At first glance of the new 755th Operations Support Squadron commander’s biography, you quickly see his assignment makes a lot of sense, given his many years within the EC-130 Compass Call and 55th Electronic Combat Group community.
However, if you dig a little deeper, it’s pretty clear that Lt. Col. Kabir Rao has led anything but a standard career with the jammers.
From his start as an EC-130 electronic warfare officer in initial qualification training in 2006, to accepting the 755th OSS guidon in 2021, there is a seven-year period where he served with the Air Force Foreign Area Officer program.
For those unfamiliar with the FAO program, the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines all have officers that specialize in a certain geographical area around the globe.
“Within the Air Force, FAOs are regional experts who operate in unique international, joint and interagency roles, often with significant interaction with senior military and civilian officials from the U.S., allies and partners,” said Lt. Col. Timothy Stokes, Air Force International Affairs. “Ultimately, the career field optimizes the Air Force’s ability to strengthen our alliances and partnerships in 21st century strategic competition.”
As a young EWO, Rao had heard about the FAO program and was intrigued by it, as someone who grew up in India and emigrated to the U.S. as a 15-year-old.
“I have always been interested in geopolitics, and once I heard about the program, I had hopes to serve as an FAO,” he said.
Unfortunately, at that time the FAO program, then known as Regional Affairs Strategists, was not as robust and fully developed as it is today, so getting information about it proved challenging.
The story of how Rao actually became an Air Force FAO is truly one of happenstance.
“I happened to be at an Indian restaurant in Tucson and heard a white gentleman speaking in Urdu while paying for his food,” he said. “This is something that intrigued me and I approached him and asked him if he was military intelligence or a diplomat. Of course, he was taken aback with my question, so I had to explain my rationale, which was that if he was speaking Spanish, he wouldn’t stand out, but Urdu in Tucson doesn’t fit.”
As it turns out, the individual happened to be an air attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan, and was in town visiting a friend. Rao explained his background, education and overall interest in the program and at that point was put in contact with the Air Force IA office and encouraged to apply.
Those selected for the FAO program generally attend the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif., where they earn a master’s in international relations, prior to attending the Defense Language Institute, where they specialize in a specific language.
However, Rao was selected as a direct accession into the FAO program since he already had a master’s in international relations and was fluent in Urdu, Punjabi and Hindi. He was certified in 2013 and served as a security cooperation officer as part of a country team on two occasions, once at the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi, India, and the other in Manila, Philippines.
“Both the assignments were incredible, since our daily job informs national level policy,” he said. “The U.S. Embassy India assignment was particularly great, as this was the same embassy I visited as a child to get a visa to visit my mother in the U.S., but was denied.
“Poetic and full circle in a way,” he added.
Though Rao is not currently serving in an FAO assignment, he remains a certified FAO and an active mentor in the FAO community.
“I am currently focused on my responsibilities as a commander, but look forward to serving in the capacity as an FAO again in the future,” he said. “Also, if there are future opportunities to permanently make the transition as an FAO, which is what I hope to do.”
The FAO program was restructured in January 2021 as part of the Air Force’s broader reorientation toward strategic competition. Prior to that, the FAO program operated as a secondary career field, where officers alternated assignments between their main Air Force specialty code and FAO duties. Now, qualified officers can voluntarily apply to crossflow into the FAO core career field.
“The transition is expected to increase FAO effectiveness with our allies, partners and in the joint community by focusing FAO development on international Airmen skills and experiences, rather than challenging officers to hit milestones in two separate career fields,” Stokes said. “This historic change showcases the continuing process under which (Air Force International Affairs) is innovating in efficient and effective ways to meet the growing demand signal for critical international Airmen skills.”
Rao said those wanting to become an FAO should only pursue it for one reason and that is to support the U.S. government in that capacity anywhere in the world.
“It is hard work with long hours, but it will be one of the most rewarding things they do in their career,” he said. “Anyone that is interested shouldn’t hesitate to take the leap. They won’t regret it.”
As a new squadron commander, Rao is able to lean upon his experiences as an FAO to relate the unit’s everyday mission to what is going on around the globe.
“In many ways, having the FAO experience has helped me communicate to our squadron about what we in the ops world do,” he said. “Specifically, tying what we do into the strategic context of how ops help meet our strategic objectives worldwide.”
The 755th OSS is a geographically separated unit of the 55th Wing under the 55th ECG at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz.