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Photo Information

Capt. Paul T. Bartok, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit supply officer, studies kanji characters in his office, July 19. The Bristol, Conn. native became fluent in Japanese culture through the Foreign Area Officer Program and plans to serve as a FAO in future billets. (Official Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Michael A. Bianco)

Photo by Cpl. Michael A. Bianco

FAO experience helps the elite

20 Jul 2010 | Cpl. Michael A. Bianco

Although always interested in foreign affairs, Capt. Paul T. Bartok never thought he would have the ability he has now.

Ten years ago, when originally enlisting in the Marine Corps Reserves, the Bristol, Conn. native was going to American University in Washington, D.C. working on his bachelor’s degree in Russian studies. The next summer he arrived at Officer Candidate School, Quantico, Va., and began his career as a active duty officer.

In 2006, Bartok was selected for the Foreign Area Officer Program and received orders to the Naval Post-graduate School, Monterey, Calif., where he received his master’s degree in National Security Affairs with a focus in Eastern Asia. Upon completion of the one-year course, he was sent to Defense Language Institute to specialize in Japanese.

Bartok then had the opportunity to spend a year in Tokyo to learn the culture and language first-hand.

 “Being surrounded by the language 24 hours a day, and being placed in situations where I was forced to use Japanese, reinforced what I learned at DLI and gave me the confidence to communicate effectively,” he said.

According to MARADMIN 131/10, “Through a combination of graduate education, language training, and in-country training, the FAO training program produces officers with regional, linguistic, and cultural expertise in specific geographical regions. FAO training prepares officers for duty with the Marine expeditionary forces, joint or combined staffs and possibly duty with the defense attaché offices.”

The FAO program requires a commitment of between three and three-and-a-half years, plus mandatory service time.

Because the Marine Corps is an elite force and requires only a small amount of enlisted and officers to fulfill its duties, all Marine FAOs must serve in both one’s primary military occupational specialty as well as billets with the foreign area focus. FAOs will usually rotate between those two types of assignments.

Even though he has not been able to use his new skill in an actual FAO billet, Bartok has seen the advantages pay off.

“The FAO program has broadened my understanding of the Marine Corps, helping me link US foreign policy, defense policy, all the way down to what my shop does on a day-to-day basis.”

31st Marine Expeditionary Unit