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Cultural Awareness Training helps US Army Cadets Build Bridges

Cultural Awareness Training helps US Army Cadets Build Bridges
Cultural awareness is important in today's day and age. Businesses, government bodies, the third sector and public services all realise the need to understand and embrace cultural diversity at many levels. The military is no exception; as illustrated by the US Army, cultural awareness training is reaping rewards.

In an effort to create more awareness of other cultures, US Army Cadets have to now participate in a cultural and linguistic programme. In an article on Latinalista.com, Rachael Tolliver, public affairs specialist at the US Army Cadet Command, explains how the cultural and linguistic programme followed by US soldiers actually helps to increase safety. According to Tolliver, language and cultural barriers prevent people from appreciating foreign cultures. Moreover, it is because of these barriers that people sometimes do not regard Americans as their allies.

Cultural Understanding and Language Deficiency programme

This is where the US Army’s Cultural Understanding and Language Deficiency programme (CULP) comes in, which is followed by army ROTC cadets in the spring and summer. With this programme, the Department of Defence (DoD) aims to help less-developed countries and build better relationships with the local people. It was created in 2005 after a document called “Defense Language Transformation Roadmap” was released and it has been a great success ever since.

Chief of the culture and language division at Cadet Command, Ray Causey, believes that even though the overall purpose of the programme is to educate soldiers about language and culture, the real gain might lie in the leadership experience that is obtained by the cadets. Causey:  “These (contracted) cadets are ordered to active duty for training, they complete Soldier Readiness Processing here at Fort Knox and deploy on unit orders to a foreign nation. They perform real-world security cooperation missions as directed by the US embassy country teams. These missions — where they practice and learn leadership skills — are often in remote areas and are with partner-nation military personnel and units.”

He added: “The cadets won’t get this opportunity again until their first overseas deployments. Such overseas cadet deployments are absolutely the best 500-plus hours of real-world training experience they will get during their tours as cadets.”

Improved international relations

According to Tolliver, it is also expected that the relationship of the US with other nations will improve as well. This will happen if they, for example, co-operate with other militaries, teach the country’s inhabitants conversational English or help out in humanitarian missions. “English is an international language in which business and some political relations are conducted. Underdeveloped countries are often at a competitive disadvantage due in part to their lack of English skills,” Causey explained.

A great example of the success of the cadets’ missions, Causey said, is their mission in Kyrgyzstan. Causey: “Kyrgyzstan is one of the countries to which cadets travel, participating in security co-operation events with combatant commands — commands located overseas. Many of these events are CULP related and include building partner-nation relationships which are key security-operations objectives.” Last year, cadets taught conversational English to the country’s high school students, which as a result have a better chance to enrol in an exchange programme with America that was set up by the cadets’ efforts. In this programme, students stay with American families in Kyrgyzstan and receive an American diploma.

The Kyrgyzstan students were very eager to keep in touch with their teachers. Ronnie Winberry, the Army ROTC recruiting operations officer at Valley Forge Military College who lead the programme: “We discussed how we could keep in touch with the center once we left via social networks. We recommended doing things like a Halloween pumpkin-carving class, Thanksgiving headdress-making class, and Christmas card classes — once we returned to the US.” And the students definitely knew their way to social networks, as the cadets have been “flooded with friend requests from students in the centers,” Winberry says. “They like looking at our pictures and talking to us about them, and I’ve even talked with my wife about hosting a student for the exchange program in the coming years. We all hope to continue our relationships through social media and hopefully make contact with them while they’re in the US when, or if, they get selected for the exchange program.”

Cadets on other missions have also been impacted greatly by their encounters. Kayla Amsler, who was involved in a CULP mission in Peru where she worked in a local health clinic, stated the mission made her look at her life from a new perspective. Amsler: “It was definitely the most eye-opening experience of my life. It’s hard to imagine the poverty, rubble, and dirt that other people throughout our world live in every day until you experience them for yourself.”

According to Causey, it is experiences like this that make cadets appreciate what they have at home. Moreover, it often results in cadets giving something back to the community. Causey: “These types of encounters help illustrate good leadership principles and impress on them the importance of duty, honor, and taking care of others.”

Another mission with a remarkable outcome was the mission in Tanzania. Dr. Thomas Smith was send to the country to create lesson plans for the Tanzanian students and help the cadets with their teaching methods. The US cadets were only there for a limited period of time, but Dr. Smith had taken of the idea of continuing to teach the Tanzanians. Smith: ““I discussed with the headmaster of Makongo High School the possibility of my high school in the US developing a sister school relationship with Makongo. The headmaster felt this was a good idea and wanted to proceed in developing this relationship.” The Tanzanian students are now pen pals with the students of the MLK High School based in America, which enables them to improve their English skills greatly. The Tanzanian teachers will even visit the US to learn more about teaching. Smith: “They will observe elementary, middle school and high school teachers of English. And they will receive one week’s training at the University of North Georgia.”

Smith believes the relationship between the schools is beneficial for both parties, as it “enhances the ongoing relationship of building trust, friendships, and international cooperation between the U.S. and Tanzania.” Moreover, he believes that “it is an enhancement to the CULP mission and contributes to the development of international security cooperation by both countries for the region of East Africa.”

The military have of course been involved in using language and culture as part of their operations for years. It is positive however to see the level of discourse move towards one of bridge building and long term relationship-building as opposed to operational, functional needs. When working internationally within any roll, its clear that cultural awareness offers unique benefits.

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