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Face of Defense: Drive to ‘Go Deep’ Into Other Cultures Inspires Navy Foreign Area Officer

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

NEW DELHI, May 20, 2009 – An officer based at the U.S. embassy here is on the leading edge of the Navy’s new foreign area officer program.

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Navy Lt. Cmdr. Kelly Federal, a Navy foreign area officer, serves as director of Navy programs in the Office of Defense Cooperation at the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi. DoD photo by Donna Miles

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Lt. Cmdr. Kelly Federal, director of Navy programs in the embassy’s Office of Defense Cooperation and a former F-14 and Super Hornet pilot, said he jumped at the chance to get into the program when the Navy first announced it in 2005.

“It rang a chord with me,” Federal said. “It’s a great opportunity for people who want to live overseas, interact with other cultures and receive extensive language and cultural training.”

Federal’s path to becoming the first Navy FAO in India started at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif., where he earned a master’s degree – a requirement for the program -- in national security affairs. After that, he moved on to the Defense Language Institute, also in Monterey, to study Hindi.

Three months into the 12-month curriculum, Federal cut his language studies short to move on to his new assignment in India. “That’s OK,” he said, shrugging. “I’m the first guy to have this job who’s had any language [training] at all.”

His FAO training brings a new dimension to the job, giving him a deeper understanding of issues and sensitivities, he said.

“It lets us establish a long-term knowledge base of a particular region,” he said, making him a better advisor on issues ranging from training to military sales. A big focus of the job is helping India as it purchases new weapons systems for its military modernization program.

Federal said he’s learning more every day – not just on the job, but also when he leaves the office to go home to an Indian neighborhood where there’s not a single Westerner in sight. He’s learning cricket from his neighbors, and he and his wife have adopted a nearly 100 percent Indian diet.

“The best FAOs are the people who want to go deep into other cultures,” he said. “They have to want to speak the language, eat the food and live in their conditions.”

But that drive to “go deep” has to extend to a FAO’s family as well. “Your family has got to want it, too, or it’s not a good career choice for you,” he said.

Federal said he has no regrets about giving up flying airplanes. “I’ll never go back and fly jets,” he said. “I’ll spend the rest of my career in this specialty, and I’m thrilled to be here.”

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