eloquently described the nuances of serving as an advisor.  He wrote, “The training for the military officer is characterized by conditioned traits of decisiveness and aggressiveness.  The essence of your relationship with your counterpart is constituted by patience and restraint.”    A 1957 report from the Korean conflict sums up the criteria that should be looked at as a minimum when choosing an officer to serve in a senior advisory role.

“Personnel selected for such duty must be temperamentally … able to withstand these stresses, in addition to being professionally competent.  Qualities needed include tact, patience, emotional stability, self-sufficiency, self-discipline and …, command and combat experience if possible.” [12]

Bottom line: paper files alone are unable to provide the personality and psychological context needed for an informed selection.  Being a successful commander does not automatically translate into being a successful advisor.

We know from research that selecting the wrong person to serve as an SFO advisor can be incredibly damaging in the pursuit of our strategic objectives.  So how does the Army select advisors for positions where the potential for great success or great loss is a daily reality?  In discussing this question with a representative from the Army’s senior leader development office the following was laid out. 

‘In a few cases, positions are filled through a by name request by a senior mission commander using intuitive reasoning; understanding both the advisory position and personally knowing an officer with the right qualifications for the position. In most instances the theater identifies a position to fill, establishes screening criteria such as former brigade commander, specific branch and rank, etc.  Next, files are selected, dwell time weighted, availability confirmed and a nomination made.  There is no checklist that looks at the intangibles or weights past experience in a position that emphasizes influencing, negotiating or mediating in a foreign environment. Assignments are twelve months and an officer gets anywhere from a month to six months notice, the average is about 120 days.’

Assignment Officer, Senior Leader Development Office[13]

Of the several hundred SFO positions filled annually, the senior mission commander (SMC) is able to match the right advisor to the right SFO intuitively[14] in an undetermined percentage of instances.  For most of the SFO advisory positions, the Army fills the assignment by weighting the selection toward rank, technical expertise, past success in command, dwell time and in some instances a recommendation from another senior officer; but are these the right criteria?   Multiple studies and lessons learned show that in addition to technical expertise, rank and gender; psychological make-up, understanding the environment (i.e. proficiency in interdepartmental and multi-national cooperation in addition to host nation competencies) and tour lengths are critical factors for success.  However, criteria like “psychological evaluation and matching” are not used.  “Cultural understanding” is not given sufficient weight.  And, “tour length” is not established  with specific consideration for the advising mission. 

Current selection models weighted disproportionately on previous command success, technical qualifications and dwell time without tools to determine the proper psychological makeup were noted to be risky strategically, as advisors moved from the “world of command to the world of influence.”[15]  The Ministry Reform Advisor for the U.S. Army Peacekeeping and Stability Operations Institute states; “More than any other position in the military structure , the SFO advisor role implies a relationship between two individuals and that relationship depends more on personality, psychology and intangible factors than it does on a personnel record or technical background.[16]  

Overall, the success of the SFO advisor depends on effecting actions by the foreign official which will ultimately serve the national security of the United States.  Poor selection or matching of personality types — plus insufficient mission preparation and frequent turnover — not only degrades the US and host country relationship, it threatens to undermine the overall success of the strategic mission.   An ill prepared or poorly matched SFO advisor is a strategic risk we cannot continue to underwrite. 

Training and supporting our advisors

Advisors who understand the host nation (HN) culture understand that local politics have national effects.  Effective advisors recognize and use cultural factors that support HN commitment and teamwork.  A good advisor uses the culture’s positive aspects to get the best outcome from…(the advised) leader.

--- FM 3-24, Chap 6[17]

Realizing it is difficult to consistently identify and find SFO advisors with the ideal personality and backgrounds, an investment needs to be made in pre-deployment training. In preparing for contingency operations we understand no two countries are alike and thus we prepare and train for each differently to optimize our chance for success.  The story is no different for soldiers selected to serve as advisors, they must possess specific knowledge of the geography, human terrain, culture, politics, history; unit, institution or Individual being advised, and how the host country views us in order to be effective.

Since 2005, the Army has dedicated a brigade’s training structure[18] to oversee ten weeks of pre-deployment training, a post deployment AAR and reach-back support to its ‘tactical level’ advisory personnel.  Ten weeks encompasses mandatory collective training requirements, socialization and individual readiness tasks; but just as important, is the country specific training on host nation (HN) culture and cross cultural incongruities, a human map of influencers, politics, history, and economy provided by successful former advisors in order to facilitate connecting the new advisors to their HN counterparts.  It is the combination of selection policies, pre-deployment training and “downrange” support that smoothes the progress of rapport development driving success in the tactical level advisory mission.

In stark contrast, for those selected to advise at the ‘strategic level’, the Army has invested little with regard to selection process or CONUS-based mission support and absolutely nothing outside of the individuals experience with regard to formally preparing for the strategic aspects of their mission.  My research shows a typical deployment for a strategic level advisor develops as follows:

  • 30-179 days pre-deployment notification (Selectee continues full-time duties in high responsibility, high tempo position, gathers information by email, conducts individual research and invests little to nothing in language skills development)
  • Schedules his/her own CRC class date, attends CRC for one week (training provided on theater specific individual readiness requirements)
  • FSO deploys and the transition occurs.  Currently, there is no standard procedure.  The FSO can either overlap with their predecessor for a short time or they can immediately assume their duties as advisor.  Transitions vary widely on material covered and time allocated, many are abbreviated driven by time not tasks or learning objectives.
  • 60-120 days – Average time into a deployment before most FSOs felt they understood the culture in addition to the mix of HN, Multinational, Interagency and US Military they were required to interact with, influence, or support.   This 60 – 120 day timeframe also describes the average length of time before the advisor established rapport with the senior foreign official.
  • 12 months – tour ends, transition occurs with new advisor, out-process CRC.  (No requirement for post utilization debrief, submission of lessons learned, post-utilization tour or availability for future reach back for new advisors  and no flagging of veteran FSOs records with a view toward  leveraging the relationships in the future to speed attainment of national security objectives). 

With no formal training established or organization dedicated to preparing and supporting the strategic advisory mission, personnel selected to advise senior foreign officials are on their own to research relevant information in preparation for their role. As noted above, this is a significant challenge given the selected individuals are already serving as chiefs of staff, senior level commanders, or other high responsibility, high tempo positions.  The duties and responsibilities of these billets preclude truly investing oneself in the required cultural studies, language, interagency research, politics, history, economy, relationships with the US and advising best practices. To complicate matters, there is no published doctrine or centralized repository of information to assist in the preparation which truly takes the task from overwhelming to unmanageable.  Advisors prepare as best they can.  They deploys and stumble through many early introductions and meetings and eventually they understand the demands of their position, building the necessary rapport a quarter or more into their tour. 

But what happens if the advisor either doesn’t understand or lacks empathy for the cultural incongruities, strategic and governmental initiatives, history, politics and personal foibles of the senior foreign official?  What happens when the advisor is similarly insensitive to the outside actors their SFO’s support or compete with for influence?  The results can and have been disastrous, as the advisor is disregarded or even worse, perceived as an adversary; degrading or eliminating our ability to influence the SFO decision making process and negatively impacting our strategic objectives.  The examples below are pulled from the writing of Michael Metrinko, Military Reform Advisor at the U.S. Army Peacekeeping Institute and personal discussions with still practicing senior advisors:

  • In a speech before a Pashtun audience, a senior American official decided to lecture them about the error of their ways in continuing to raise opium poppies.  He pointed his finger at the crowd and told them harshly that they should be ashamed of their behavior.  Instead of winning the crowd to his point of view, the reaction was one of anger and extreme resentment, rising all the way to the top of the Afghan government and resulting in very negative publicity.  In the Afghan culture, pointing fingers and using the word “shame” are considered personal insults.[19]
  • An Afghan VIP…noted he refused to deal with anyone from International Security Assistance Force Headquarters in Kabul because …They don’t know anything about Afghanistan. [20]
  • At a meeting between U.S. and International Rule of Law advisors, and the Afghan Ministry of Justice.  One international official began the discussion by scolding ministry personnel for not having more Afghan Women involved in the discussions even though one was present.  Having committed a major cultural faux pas resulting in the loss of face for the afghan leaders, the meeting suffered considerably and the ability of certain organizations to advance their agendas after this incident was lost completely.[21]
  • There was the U.S. Navy O-6 trying to advise the Iraqi, Deputy Minister of the Interior.  The O-6 was a submariner. Nice guy but no frame of reference to MOI-IPS (Iraqi Police Service). And, he was only there six months.  He was discounted by the Iraqis who knew not only his background but the fact that he was leaving after six months. You could say we made little progress in these days as this was not an unusual event.[22]

Optimizing our chances for success

Advising at the strategic level affords us the opportunity to influence, shape, mediate and inform the decision making process and capacities of the individuals and institutions that we serve as advisors for.  We have shown that failure to properly select, prepare and support the personnel serving in these critical positions can lead to strategic failure or missed opportunities that prolong operations costing us time, money and lives.  Described below are actions we can take now to optimize our performance both short and long term:

Selection and Utilization of Advisors

In the high stakes mission of SFO advising, nothing less than national security objectives are at stake.  Selecting the best personnel, establishing flexible 15-24 month tour lengths that reduce advisor fatigue for the HN official, and creating reutilization policy for successful advisors will allow them to leverage their evolving cultural competency, their HN and interagency network, and their relationship with senior foreign officials.  Proposals:

  • Personnel Selection – Create a psychological assessment for targeted individuals and a 360 assessment to be completed by a requisite number of former colleagues which looks at the individuals desire to conduct the mission, temperament, humility, tact, the ability to build rapport and skill sets in mediation, negotiation and partnering.  A properly constructed assessment will provide greater awareness of candidates who might prove to be inflexible and unyielding or those who would display questionable tact in the senior advising environment.  Supportting such a critical billet with more discriminating selection criteria than is gleaned from command OER’s and other personnel documents would lead to human resource managers and mission commanders who are better equipped to match the right advisor to the identified senior foreign official.
  • Tour Length - What should the tour length be for advisors assigned to senior foreign officials?  If it takes 60-120 days to build rapport and become effective at advancing U.S. strategic interests alongside an SFO, then a sixth to a quarter of the tour is lost opportunity.  Interagency SFO advising workshops recommend 24 months to avoid advising fatigue among officials.   General officer level advisors routinely serve 15-24 months in these positions with repeat tours to leverage relationships. I recommend training and leveraging a consistent cadre of senior officers who serve 15-24 months, return to a utilization tour that keeps them connected as a trainer or mentor and then reassigns them back to the same country in the same or a similar position that takes advantage of the confidence and shared personal relationships built in the earlier assignment. The 15-24 month tour length can be done in conjunction with the senior mission commander (SMC) on the ground, similar to a Garrison Commander’s two or three year command determination.  Six months into the advisory mission the SMC meets with the new advisor to review performance, discuss the criticality of continuity with the SFO, and agree to the final tour length.  This allows the human resources command to meet required notification timelines for projected replacements, reduces overall advisor fatigue and provides the SMC an opportunity to leverage outstanding advisor/SFO pairings.
  • Establish a formalized relief in place with minimum times and specified tasks to accomplish similar to our expectations for brigade-level commands in theater.  In recognizing the complexity of the task and the criticality of rapport development with both the SFO and numerous agencies, a minimum of 30-45 days should be set aside to ensure an effective transition.
  • Assign or dedicate outstanding advisors as part-time trainers for future SFO advisors.  At a minimum, use them as guest lecturers and discussion panelists during SFO advisor training.     
  • Create post-utilization tours (identify talent, build and sharpen advisory skills, and re-employ good SFO advisors to leverage their networks and relationships.
  • Make being an FSO advisor valuable to the officer.  Tie it in to promotion, coveted assignments post utilization, etc.  Service as an FSO advisor cannot be viewed as a ‘consolation prize’ assignment ILO a “black book” nominative position. (e.g. general or civilian equivalent)
  • Provide  interdepartmental and coalition/multinational exposure in the training in the same fashion as above.

Preparing Advisors

Few subject matter experts (or successful former commanders) intuitively know how to advise an SFO without at least an introduction to basic principles and techniques.[23] To facilitate self development, ensure a common knowledge base, and speed the process of rapport development the Army should.Immediately create both unclassified and classified central repositories for training materials, SFO advising lessons learned, scholarly articles, and after action reports accessible through portals such as the Center for Complex Operations at National Defense University, Stability Operations Lessons Learned Information Management System (SOLLIMS), Army Knowledge On-line or the Joint Readiness Training Center’s (JRTC) 162nd Infantry Brigade web-page.

  • In addition to the CONUS Replacement Center (CRC) at Fort Benning, have National Defense University serve as the center to conduct Joint, Interagency, Multi-national Senior Leader advisory course training for strategic level assignments. At a minimum, the mandatory pre-deployment training should cover:
  • History, culture, politics and economics of the country of assignment
  • Interagency coordination: overlapping responsibilities, coordination mechanisms, support networks
  • Cultural awareness: recognizing cultural assumptions and biases
  • Interpersonal communication: verbal, nonverbal, and interpreter- mediated
  • Exerting influence: Empathy versus sympathy, consensus building, respect and humility
  • Understanding power relationships: formal, informal, illicit
  • Negotiation and mediation: nonviolent dispute resolution
  • Problem Solving: interpersonal and institutional
  • Organizational development: leadership, planning, implementation, evaluation
  • Transition to independent operations: preparations for departure

(Consortium for Complex Operations, Ministerial Advising Workshop, Feb 2009)[24]


  •  Adopting best practices from our tactical advisory training, experienced former advisors should be used to provide training, share contextual knowledge and pass on lessons learned. Advisor training should include superiors to assist with expectation management and to develop appropriate means of assessment, feedback and support.  Ideally, training and discussions could include representatives from other government agencies, foreign partners, and non-governmental organizations (NGO).  Interactive interagency training could help provide a strong foundation for coordination during deployment.[25]
  • Portions of the proposed training could be provided in-theater, upon arrival or several weeks after to allow for orientation and identification of individual areas that need to be addressed.  In Iraq, Multinational Security Transition Command ran a school for advisors for all newly arriving advisory personnel to provide them a deeper understanding of the current environment at both the macro and micro levels.
  • Advising is undertaken by a diverse range of individuals from U.S. and foreign governments, militaries, NGOs, private contractors, and U.N. agencies. These actors have diverse and sometimes competing objectives.  Without coordination or consensus, advisors may find themselves working at cross-purposes. To address this shortfall, I recommend creating a Joint, Interagency, Multi-national Senior Leader Advisory Course to promote networking and mission understanding.  In every discussion I held with former and currently serving SFO advisors, they noted they’d have benefitted greatly from training of this nature

As part of training, ensure our SFO advisors have the chance to fail and learn vicariously by putting them in training scenarios that are challenging, have a measured standard, and are realistic.  Experiential learning might be best in this instance.  That way it won’t be a ‘sit down, take notes, listen to a lecture’ type program.  The program of instruction should  be hard and realistic

Support for Advisors

Advisors can often speed the establishment of rapport and create a perception of value to the SFO with proper organizational support.  The ability to reach back to gain timely insight, clarify positions, and harness or help direct resources that positively impact the HN or SFO all build trust and deepen relationships.  In this manner, organizational support directly impacts the two countries relationships and advances our strategic goals.

  • Establish and continuously update a mentor and peer support network to enable both projected and currently serving advisors to tap the knowledge and experiences of successful former advisors to SFOs. 
  • Establish a research and connectivity section within existing advisory force structure to provide information, intelligence, and links to training, material and finances that are outside the capability of in country support systems. 

Possible reach back solutions include the Army’s Peacekeeping and Stability Operations Institute and the 162nd Infantry Brigade.  Both are natural hubs for coordinating and managing reachback these initiatives by leveraging existing structure and expertise to gain efficiencies and effectiveness.


   Throughout Army history, advising has been critical in the attainment of our strategic objectives.  The ghosts of Vietnam and the emergence of Foreign Internal Defense as a Special Forces mission pushed advising out of the conventional force lexicon in favor of combat operations and rapid transitions to interagency players.  When the scale and complexity of the interventions exceeded the capacity of special operations forces and interagency organizations the Army and Department of Defense reaffirmed stability operations as a core competency.  Embracing the advisory mission was critical to the way forward and changes to personnel policies, doctrine, organizations and training of tactical level advisors allowed more operational synergy and greater effects.  The fix stopped at the tactical level, leaving strategic level advising of individuals and institutions as an ad-hoc process significantly slowing progress toward the attainment of our strategic goals. 

For a position that carries with it enormous responsibility and the possibility of great strategic advantage (and risk) for U.S. interests we should be doing more.  We must learn from our past and ensure future success by implementing the right personnel selection process, appropriate training, and adequate organizational support to optimize the strategic advising mission  for the future. 



This article is based on research conducted in the fall of 2010 and winter of 2011.  Interviews and informal discussions were held with military and civilian officials and representatives of international organizations.  For comments and information I am grateful to the interviewees and reviewers, Tom Haney, Gerald Burke, Sam Anderson, Larry Saunders, Robert Killebrew, Nathan Frier, George Woods, Kevin Palgutt and numerous contributors who wish to remain anonymous.

[1] Michael, Metrinko, “The American Military advisor: Dealing with Senior Foreign Officials in the Islamic World.”  Peacekeeping and Stability Operations Institute and Strategic Studies Institute, August 2008, Pg. VII

[2] The term senior foreign official as used in this article refers to advising senior military officers, regional/provincial officials, cabinet ministers and deputies, governors and at times even heads of state.

[3] Personal conversations with former Senior Foreign Official advisors, “Building Police Capacity in Post Conflict Communities,” Center for Complex Operations, National Defense University 25 October 2010

[4] Advisor as defined and  used throughout this paper refers to an individual who provides advice on military and other matters, acts as a liaison between the U.S. military hierarchy and the SFO and effects action by the official which will be in the interests of the U.S.(Metrinko, 6)

[5] The term Army as used in this paper refers strictly to conventional Army forces and not Special Forces personnel

[6] As used in this article, general purpose forces refers to all US Army forces with the exception of Special Forces units assigned to Special Operations Command

[7] Insert endnote

[8]  DODD 3000.05, November 2005. The directive emphasized that stability operations were no

longer secondary to combat operations, stating: Stability operations are a core U.S. military mission that the Department of Defense shall be prepared to conduct and support. They shall be given priority comparable to combat operations and be explicitly addressed and integrated across all DOD activities including doctrine, organizations, training, education, exercises, materiel, leadership, personnel, facilities, and planning. The directive further stressed that stability operations were likely more important to the lasting success of military operations than traditional combat operations. Thus, the directive elevated stability operations to a status equal to that of the offense and defense

[9] DoD Directive 3000.05  Military Support for Stability, Security, Transition, and Reconstruction (SSTR) Operations, 28 November 2005, Pg. 2

[10] A curriculum vitae (CV) provides an overview of a person's life and qualifications and is synonymous with a military personnel record brief

[11]  Email dialogue with Tom Haney, Canadian Army, Former SFO advisor, 18 January 2011

[12] Robert D. Ramsey III, (2006) OP 18 Advising Indigenous Forces: American Advisors in Korea, Vietnam, and El Salvador El Salvador (ĕl sälväthōr`), officially Republic of El Salvador, republic (2005 est. pop. 6,705,000), 8,260 sq mi (21,393 sq km), Central America.  (Fort Leavenworth: Combat Studies Institute Press, 2006), 20-22

[13] Personal discussion with Senior Leader Development Assignment Officer, Dec 2010

[14] As described by a SLD representative, using officer record briefs for experience and responsibility and correlating that to their understanding of the position requirements  

[15] Panarelli, Liz, “The Role of the Ministerial Advisor in Security Sector Reform: Navigating Institutional Terrains,” United States Institute of Peace Briefing, April 2009, Pg 3

[16] Metrinko, Pg. 18

[17] FM 3-24, Pg. 6-17

[18] The 162d Infantry Brigade conducts combat advisor training of joint, multi-functional foreign area Advisor Teams and Modular Brigade augmented for Security Force Assistance (MB-SFA) to achieve Theater, Service and Joint training requirements and is responsible for the reception, training, certification, deployment, support while deployed, redeployment, re-integration and theater coordination of Advisor Teams currently in support of Overseas Contingency Operations.

[19] Metrinko, Pg 38

[20] Metrinko, Pg. 36

[21] Story related by participant in Rule of Law course, Washington D.C. 1 March 2011

[22] Gerald Burke, email exchange  on SFO advising, 20 February 2011

[23] Bayley and Peritio, Pg. 149

[24] Bayley and Perito, Pg. 150

[25] Panarelli, Pg. 5


About the Author(s)

COL Dave Glaser active duty officer currently serving as the Deputy Provost Marshal General, Headquarters, Department of the Army. He is a Military Police officer who has commanded at the Company through Brigade levels and served as an adviser at the tactical through operational level.


Robert C. Jones

Mon, 02/20/2012 - 12:43pm

In reply to by John T. Fishel


I doubt local populaces have ever been particularly tolerant of such practices, but certainly in the emerging infomation powered environment the ramifications of such incursions on the legitimacy and sovereignty of foreign nations is more inappropriate and more likely to lead to dangerous backlash than ever before.

Yes the military is full of smart officers, warrants and NCOs who are or could be very good at such engagement. But just because we are smart and good at something does not mean it is something smart or good to do.

Less is more. We need to start becoming far more sensitive to the aspects of "legitimacy" that matter most for the stability of our partners, and it is not the kind described in our military doctrine. We need to become better at acting in ways that reinforce in the eyes of the affected populace the right of their government to govern them. Such programs as you describe in Latin America above surely do the opposite, regardless of how well performed.

We have to change how we think about these things, these missions. Helping make others more "effective" at the cost of making them less "legitmate" creates instability, not stability; and increases the threat to the US from the affected populace, not decreasing it as we appear to assume.


John T. Fishel

Sun, 02/19/2012 - 9:02am

There are a couple of glaring omissions from COL Glaser's otherwise excellent article. First, he ignores the one long standing Army program - the Foreign Area Officer (FAO) - that is designed to produce officers educated to serve as advisors to SFOs. (The other services have programs like FAO of varying degrees of effectiveness - some called FAO or the USAF RAS/PAS.) FAOs have been generally successful as advisors at all levels, however, as a result of OPMS 21 reforms while there are more O-6 FAOs there are many fewer O-7 and above FAOs.
While FAO provides the right education and experience for SFO advising, there is no guarantee that any given FAO will be successful with any particular SFO. Not all FAO skills transfer equally. Still, it is a better background for selection than Brigade Command to serve as advisor to a governmetn minister or provincial governor.
The best example I saw was COL Al Cornell in Panama advising the First Vice President whose second hat was minister of Government & Justice, his Deputy for Security, and the director of the Panama Public Force. Al had been MILGP commander in Panama and was then serving as DATT in Guatemala. He was pulled back for this mission and executed it superbly and consistently - attached at the hip to his advisees.

Arnoux Abraham Jr

Fri, 02/17/2012 - 1:52am

Mr. Jones,

I agree very much with spirit of your post. I think our government, at least this current administration, may find value in your point. In fact much of the SMART power, SOFT power, HARD power, LUKEWARM power, MEDIOCRE power, and COIN debate of recent has been in recognition that the "government being advised" but most importantly their people, have a say! We’ve recognized that the global market place has changed and won’t accept in silence our “economic hit man” policies of the past.

But nonetheless, those of us who are sent through the breach to make our government’s global ambitions a reality should come to some consensus on our respective roles and responsibilities. This is the sum and substance of my point to Col. Glaser: the military assumes way too much responsibility in an effort that should be mainly shaped by non-military actors.

Arnoux Abraham Jr

Thu, 02/16/2012 - 4:30pm

(How is your article different from the Army "Afghan Hand" program?)

You define senior foreign officials (SFOs) as: senior military officers, regional/provincial officials, cabinet ministers and deputies, governors and at times even heads of state. I think this definition of SFO is too far-reaching and goes beyond the arch of Army/ military responsibility considering other departments and agencies that may be better suited.

The officers you are quoting in this article had problems with their advisory jobs because they were given positions that may have been better filled by other government agencies. It would be one thing if you had said that the corrections outlined in your article were focused solely along the security line of operation with cross-cutting effects; however, what you’ve suggested seems to make the military the whole-of-US-government abroad – and that should never happen. I believe to do so would in fact go against our brand of democracy where civilians are in-the-lead and the military plays a supporting role in providing the safe and secure environment for our foreign affairs policies, led by diplomats, to take root.

So, my counter position: all advisory positions to SFOs except for some of those pertaining to militaries, foreign departments of defense, and other security-related activities should be given to civilians who are then reporting to a US embassy or consulate and if none exists then to a comparable civilian organization. Often military officers are placed alongside SFOs at ministries [other than security-related ministries] such as finance, foreign affairs, rural development, etc. only because our military has the manpower and financial resources which allows them to volunteer those necessary bodies. As a result of this ability to resource the SFO “advisory fight” at these ministries and the fact that our military has the requisite component attributes for advisory work, the military then incorrectly assumes that it is the best US national instrument to own all advisory tasks both nationally and sub-nationally – a wrong conclusion I think based on a fallacy of composition. Or, the advisors are placed at these ministries simply because a “battlespace commander” assumes that he has to command the security and governance battlespaces irrespective of any other US government agency present. At best, these commanders are given a “be prepared to” mission when it comes to missions outside of the military’s core security competency – I mention this again later.

I fully agree with those commanders who consider things beyond the fight phase to border on mission creep because they realize that their efforts are better spent supporting or getting other government agencies to step up while they consolidate their security gains. I could sum up the military role in three points:
1. Gain, maintain, and sustain a monopoly on violence with or without the host nation security force – but, preferably “with.”
2. Teach the host nation security force how to do point #1 so that the military can Transition.
3. Support the [US government] civilian effort; said another way - give civilians their civil affairs and CERP resource. I believe DoDD 3000.05 that you’ve sited supports this position.

Of these three tasks, I think #2 is the most important task militarily. So important in fact that I think the key function of any advisory work that you’ve mentioned should be to that end – transition.

While in Afghanistan conducting my own mission analysis for my role in the country, I read DoDD 3000.05, the US Integrated Civ-Mil Campaign Plan, COIN Manual, parts of the Stab Ops Manual, civilian equivalents of Stab Ops Manuals and came away with an understanding that the military really plays more of a supporting role in all but the security line of operation. DoDD 3000.05 and all the other manuals I think support this claim.

In short, if your article included discussions on how military advisors would support other US Government departments or agencies in their civilian capacity of advising SFOs as DoDD 3000.05 suggests, then I would be less critical and less worried of our military spreading itself way too thin.

Arnoux Abraham Jr

Fri, 02/17/2012 - 1:54am

In reply to by Robert C. Jones

Mr. Jones,

I agree very much with spirit of your post. I think our government, at least this current administration, may find value in your point. In fact much of the SMART power, SOFT power, HARD power, LUKEWARM power, MEDIOCRE power, and COIN debate of recent has been in recognition that the "government being advised" but most importantly their people, have a say! We’ve recognized that the global market place has changed and won’t accept in silence our “economic hit man” policies of the past.

But nonetheless, those of us who are sent through the breach to make our government’s global ambitions a reality should come to some consensus on our respective roles and responsibilities. This is the sum and substance of my point to Col. Glaser: the military assumes way too much responsibility in an effort that should be mainly shaped by non-military actors.

Robert C. Jones

Thu, 02/16/2012 - 6:05am

Foreign Advisors of any ilk to Civilian Government officials are horribly damaging to the legititmacy of both the official and the government being advised. One step forward for any good advice passed along or insights gained in return. Ten steps back for reinforcing in the eyes of the affected populace that their government answers more to some foreign power than it does to them. To employ them is an inextremis measure that should be entered into only in dire emergency, and ended as soon as possible.

I know we all yearn for the day when some foreign army provides advisors to help our own inept government get back on track. Aren't we all tired of seeing the VP and the Speaker of the House sitting behind the President during State of the Union Addresses? Far better to see a couple of foreign uniforms back there nodding in agreement with his every word. That would fix things. Right.

We need to spend less time thinking about how we do the wrong thing better, and more on what the right things are and how we transition to those. At this point, after 10 years of being propped up, if the Afghan government and military cannot stand on their own two feet it is time for them to fall. The people of Afghanistan deserve local legitimacy and capability; why we insist on attempting to deliver foreign legitimacy and capability is beyond me.

Ken White

Wed, 02/15/2012 - 12:39pm

Two things leap out--

The Army Personnel system is shown yet again to not support the Army or the Nation and the very flawed 'personnel management priorities' are exposed.

Both Colonel Glaser's excellent article and the accurate comment by bandsawh illustrate the personnel management shortfalls and the lack of adequate training endemic to the Army and the Marines engendered by insistence that all Officers (and in too many cases today, many NonCommissioned Officers) be 'generalists.'

Tactical command, Staff work at any level and advising foreign officials, military or civilian require differing knowledges and skills. A 'one size fits all, fair and objective criteria for selection' process does not allow a tailored approach. The answer to bandsawh's valid question is more heretical than is his comment -- it is to separate Staff, Technical and Command tracks. The environment today is no longer supportive of the 1904 service structure model or the 1917 personnel management system...

The services and the nation suffer for it.


Wed, 02/15/2012 - 7:26am

At the risk of getting lambasted for heresy on this Army-centric site, I would argue that the corporate structure of the Army (and USMC) doesn't facilitate growing and selecting strategic thinkers based on the limited terrain perspective of it's core combat units. Essentially, young leaders are drilled, selected and rewarded on their abilities at the tactical (to sub-tactical) level, so it's a gamble whether leaders thus selected can make the jump to more strategic level thought.

The Air Force and Navy, on the other hand, fall short on providing their young leaders the day-to-day rigors of commanding personnel in the most demanding tactical situations, but because of the large maneuver domains of both services, young officers necessarily have to be drilled on the operational to strategic level interaction and consequences much earlier in their careers.

There's the rub: How do you forge and challenge leadership skills early in a career without putting too much emphasis on the tactical prowess that doesn't necessarily translate into effective senior leadership skills?