UNITED24 - Make a charitable donation in support of Ukraine!


Center for Army Lesson Learned Logo

Field Ordering Officer and Paying Agent Handbook

Handbook 09-16
July 2009

CALL Handbook 09-16: Field Ordering Officer and Paying Agent Handbook

Beyond the Basics: Tips and Tricks

Chapter 11

Cultural Awareness

A field ordering officer (FOO) working with local nationals or third country nationals must be aware of the total spectrum of communications: language, nonverbal communication, customs, perceived values, and concepts of time and space. Not understanding these concepts can lead to serious misinterpretation and possible failure to procure mission-critical supplies and services.

In some cultures (non-Western) when contractors are confronted by criticism, they react by interpreting the facts to suit themselves or deny the facts. This reaction can cause some problems for a FOO. Therefore, take a very indirect approach toward any corrective action. For example, the contractor (who may be preoccupied with appearances and politeness) may automatically answer "yes," whether it is true or not, to questions such as "Do you understand?" The polite way for many non-Westerners to say "No" is to say, "I'll see what I can do," no matter how impossible the task may be. Another common Arabic phrase is Inshala, which means, "If God wills it" (a more realistic translation is "it is not going to happen"). Remember, "yes" does not always mean yes. After every meeting with a contractor, always ask him to review what was discussed and what is expected of him.


Remember, in most cases, you are "not in Kansas anymore," but with a little thought and patience, anything is manageable. Interpreters may be necessary to communicate. In addition, use English phrases and local language with caution to avoid misinterpretation; you may ask for a truck full of gravel and instead get a truckload of chickens. Remember to use appropriate measures and equivalents because most countries use the metric system. Do not expect local contractors to understand what 2"x 4" lumber is in metrics.

Business Culture

A FOO will meet with vendors routinely, and the vendors often may not get straight down to business. Instead, they will start the meeting with small talk and discuss business later. Many Third-World contractors may view time differently from Americans. The U.S. Army's "hurry up and wait" mentality will often be viewed as an insult. The approach to time by a contractor is much slower and more relaxed than in American culture and can raise a FOO's frustration to the point of being counterproductive.

Remain conscious of the fact some contractors expect kickbacks, "finder's fees," exchange of gifts, or other gratuities that are illegal for U.S. personnel to provide or accept. Ensure you do not violate standards of conduct. Typically, corruption will be your number one threat.

Tip: Use your understanding of the local culture for successful outcomes. Working with foreign contractors takes understanding, planning, and patience in a deployed environment. When communicating, always ensure your language is clear and concise (avoid jargon). Above all, keep a professional working relationship. Consider cultural factors but discern the difference between culture and excuses.

Some thoughts on using an interpreter:

  • Speak in the first person.
  • Remain in close proximity when you are speaking.
  • Carry a notepad and take notes, as needed.
  • Ask questions when not sure of a term, phrase, concept, acronym, etc.
  • Project clearly and mirror both your vocal stresses and overall tone.
  • Refrain from becoming engaged in a tangent dialogue with your audience. Do not become an advocate or mediator in the dialogue; ideally, the interpreter should remain invisible.
  • Try to spend a little time with the interpreter before the event begins. The speaker and interpreter should not work together "cold."
  • There is no need to use "Me Tarzan, You Jane" style sentences. Just be aware and allow time for the interpreting process.
  • Be constantly attuned to your audience's comprehension level—slow down, repeat, or elaborate as needed. Test the audience and the interpreter.
  • Do not distract the interpreter by passing notes, whispering, or carrying on side conversations.
  • Pictures are worth a thousand words, but rehearse and/or translate with the interpreter in advance.
  • Both you and the interpreter must stay attuned to cultural awareness and sensitivity; do not fall prey to condescension.
  • If your interpreter does not look good, you do not look good. While it is his responsibility to do an excellent job for you, know how you can assist him in doing so.

Tip: If you do not have an interpreter assigned to your unit, ask your supporting contracting office for temporary assistance.

Carefully Select the Vendor

Local leaders are a ready source of supplies and may be the only available source. While they can deliver supplies, using local sheiks or community leaders as supply sources can create numerous problems. The FOO is not an operations officer or commander. However, local community leaders often confuse roles and will ask FOOs to help them with operational problems. The FOO may find himself complicating relationships between the command and the civilians in the area of responsibility. For example, the FOO's ready cash flow may tempt a railroad technician or mayor to spend all of his time finding brooms and mops instead of fixing infrastructure.

Photo: A FOO/paying agent team meets with vendors
Figure 11-1. A FOO/paying agent team meets with vendors

Some final thoughts

The FOO can be a powerful tool for the unit operating in a deployed environment. With limited or lengthy supply lines, the FOO often is the only readily available supply source for many items. Effective planning and training prior to deployment pay big dividends to a FOO team. An effective FOO can boost morale, improve quality of life and the local economy, build positive working relationships with locals, and provide the supplies necessary for conducting operations. The keys are understanding the complex procedures of contracting and finance, finding the sources for supplies, and safely conducting combat operations. The FOO can be a powerful combat multiplier.

Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list