There are around 150 Defence Attachés (DA) deployed around the globe to work in embassies and High Commissions representing Defence overseas. Attachés come from all branches of the military and can be assigned for up to three years.

AFF Overseas Manager Esther Thomas takes a look at the Defence Attaché Foundation Studies course which prepares DAs and their families for their posting…


The Foundation Studies course includes briefs on security awareness, global strategic trends and cultural awareness.

Parts of the course are open to spouses so that they are able to understand the role of their partner, and to help them run a DA’s residence and live in a country that may be challenging compared to the UK, in terms of living conditions, language and culture.


Esther has regularly presented to the spouses on the course and recently caught up with some to hear their feedback.

Sharon, who is moving to Skopje, North Macedonia, said: “On telling friends I was doing DA’s spouse training most made a joke about lessons on correct cutlery or napkin sculpture but this couldn’t be further from the truth!

“The briefings were informative and it felt as if spouses were being treated as part of the wider diplomatic team. More than once it was mentioned that families were an important part of the Defence overseas network.”


Course co-ordinator Lt Col Stuart Cattermull says: “It is recognised by the Vice Chief of Defence and Commander Strategic Command that spouses contribute massively to Defence as well as the wider government in achieving their objectives within the countries they are deployed in.

“Unlike some other countries who deploy DAs overseas, there is no formal tasking of spouses by Defence and thus the support they provide to their husband or wife is most appreciated.”

Spouses are invited onto parts of the course delivered in Shrivenham and MOD London. It is at this stage that the families federations and the Diplomatic Service Families Association also meet the group. Spouses also get the chance to do a specialist driver training course, either with the serving person or on their own.


Depending on the country they are moving to, spouses may be offered language and cultural training.

Sharon has been learning Macedonian with an online tutor which she says has been extremely enjoyable. She thinks arriving with the ability to read, and speak some basic phrases, will be useful so they have also been giving their children independent language lessons.

While the wider family have not yet had their cultural training, they’re delighted their three children will be included as part of their preparation.


Sharon said that the level of administration needed to go overseas to a diplomatic posting is huge so meeting other spouses and creating a network is key.

She adds: “By far the most valuable element of this course was that it connected a group who were going through a shared experience. The WhatsApp group is still active and we are helping each other in what can be a posting with unique challenges.”

Additionally she can drive better, can speak some Macedonian, has an awareness of allowances and policy but she still can’t fold a swan napkin!


Sharn, who is living and working in Fiji, told AFF that their preparation phase was quite short. Just five months after learning they were posted, Gary attended his Foundation Studies course, and the family left the UK in April 2023.

She managed to attend all the spouse elements of the course which she found interesting and helpful, as this was their first posting to a High Commission.

She said: “The AFF chat was definitely one of the points I remember from the course and would recommend that if that’s the only one the spouses can make, then do it!”

Whilst she felt it was a good amount of time to get things sorted, she was disappointed they didn’t fit in a recce.

She said: “Other families coming out should definitely try and do a recce as it would have been very useful to prepare for what Suva is actually like, as it’s not what I’d imagined!”


Once Gary had started in post and their two girls had started at the local school, Sharn was left on her own a lot and struggled initially.

Fortunately, both the girls settled quickly and continue to enjoy school. Sharn adds: “While the education system is very different from the UK, this is a good thing as it’s equipping the girls with lots of new and different skills.”

Before the assignment the family considered the fact that daughter Hallie had to go back a school year into Year 8, as the school year runs from January to December in Fiji, but on balance they felt it was too good an opportunity to turn down.

“For Hallie it was the best decision we have made, she is absolutely flourishing here and has really found her confidence.”

The family considered the longer-term implications too and with a three-year posting, Hallie can either start her A-level studies or find a school that offers the International Baccalaureate syllabus so she can continue the IB programme.

With Gary’s role as Assistant Defence Attaché, the family have not really had to deal with the representational and hosting side of life and Sharn said, “we actually have more family time here, as we were married unaccompanied when in the UK”.


On the issue of employment, she adds: “There needs to be more said to spouses about how hard it is to get a job here unless you have a specialist subject, just to make them aware before they get overseas.”

She says that spousal employment is an issue, “unless you can get a job in the High Commission or have a specialist subject, then I don’t think you would be able to work here.

“If they deem the job achievable by Fijians, then you won’t get a work permit,” she adds. For more, see Job hurdles for military spouses overseas.

Being so far away means that the family does miss friends – they manage to keep in contact, although it can be tricky with the time difference.

Sharn concludes: “I’m still in contact with all the spouses who attended the DA course, via a WhatsApp group, and we continue to support each other and send pictures of our adventures.

“I would encourage anyone to get into the DA Network, as the opportunities are once in a lifetime and all the different experiences you can have are amazing.

“I am already asking Gary, where can we go next!”

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