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International affairs cadre to build global relations

WASHINGTON -- Air Force officials will begin training more than 100 officers this spring to become international affairs specialists in a managed secondary career path.

Ultimately, as many as 3,000 officers will form a pool of experts in regional, political and military affairs who will advise combatant commanders worldwide, officials said.

The first group of field grade officers, selected between now and summer, will enter formal training in the summer of 2006. The following year, Air Force officials will select and train more than 150 officers, then 210 each year until a pool of 2,500 to 3,000 specialists is filled, officials said. The goal is to use that pool to fill about 650 positions with reoccurring requirements.

“The international affairs skills set is viewed as core competencies in the military,” said Col. Robert Sarnoski, Air Force international Airmen division chief. “They’re just as important as the weapon systems we field today.”

The Air Force’s initiative enhances expeditionary capability by developing regional and international expertise, cultural sensitivity and language skills allowing Airmen to build, sustain or enhance relations with international partners.

Colonel Sarnoski, a former defense attaché in Bangkok, Thailand, who is fluent in Thai, put his skills to use following the Sept. 11 attacks by helping Thai officials integrate into operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom coalition forces.

“Senior leaders have asked for this program because they want and need officers with political-military experience,” Colonel Sarnoski said.

The new program is tied directly to the new force-development program. Selected officers may receive additional university education, language training and cultural immersion to prepare them for the positions they will fill in the field, officials said. Officers will be designated on one of two secondary Air Force career tracks -- the regional affairs strategist or political-military affairs strategist.

Regional affairs strategists will advise commanders and senior leaders on regional issues, interacting with foreign counterparts to work political-military issues and develop reliable international relationships, developing aspects of operational and contingency plans, and working security cooperation initiatives to enhance international relationships.

Political military affairs strategists have similar duties, but these positions need international political-military expertise without necessarily requiring language skills.

“The career path complements an officer’s overall career development with international affairs experience that contributes to success in the primary career field,” said Bruce S. Lemkin, deputy undersecretary of the Air Force for international affairs. “We need officers with theses skills in our expeditionary air and space force, leading our regionally focused missions and contingency deployments and successfully interacting with our allies, friends and partners around the world.”

Officers with a strong track record and in-depth understanding and experience in Air Force operations, doctrine and strategy will be selected at the seven- to 12-year point of their career for these opportunities, officials said. Air Force officials said they will highly consider officers with operational and maintenance backgrounds, as well as those with previously developed international skills.

“A key aspect of this program is balancing between the IAS career path and the officer’s primary career specialty,” Mr. Lemkin said. “Consistent with the Air Force’s force-development concept, we are committed to keeping these officers proficient and competitive in their primary career field while making them international affairs experts.”

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