Career Profile: Army Attache Noncommissioned Officer

Army uniform, close-up
Brad Wilson

Any career in the military holds the potential to take you to exotic lands, meet fascinating people from another culture, and participate in a little intrigue. But some in particular -- though a little off the beaten path from most soldiers -- seem designed for it more than others.

Such is the case with the attaché noncommissioned officer (NCO), a highly competitive position -- not an actually Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) -- that attaches soldiers to foreign embassies as military advisors.

Officially under the control of the Defense Intelligence Agency, there's some hint that attachés may be an underappreciated source of military intelligence. But before you get all excited, bear in mind that an enlisted attaché has many duties that, although exciting for social mavens and aspiring businesspeople, are more akin to a military-political concierge or office manager than a double-oh agent.

Army Recruiting Command's attaché info packet tells us that although attaché NCOs may perform "specific intelligence functions," there are many other duties ranging from mundane bookkeeping to high-profile "VIP support . . . or assisting with training or other actions for the embassy's Marine Security Guard Detachment."

Military Requirements

Becoming an attaché requires experience and maturity, so it's not an entry-level position in the Army. For consideration, a soldier must have been promoted to at least sergeant (E-5) and also complete the appropriate leadership course for his or her rank in the Noncommissioned Officer Education System (NCOES.) Those who scored below 115 on the general technical section or below 120 in clerical skills when they joined the Army should also re-take the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) to meet those qualifications.

But that's not all. Working with foreign military and diplomats means even the smallest weakness or mistake can have grave consequences for the United States' reputation. Naturally, then, a soldier who wants to go on attaché duty must be a US citizen, and qualify for top secret clearance. Dependent family members aren't exempt, either -- they too must be citizens, obtain a passport, and may be scrutinized if they have ties to a country or region where the Army plans to send the attaché.

Finally, language ability is given prime consideration when it comes to attaché selection. Hopefuls don't need to be qualified Army interpreters -- any MOS is eligible. But without skill in a foreign language, as proven with a score over 100 on the Defense Language Aptitude Battery (DLAB), it's slim pickings.

Education

Everyone who survives the Army's scrutiny to become an enlisted attaché attends the Attaché Staff Operations Course for at least 10 weeks at Bolling Air Force Base, Washington DC. If a soldier is assigned to a particular area of the world that requires more intense preparations, however, up to a year and a half of further training may be necessary in areas including "language training, anti-terrorism courses, or instruction on specialized equipment," according to the attaché info packet.

The basic course of instruction, as described by the American Council on Education (ACE) Military Guide, appears designed to lay a pretty broad foundation for attachés, reflecting the jack-of-all-trades nature of the job. The overall goal is for graduates to "be able to use Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint; perform office and financial administration; and prepare a country research project explaining geography, people, and institutions and their impact on the United States." 'Kay, they had it all pretty neatly rolled up into your standard office job until they threw in the graduate thesis on international politics.

But the course seems like a good resume-builder to me, whether you're a career soldier or looking to take the civilian world by storm after your term: In addition to the office training, it covers important "[b]usiness communication topics includ[ing]...interpersonal communications, oral communication techniques, persuasive writing," and others that, if you ask me, are sorely neglected by far too many searching for work these days (and, sadly, many career enlisted.) ACE also recommends several college transfer credits for the course that translate particularly well to a business curriculum.

Career Outlook

Soldiers who do an exceptional job their first go-around on attaché duty may be able to stay on for further duty, although they remain accountable for staying qualified in a primary MOS. For a more permanent career option in the attaché service, sergeants and above with at least three years' experience in the field may apply to become warrant officers in MOS 350L, Attaché Technician.

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