Cmdr. Andrew Collier '91 talks with Cadet Michael Casper '12 after the "Life after Language" presentation. -- VMI Photo by John Robertson IV.
Career as Navy FAO a Rewarding
‘Life after Language’
LEXINGTON, Va., Jan. 31, 2012 – “It doesn’t end in [French/Spanish/German/Japanese] 202.”
U.S. Navy Cmdr. Andrew Collier ’91, who after a 10-year career as a Naval flight officer began a whole new career speaking Japanese as a Naval foreign area officer, brought that point home to a standing-room only crowd of cadets in Preston Library’s Turman Room Jan. 26.
“Language is my weapon today,” said Collier, who has been a member of the Navy foreign area officer community since 2010. The community, established in the 1990s, is made up of maritime international engagement professionals drawn from the other Navy communities.
“We look for guys who’ve been out in the fleet,” said Collier, “guys who drove ships, subs, airplanes.” So no need to forgo the fun part of the Naval career, for, as Collier commented later, “Flying airplanes is fun.”
And Collier should know. Collier told the cadets that he had wanted to be a Naval aviator for as long as he could remember. Trained as a Naval flight officer after commissioning when he graduated from VMI as a Distinguished Naval Graduate in 1991, he served with electronic attack squadrons for 14 years until his department head tour ending in 2005. That around-the-world tour on the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson was the peak of Collier’s flying career, and during the carrier’s three-month stint in the Arabian Gulf, Collier flew numerous combat missions in Iraq in support of ground forces.
When the carrier left the Gulf, Collier stayed behind, taking two EA-6B Prowlers and three four-person crews to continue air support from Al Asad Air Base in Anbar Province in the first-ever Navy EA-6B land-based deployment to Iraq. His crews flew jamming missions – detecting enemy radar transmissions and emitting radio frequency energy to disrupt their operations – until the carrier USS Nimitz arrived to take over in the Gulf.
Jets fly high and fast, so combat zones do not represent the same level of threat to jet crews that they represent to crews of lower, slower vehicles, such as helicopters. But carrier landing, which Collier said was the most dangerous flying he has done, is not easy. Only a little less unnerving, perhaps, is in-flight refueling. Jets may approach an airborne fuel tanker only to find many others swarming around it, also attempting to refuel.
“Sometimes the scary thing is getting attached and flying next to the tanker safely,” steering clear of nearby aircraft, said Collier. In-flight refueling was routine for jets flying Iraq combat missions.
It was, said Collier, “a very gentlemanly way to earn a living,” and a meaningful one.
“It was gratifying to contribute directly to the [war] effort,” said Collier in an interview after his presentation. “The soldiers on the ground had very difficult lives under very dangerous circumstances, and I and my squadron were proud to serve them.”
Just three years after that tour, in 2008, the Navy sent Collier to the Japanese language course at the Defense Language Institute so that he could fill a spot at the National Institute for Defense Studies in Tokyo, Japan. In just two years, Collier, who had previously known no Japanese, completed an intensive language course and then a year of graduate-level work in the language. The growing Navy FAO community, Collier told the cadets, looks well upon officers who have both excelled in their Navy communities and have demonstrated proficiency or aptitude for foreign languages. For these officers, the Navy FAO community offers enticing opportunities for “second” careers, careers in which mastery of a foreign language is key.
Collier is director of Navy Surface Programs in the Mutual Defense Assistance Office, Japan, at the Embassy of the United States in Tokyo.
“I’m a facilitator. I use language as a tool to develop relationships with our foreign counterparts,” he said.
His office, he told the cadets, manages weapons sales to the Japanese, but since the Navy generalizes by region, events in other East Asian countries are also of concern to his office. It is what the Navy calls a security assistance office, one of several possible billets for FAOs. Security assistance helps develop the militaries of nations with whom the U.S. would like to develop friendly relations by training their officers in the United States and selling equipment to them, said Collier.
Collier advised cadets to work at their foreign language studies and to take the Defense Language Aptitude Battery or the Defense Language Proficiency Test through their ROTC units. Having proficiency or strong aptitude on their records will be helpful later.
Proficiency in a foreign language, he said, is a “marketable skill.” And for him, it has led to greater satisfaction in life, beginning before his FAO years when he was stationed in Germany and made his first attempts to put the German he learned at VMI to use.
“I was getting more value out of living overseas,” he said. And that was before Japanese started a whole new life for him.
“I live in Tokyo. I walk to work. I have a nice apartment,” said Collier. “I have a great life.”
And it’s his study of a foreign language that got him there.
Collier addressed cadets as part of the Department of Foreign Languages and Cultures’ “Life after Language” series created about eight years ago, said Col. Kathleen Bulger-Barnett, department head, “to break the myth that all language and cultural learning stops when you meet your language requirement.”
The series brings speakers, often alumni, to post who have had careers as military linguists or with the Central Intelligence Agency or the Federal Bureau of Investigation, for instance, in which foreign languages play a significant role.
“These people have done what cadets want to do,” she said. “We’re trying to help them make those connections and decisions that will help them make their goal 20 years from now.”