POLAD: A Global Warrior-Diplomat
I served as the State Department's Political Advisor (POLAD) to two US military combatant commands during a watershed moment of the post-Cold War era: 1998-2004. To make these political-military assignments even more compelling, I found myself inside the two most intensely active military commands of the time: US Special Operations Command (1998-2002) and US Central Command (2002-2004). As POLAD I sat inside the cockpit of the inner leadership of the commands and worked directly for the commanding generals. My mission was to be a two-way window between the Combatant Commander and relevant leadership at the Department and in embassies. In that era of increasingly frosty relations between State and DoD, my role acquired increasing importance, as America ramped up for armed conflict and then launched.
In the 1990s, the POLAD assignment was not viewed with excessive admiration by the Department and the Foreign Service promotion system. The POLAD jobs that came closest to foreign policy prominence were in the Balkans and in Operation Provide Comfort for Turkey and northern Iraq, but even those were unknown to, or at best under-appreciated by most people at State.
My service in the United Arab Emirates (Dubai in the mid-80s and Abu Dhabi in the mid-90s) gave me a different appreciation for the relevance of political-military work to the Foreign Service. In the UAE, we worked very closely with the US Navy and the US Air Force during and after the Iran-Iraq War and Desert Shield/Desert Storm. Broadly speaking, US government civilian agencies worked closely with US military counterparts, but suffered from mutual misperceptions between the two organizational cultures. I came to the realization that we did not speak the same organizational language ("diplospeak" vs. "milspeak"), and did not share the same organizational values (tolerance for ambiguity, need for "end-states" and "planning"). Even our "home base" concept was different (e.g., "forward deployed" in embassies vs. garrisoned in mostly Stateside military bases).
Unlike the State Department's attitude, the uniformed military very much valued having a senior diplomat as a liaison officer embedded within their headquarters. In the 1990s, General and Flag Officers who led geographic combatant commands (like US CENTCOM) or functional combatant commands (like US SOCOM) began to seek out former ambassadors as their foreign policy advisors or POLADs.
That's the job I...