By Capt. Reginald Baker
U.S. Naval Attaché, Chile
The U.S. Navy Foreign Affairs Officer (FAO) program is still relatively young compared to other Navy communities. However, the effects of this small cadre of highly skilled foreign affairs experts/diplomats are already being felt throughout DoD agencies and staffs; U.S Embassies; and by foreign leaders around the world. The diversity of race, gender and religious beliefs among Navy FAOs reflects the beautiful mosaic of the American citizenry to the world and helps DoD maintain partnerships and alliances with friends/allies and continue dialogue with other countries that we seek to find common ground. No one nation has the numbers of vessels needed to safeguard the vital waterways and chokepoints of the world’s seas. Nor can we surge the friendships and trust needed during a time of crisis. They must be built over time with professionalism and dedication; this is where Navy FAOs serve the fleet and the nation. We help forge and solidify the partnerships needed in times of peace and crisis.
As a FAO, I have witnessed how our diversity enhances our ability to strengthen and positively shape U.S. engagement with foreign officials and citizens around the world. False impressions and negative stereotypes fall by the wayside and a clearer image of the U.S and the Navy emerges. These positive exchanges have helped to deepen our friend’s understanding of U.S. values and demonstrate the exceptional American idea that out of many we are one. I also believe that these interactions have had a positive lasting impact on the prospects of minority groups in some of the countries where we have served.
My desire to travel to exotic lands, interest in foreign cultures and my ability to communicate with people, despite our apparent differences, led me to major in international relations in college and join the US Navy. I transferred from an aviation career to the U.S. Navy FAO program in 2007 to follow my passion for diplomacy in hopes of having an impact as described above. My decision to join the community was an easy one. Therefore, like most life decisions, events that occurred all through my academic and military careers have led me to this field. Today, more than ever military diplomats are needed to help ensure the peace, foster cooperation among friends, and minimize the impact of disagreements between nations. FAOs serve forward and play a critical role in shaping and implementing the US Navy’s political-military policy. I have also learned that my role as a minority FAO goes far beyond just my title and job description, but my presence at the “table” as an African American has been a force multiplier for the good.
By Lt. Cmdr. (sel) Onege Maroadi
West Africa Desk Officer, U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa
In my 40 years, I am privileged to have formed deep-rooted bonds with three of our world’s seven continents; Africa, Europe and North America.
I was born and raised in Cameroon, and thus my link with Africa is like the indelible and indescribable bond a child has with its mother. Cameroonians borrowed a famous quote from Napoleon and made it their own. “Impossible n’est pas Camerounais” means “Impossible is not Cameroonian;” a proverb that explains the Cameroonian’s resilience. Growing up in Cameroon meant embracing that certainty that anything is possible; and so despite the political and socio-economic challenges that the country faces, students in my graduating high school class chatted constantly and excitedly about their successful future as engineers, doctors and lawyers.
Nothing was impossible, and when the Italian embassy granted me the sought-after international student visa, I felt like Charlie of ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ with my golden ticket to opportunity. I traveled to Europe as a very young adult and enrolled in an intensive course on Italian Language and Culture. Europe had given me my first taste of independence, but I wanted more. I immigrated to the United States where I joined the U.S. Navy, which promptly deployed me right back to Italy. This time around, the stars must have been aligned because I met Mr. Right. I married him of course thus forever sealing a truly romantic bond with Europe.
In keeping with the familial ties established in Africa and Europe, my relationship with North America could be described as that of a father who with unconditional love and support has allowed his daughter everything she needs to foster all the attributes it would take to propel anyone to triumph beyond their wildest dreams. Immigrants are drawn to the American dream defined by James Truslow Adams as a life which “should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement” regardless of social class or circumstances of birth.
My childhood dreams gradually evolved into a reality that bordered on the realm of unbelievable when I joined the War Eagles of Patrol Squadron Sixteen and flew operational flights out of several countries from the Gulf of Mexico to the North Atlantic and the Eastern Mediterranean.
I joined the Navy’s Foreign Area Officer (FAO) community when I learned that a background with connections to three continents permits me an edge as a regionally focused expert representing the U.S. Department of Defense to foreign governments.
FAOs transform innate or acquired political, cultural, sociological, economic and geographic awareness into strategic critical thinking in order to augment the effort to foster security and stability even in the most tumultuous regions of the world.
The duties of a FAO are extensive and varied and include supporting joint staffs, and fleet, component and combatant commanders for significant military-diplomatic interaction in order to achieve success in current and future non-kinetic operations.
As a member of the Sixth Fleet staff, I contribute policy support to the Commander, Deputy Commander and immediate staff regarding the political, diplomatic and interagency dimensions of military operations in Africa.
FAOs thrive on adventure and challenge, and they enjoy being involved in varied social customs and cultures. For me, revisiting past connections, establishing new rapports and projecting future opportunities to interact and collaborate with others makes for a truly unique and rewarding experience.