At Sea --
The Marine Corps believes in the theory of the, “strategic corporal,” which is a belief that senior Marines are not the only Marines who make decisions that could potentially affect the course of forward-deployed and at-home missions.
Younger Marines, the “strategic corporals,” work hand-in-hand with our nation’s allies.They are educated in the values and history of different cultures, and serve as ambassadors of the Marine Corps and the United States.
To ensure this younger generation of leaders is up-to-date with cultural knowledge and regional language training, the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) relies on a new program to increase mission effectiveness and bridge gaps with important regional partners.
The Foreign Area Staff (FAS) Non-Commissioned Officer Program provides tactical units with an experienced Marine who possess a thorough knowledge of regionally-specific languages, and cultures and customs. This enables the experienced Marine to act as a command advisor and conduit of information as units work directly with strategic partners.
“The FAS program is a new program that has never been conducted before in any service,” said Gunnery Sgt. Andrew J. Hodges, Foreign Area Staff Non-Commissioned Officer, 15th MEU. “Its main mission is to provide advanced language, regional experience and culture [skills] to Marines on the ground.”
To ensure FAS Marines possess the required knowledge to best support the Marine Corps’ needs, applicants are screened for language proficiency and experience in a desired region. All hold degrees of higher education and most spend significant time in their locality of expertise.
Some Marines qualify for immediate deployment with units around the Marine Corps, while others build on their knowledge during a year-long program of graduate education, overseas language immersion training and independent regional travel.
This combination of academic and hands-on experience allows FAS Marines to impart valuable knowledge to members of their command at every level.
During the 15th MEU’s transit to the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility, Hodges used the time to teach LREC classes to Marines aboard the ships of the Peleliu Amphibious Ready Group.
The classes focused on basic cultural understanding in areas such as social norms, recent history and modern-day attitudes. Hodges’ Arabic classes taught daily greetings, common phrases and introduced counting, to better prepare Marines for participation in upcoming theater security cooperation exercises.
“The Marine at the lowest level has such a drastic impact on the strategic level,” said Hodges. “If we educate our younger Marines on the influence of their actions, then they are going to understand how it affects the bigger picture. That is why LREC is such an important [skill set]; it imparts valuable knowledge to the Marines who will interact on a daily basis.”
Hodges demonstrated the value of a FAS Marine when he facilitated military interoperability as the MEU went ashore during recent deployment training evolutions.
He quickly established close working relationships with leadership of the military partners in the different theater security cooperation exercises. Hodges’ ability to speak Arabic made him invaluable in communicating expectations and ideas between host-nation and Marine commanders on the ground. On numerous occasions, he functioned as the sole translator during planning meetings and events in the field.
Hodges increased MEU and host military integration, and influenced planning and execution at every level by acting as a channel of information and communication. As the Marine Corps and Department of Defense continue to emphasize security cooperation and military partnership, the need for this requirement proves invaluable.
“My language abilities alone opened so many doors when interacting with the host-nation [leadership],” said Hodges. “The FAS Marines can provide this inroad and help commands build on relationships by providing cultural advice and regional expertise. It’s not what we can’t do, but what we can do.”
The Marine Corps initiated the FAS program with a beta test in 2011 as part of an effort to increase the Corps’ ability to produce and maintain foreign area expertise. It currently employs nine SNCOs as part of a program to develop training standards and FAS doctrine.
The 15th MEU is deployed as part of the Peleliu Amphibious Ready Group as a U.S. Central Command theatre reserve force, providing support for maritime security operations and theatre security cooperation efforts in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility.