Breaking down cultural barriers enhances mission-effectiveness

By Noelle Wiehe
U.S. Army Cadet Command Public Affairs

Cadets of 6th Regiment train at the Cultural Awareness course alongside second lieutenant actors who play the roles of Atropian-natives on Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash. U.S. Army photo by Al Zdarsky

JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash. – Practical training in the U.S. Army is crucial. The situations within the training may be extreme, but at the Leader Development and Assessment Course (LDAC), preparedness is one of the most important aspects of Soldier combat-readiness.

“In today’s world, in order to do our mission, we have to understand and be aware of the cultures that we’re going to be working with,” said Lt. Col. Jon Negin, officer in charge of the Cultural Awareness training. “Culture is all around us as we conduct our operations these days.”

Cadets attending LDAC are subjected to a made-up Atropian culture. This culture is meant to resemble, but not mirror, a culture they are likely to encounter in Middle Eastern and Southwest Asian countries. Through several different stations which make up the Cultural Awareness training site, Cadets build confidence in their ability to communicate with foreigners and in their ability to operate as a squad.
The Cultural Awareness training puts Cadets into a situation where they often face stubborn Atropian-natives who have little patience for U.S. Army officers.

Cadets do not go into the situations blind, however. Before Cadets enter the scenarios they have an opportunity to learn about Atropian culture by asking questions of the trained 2nd Lt. actors. In turn, the actors ask the Cadets about American culture in order to break down any cultural biases.

“There is no mission that we’re going to tackle by ourselves,” Negin said. “We’re going to be working with other nations, the local population, local security forces, other agencies within the U.S. government and non-government agencies. All these have their own cultures – even the Air Force and Navy.”

Once introduced to the “natives,” squad leaders must assign Cadets to assume roles such as public affairs officer and interpreter. Those Spanish courses in high school won’t help Cadets here, though. The Atropian forces are stubborn with Americans, especially in situations where a man is forced to dig his own grave or an Atropian Soldier hoards artillery munitions in his truck.

Experienced military leaders, such as Negin and Col. Dean Shultis, Commandant of Cadets at LDAC, say the training is practical and important for these soon-to-be Army Officers.

“The training that Cadets receive here is ultimately important because it sets the stage for the rest of their LDAC experience,” Shultis said. “Half of the situational training exercise lanes that they will encounter here while at LDAC have a cultural component , whether it is civilians on the battlefield, females on the battlefield or having to deal with a situation from a moral standpoint. “

Negin has seen thousands of Cadets make their way through his course. “It’s a very useful tool to help [Soldiers] get the mission done and enable them to get along with other people,” he said.

Sixth Regiment Cadets get briefed on the Atropian culture by the actors and cadre. U.S. Army photo by Al Zdarsky

Negin was an advisor to the Afghan National Army. Having seen such diverse cultures first-hand, he emphasized the

importance of understanding language, religion, history, politics and ethnic tension within another country’s culture, even if only a little bit.

Shultis spent all of his overseas time in the Middle East and took a semester of Arabic while at the National War College where he learned modern standard Arabic as well as important aspects of Arab culture. He has seen first-hand the importance of cultural awareness amongst Soldiers.

“For Cadets leaving here, the world is their classroom,” Shultis said.”They have the opportunity to go to one of 30 different countries and submerge themselves in those cultures. This prepares them to be commissioned Officers in a global Army of the 21st century.”

Watch our video on Cultural Awareness here!

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