What Does an Exchange Officer Do?

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  • Written By: Dan Harkins
  • Edited By: Kaci Lane Hindman
  • Last Modified Date: 08 November 2019
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Allied countries occasionally swap some of their military leaders to train more effectively and share the latest techniques or weaponry. This exchange officer program dates back to the early days of the U.S. military. After spending a year or more leading units in a foreign country's military, exchange officers customarily return to lead within their native country's forces, generating the same amount of tenure as if they had never left.

One of the more recent examples of a famous exchange officer is Army Delta Force founder Charles Beckwith. In the early 1960s, after serving as a junior officer in the Korean War and becoming both a Ranger and Special Forces soldier, Beckwith joined the military's exchange program with the British military and served a year with Britain's storied Special Air Service (SAS). After returning home, Beckwith helped to revamp U.S. special operations fighting, eventually being tasked with overseeing the creation of the Army's elite Project DELTA during the Vietnam War. The "Delta Force" unit remains one of the American military's most elite and secretive special operations task forces.


The exchange officer is most often assigned to perform duties within the foreign unit that are similar to duties he or she had previously performed. The current program utilized by U.S. forces is a "one-for-one" exchange with Allied countries. This means militaries will benefit from the trade, similar to student or occupational exchange programs. Since prior to World War II's Normandy Beach invasion, British and American paratroopers have engaged in an exchange program for more compatible joint operations. These types of mergers are common across the branches.

In the Navy, it would not be common to find a foreign captain at the helm of an American ship, or vice-versa. The USS Winston S. Churchill, however, has a British officer stationed on board, perhaps apropos of the ship's moniker paying tribute to one of Great Britain's most famous statesmen. In exchange, the British Royal Navy has a ship, the HMS Marlborough, is regularly staffed by an American Navy officer.

The reason for nurturing this exchange officer program is three-fold. According to Army regulations, the exchange of personnel can further the sharing of organizational experience among Allied countries as well as nurture an appreciation for the strengths and tactics of foreign fighters. Opportunities for expanding training become available, which can instill confidence when joint operations are undertaken. Each branch of the military has its own prerequisites for candidates wishing to take part in the exchange officer program. Many are required to file exhaustive reports on their experiences.


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