The missions of the Defense Department and State Department often intersect.
To support this connection, the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs' Office of State-Defense Integration supplies State with military advisors and DOD with foreign policy advisors, much like they're exchange students.
We talked to a few of the military advisors to find out more about their roles and what it’s like to be one of these "exchange students":
Army Lt. Col. Jim Cahill is a strategist who, by trade, leads multidisciplinary groups in translating national priorities into military strategy and plans.
In the State-Defense exchange program, he's a military advisor in the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, which focuses on humanitarian diplomacy and helping protect and assist refugees, migrants and conflict victims.
During his time at State, Cahill has worked closely with U.S.-funded humanitarian relief organizations. He spent six weeks this past summer in Bangladesh serving as U.S. Embassy Dhaka's refugee coordinator. While there, he coordinated nearly $200 million in State-funded relief efforts that gave protection and assistance to more than 900,000 refugees from Burma. Most of these refugees had fled into Bangladesh after a 2017 ethnic cleansing campaign in Burma and are now living in the largest refugee camp in the world, Cahill said.
He said he loves being able to bridge the gap between the DOD and State. Other military advisors he’s talked with agree.
"They consistently note that the experience pays dividends later in their Army career because they’re able to translate State Department actions and approaches into plain English for DOD senior leaders, not to mention call upon the extensive State Department networks they developed during their time there," Cahill said.
The job has definitely given him a new perspective.
"Before I came here, I based my evaluation of DOD more on the effectiveness of the operations that DOD actually carries out," Cahill said. "Now, I've seen firsthand how a strong U.S. military force — even one that is not necessarily engaged actively in military operations -- bolsters the State Department's diplomatic leadership. … DOD has a huge impact on the influence that U.S. diplomats serving abroad can wield to protect and advance U.S. national interests."
Navy Cmdr. Jeffrey Sizemore is military advisor to State's Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, where he leads the bureau's atrocity prevention programs. Through his 18-year Navy career, Sizemore said he has deployed and conducted theater security operations, which are driven by foreign policy. So he was curious to see how that foreign policy was generated.
"I've found it fascinating," he said.
One of Sizemore's major roles is vetting the sale of lethal autonomous weapons, artificial intelligence and defense articles to foreign buyers to make sure U.S. human rights concerns are taken into account. He’s worked with nongovernmental organizations and participated in U.N. and National Security Council-led meetings.
"I have a great appreciation for the complexity involved in any interagency policy decision and all the various competing priorities," Sizemore said. "I have a much better perspective on how the DOD and, more specifically, the Navy make decisions and how that differs from other parts of the interagency."
Air Force Lt. Col. Rob McConnell has worked in the space and missile career field since becoming an officer in 2001. He eventually qualified as a political-military affairs strategist and is currently serving as the military advisor for space policy in the State Department’s Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance Office of Emerging Security Challenges.
He advises senior State Department officials on policy issues concerning national security space and provides a military space practitioner’s perspective to related policy discussions.
During his nearly three years on assignment at State, McConnell contributed to the 2018 National Strategy for Space, helped write the nation's first Space Traffic Management policy, worked with other nations participating in an Air Force Space Command-sponsored wargame series and even helped write a speech highlighting Russian space activities and diplomatic efforts, which was presented at the U.N.
"This assignment has given me the opportunity to work on space policy at the strategic level and see how the interagency process works," McConnell said. "I've also had the privilege of looking at the U.S. Air Force and DOD from an outsider's perspective and have gained an appreciation for how decisions made by DOD and the Air Force particularly, are perceived by other departments and agencies, the international community and the American public."
Army Lt. Col. Rex Copeland is currently the senior foreign military advisor to the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs. He has deployed all over the world and has been a foreign area officer since 2005, which makes him an expert in political-military operations.
"I have spent all but about three years of my 25-plus active-duty years outside the continental U.S.," he said.
Copeland said he wanted to share his knowledge and firsthand experience in Asia with policymakers in hopes of making change. Part of his job as a military advisor is bringing a different perspective to foreign assistance.
"Imagine if someone came to you right now at your office and said, 'Here are 1,000 new computers. Get rid of whatever you've got and start using these,'" Copeland explained. "When you give something to a country that they haven't budgeted for, they don't have the capabilities to prepare or train people, and if they weren't really planning to get it or were planning to get something different, that has a huge impact. If it's not implemented correctly, it's going to be a total failure."
Copeland acts as a liaison not just between the DOD and State, but with the White House, National Security Council, Congress and the departments of Commerce and Homeland Security.
"The level of interaction across the U.S. government is amazing," he said. "You don’t get this level of influence at a normal … job in another DOD agency."
Navy Lt. Cmdr. Dan Bailey has been an explosive ordnance disposal officer for the past 13 years, which made him a great military advisor candidate for the State Department's Bureau of Political-Military Affairs' Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement. Bailey's role is two-fold: First, he serves as the office's in-house EOD expert and supports personnel who work with nongovernmental organizations that execute humanitarian demining and the safe disposal of unexploded ordnance and remnants of war in former conflict zones.
"Every day they make important and valuable decisions regarding mine clearance, funding, humanitarian demining and respective U.S. policy," Bailey said. "There’s a lot to process there, and I help them with that."
He's also the DOD coordinator for the Interagency MANPADS Task Force, which coordinates how to counter the threat of man-portable air defense systems and anti-tank guided missiles held by terrorists and other nonstate actors of concern. The goal is to get rid of unsafe munitions while improving the security of host nations’ arms depots, which ultimately safeguard lives and mitigate the illicit trade of stolen weapons and munitions.
"We're out there trying to coordinate the safe disposal of MANPADS and ATGMs that partner nations determine to be excess," Bailey said. "Our team has the ability and resources to help better secure what they have while they get rid of what they don’t need."
In the past 15 years, Bailey said, the office has effectively destroyed over 39,000 MANPADS around the world. The MTF also trains various partner nations' border and customs officials to properly recognize MANPADS and seize them if and when they might cross national borders.
Bailey, who finishes his State exchange this summer, said his interactions with numerous government entities have given him an immeasurable amount of professional development and bolstered the importance and value of the Navy EOD community across government agencies.
"I've experienced incredible opportunities to brief senior U.S. officials and even senior foreign ministers overseas," Bailey said. "Being able to proudly represent the U.S. government and communicate the importance of explosive ordnance disposal while participating at the policy level, considering the circumstances we’re dealing with, is both challenging and extremely rewarding."