Strengthening Interagency Cooperation: Stories from the State-Defense Exchange Program

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A State Department Foreign Policy Advisor meets with Senior Department of Defense Officials in Afghanistan, 2016.
A State Department Foreign Policy Advisor meets with Senior Department of Defense Officials in Afghanistan, 2016.

Strengthening Interagency Cooperation: Stories from the State-Defense Exchange Program

From state fragility to hybrid warfare, contemporary national security challenges require us to leverage defense, diplomacy, and development -- often all at the same time. Traditionally, the U.S. Department of State has developed and implemented our foreign policy, while the Department of Defense (DoD) managed our nation’s military and national defense. The Bureau of Political-Military Affairs (PM) serves as the principal link between both departments, ensuring that our military operations and defense strategy support our foreign policy -- and vice versa.

While they share the same mission, warriors and diplomats each bring unique perspectives and skillsets to the table. PM’s new Office of State-Defense Integration administers two programs that build mutual understanding and strengthen relationships. Through the Foreign Policy Advisor (POLAD) Program, the Department of State sends approximately 90 diplomats to every Geographic Combatant Command and several Component Commands around the world, where they provide foreign policy expertise to our generals and admirals. Meanwhile, a similar number of Department of Defense Military Advisors (MILADs) support the regional and functional bureaus here in Foggy Bottom.

In the profiles below, State and DoD detailees highlight their unique experiences on the frontlines of interagency collaboration. Whether helping to craft policy in Washington or to implementing it at an embassy or military command overseas, each participant is building the relationships and shared expertise we need to solve today’s most difficult national security problems. 

Lt. Col. David Bartley, U.S. Air Force
Peacekeeping Capacity Building Operations Division
Bureau of Political-Military Affairs

I took this photo at the Chinggis Khan Memorial in Mongolia while on a cultural excursion with two Nepalese Military Officers participating in Exercise KHAAN QUEST.

I have been assigned to the Department of State for seven months. I work in the Peacekeeping Capacity Building Operations Division, which is primarily responsible for supplying equipment and providing training to peacekeeping partners around the world. In addition, the division builds each partner’s capacity to self-sustain various peacekeeping capabilities so they can support United Nations and regional peacekeeping missions. I am the military advisor for the division and my current focus is on creating a Metrics and Evaluations Framework to assess the effectiveness of our newest peacekeeping program, the Africa Peacekeeping Rapid Response Program. 

One of my most memorable experiences has been my trip to Mongolia for the KHAAN QUEST 2016 peacekeeping exercise, which was an annual capstone event for countries in U.S. Pacific Command’s area of responsibility. Approximately 2000 personnel from over 40 countries participated in this two week event, which included staff, field, and command and control exercises. 

I participated as an observer and evaluator for both the staff and field exercises. The staff exercise featured classroom instruction and breakout sessions for small groups to work through real world scenarios, and the field exercise incorporated several different training activities covering checkpoint operations, protection of civilians, medical first response, site protection, patrolling, counter-IED awareness and convoy operations. Overall, KHAAN QUEST was well organized, met or exceeded all of the objectives, and was impressive to see.  

Ms. Robin Smith
Political Advisor to the Commanding General
U.S. Army Africa (USARAF)

"I have the best seat in the house," I recall saying to a colleague, as I discussed working with African partners, in tandem with the USARAF Army Strong team, to advance mutual security sector goals. USARAF, or U.S. Army Africa/Southern European Task Force as it is formally known, is based in Vicenza, Italy. As the Foreign Policy Advisor to Commanding General, Major General J.P. Harrington, I provide an interagency perspective valued by the Command on political-military, security, and national or regional issues relevant to the Command's activities and responsibilities. USARAF, a service component command of U.S. Africa Command (USAFRICOM), engages our African partners through a long-term regionally focused approach. The overarching goals are to build sustainable capacity; support the joint force to disrupt transnational threats; and promote regional security, stability, and prosperity in Africa.

In March 2016, I met with students from the Center of Excellence for Stability Police Units who are visiting USARAF forensic labs on Caserma Ederle, Vicenza, Italy. Many of the students are law enforcement officers from countries in USARAF’s area of responsibility, and will use the lessons they learned to combat illicit trafficking networks.

In the last year, USARAF conducted more than 120 partner engagements with more than 19 African nations. On the road for days or a week at a time, I have traveled to nine of these partner nations, as the Commanding General engaged senior leaders from our African military partners. I also observed a series of military exercises and attended keystone "relationship-building" events, such as the African Land Forces Summit held in Arusha, Tanzania this year.

My job also entails working closely with ambassadors and Embassy Country Teams throughout Africa and supporting USARAF activities like defense institution building. The interagency collaboration is truly in line with high-level, strategic goals and the emphasis on strengthening partner nations' peacekeeping capabilities through a whole-of-government approach. 

USARAF's long-term efforts are expanding the global land power network in Africa by advancing U.S. strategic objectives. My return to a job that takes me to a continent where I first got my start as a Foreign Service Officer 30 years ago -- to contribute to strategic security goals in a complex and dynamic environment -- is a great capstone to an extensive career in diplomacy. 

YN1 Victor Rosado, U.S. Navy
State Defense Exchange Team
Bureau of Political Military-Affairs

I’m one of two enlisted detailees at State and an active duty U.S. Navy Sailor with 16 years of service to our great nation. For the majority of my career (13 years) I’ve either been deployed to the desert or on a ship, so being selected to work stateside in Washington has been a breath of fresh air. Being here gave me the opportunity to see how the State Department works with the Defense Department to meet our nation’s goals. 

A photo of my work space at the State Department. Yes, I’m very busy and require a lot of coffee.

I’ve spent a little over two years in the Bureau of Political Military Affairs’ office of International Security Operations and work in the State Defense Exchange Team (SDET). I must admit, even though it’s not like being deployed at sea or the desert, working at the State Department holds its own unique challenges. Specifically, State requires you to be knowledgeable not only in your military specialty but other fields that military personnel are normally not accustomed to encountering. Luckily, our office has a good team, making any and all challenges easy to manage and overcome.

As part of my duties, I provide administrative assistance to over 100 personnel. I assist with screening, vetting, and welcoming all projected inbound military detailees. Once they arrive, I handle guidance and requirements regarding upcoming Periodic Reports, physical training exams, urinalysis notifications, retirement packages, separation packages, correcting military records, and many other military administrative items. I generated monthly reports used to properly track military personnel assigned to the State Department, a difficult task since we have had 60 percent turnover this year, and help update the Memorandum of Understanding that allows for DoD personnel to be here. I also created and help maintain a website for all State-assigned and visiting military detailees, providing them with resources to assist with their assignments. I even helped coordinate the military events for the Department’s annual “Take Your Child to Work Day” event with the U.S. Army Fife and Drum Corps.

On top of my routine duties, I am very flexible and assist with whatever is needed in my office. As we like to say in the military -- “One Team, One Fight!”

We in the Bureau of Political Military Affairs are proud to be at the center of State and DoD interagency collaboration. We are continuing to learn from the diplomats and warriors like those above who are cross-training and working alongside each to advance U.S. national security at home and abroad.

About the Author: David McKeeby serves as a Public Affairs Specialist in the Department’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, Office of Congressional and Public Affairs at the U.S. Department of State.

Editor's Note: This entry also appears in the U.S. Department of State's publication on Medium.com.