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26 February 2012


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William R. Cumming

Very helpful to me! Thanks Dr. Silverman!


We all thank Adam for responding with such alacrity to the Colonel's request - and to do so in such an informed and authoritative way. It looks like we'll be better prepared in the future than we have been until now in Iraq and Afghanistan.

A couple of things mystify me. I've seen the little blue booklets that were prepared in WW II for GIs - including the one on Iraq (where I guess we had a few people associated with the transport mission in Iran). It was superb: concise, clear, relevant, and quite comprehensive. And the approach seemed to work for the average soldier who was less cosmopolitan and educated that his counterpart today. Yet no one thought of using an updated version. The dozen or so Iraq vets I've spoken with have all told me that they received zero cultural orientation. I asked one intelligence officer, a young woman who insisted on going on night raids in Mosul, what did you say when you broke down the door. Her unabashed reply: "Get your goddam f....asses on the floor."

Evidently, the commanders as well as the GIs at that airbase in Afghanistan are following the same strategy for winning friends and influencing people.


Forget just cultural this is also Force Protection issue.... What is the old saying? Any you do or don't do can get you killed?

The Twisted Genius

Dr. Brenner,

There were several such booklets prepared and distributed for our recent adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan. As I remember, they were also concise, clear, relevant, and quite comprehensive. However, as your experience noted, distributing such publications does not guarantee that the troops receive any cultural orientation/training. I imagine there were units that distributed those booklets, checked off the cultural orientation box on the unit redeployment checklist and moved on to the next item. The troops were then left with the decision to pack that booklet or spare batteries for the MP3 player in their duffle bags. Adam's post indicates that language and cultural training is now get the leadership emphasis it deserves.


There's a book here somewhere... The evolution of DOD culture training from 2000 to the present.
Mbrenner - you can lead them to water but you can't make them drink. When I went to Iraq in 2005, I had a footlocker of culturally relevant reading material, much of it produced and distributed by various DOD entities (to include an original WWII Iraq handbook). The Marines have a reputation for producing particularly useful culture hand-books and smart cards. In my office now, I have stacks of books and smart cards that we distribute to deploying units. There are a ridiculous number of DOD web-sites, on various networks, that provide ready access to cultural education and training resources. The problem now is twofold, separating the useful from the redundant, and most importantly finding time on the training calendar to turn gun-toting steely eyed killers into gun toting steely eyed killers who understand interpersonal and intercultural nuance.
Dr. Silverman's excellent run down focused on individual Professional Military Education (PME). However, individual education and training is only half of the equation. Individually competent soldiers + realistic collective training = unit ready for war. Collective training is not in the purview (usually) of TRADOC (Training Command). Collective Training belongs to Commanders, and the Collective Training Guidance is produced by FORSCOM (Forces Command). Notice it is called "guidance", not "directive." The FORSCOM training guidance lays out the very long list of things that Commanders must or should do in order to be validated for deployment. In recent years Commanders have gotten especially cranky about the growth of mandatory training requirements because many of the tasks were redundant, irrelevant, or most importantly, because mandatory requirements enforced from higher undermines their authority and flexibility.
So where does culture and language training enter into the collective training discussion? After years of language and cultural requirements accruing onto the pre-deployment training models, recently many tasks which were "Required," are now only "Highly Recommended." And that's OK, as long as we trust our formation Commanders to do their own mission analysis and use their most valuable, and limited resource, time, effectively.
So, from a practical point of view, what does pre-deployment collective culture and language training look like (recognizing that each Commander can do things differently)?
The single biggest change to collective cultural training of the past ten years is the widespread and effective use of Cultural Role Players and Linguists. Well before the CTE (which is usually conducted at Combined Training Center or Mobilization Readiness Training Center), leaders and soldiers receive classes on use of interpreters, cultural sensitivity, and language familiarization. And soldiers whose jobs require regular and sustained interaction with the local populace will get specialized instruction from organizations like AF/PAK Hands, which bring in regional SME, usually natives, to instruct and educate. Every unit heading to OEF will participate in at least one Certifying Training Event (CTE), during which they will be expected to use interpreters while interacting with native role players. If a Commander screws up his "Key Leader Engagement" by refusing tea, much less disparaging the Prophet, there will be consequences. While Commanders are executing a KLE, the MPs are running a checkpoint, the HUMINTers are recruiting sources, and the line-dogs are questioning the locals while on patrol. Almost every person they interact with will be either a native, or have extensive experience in the region. This just wasn’t the case 10, or even 5 years ago.
Unfortunately, at the end of the day, there is only so much time available for training, and when Commanders look at the last remaining bit of white space on their Calendar, they have to decide between one more KLE simulation, or one more iteration of the Counter-IED lane. Most of them will focus on the latter, because the metrics of poorly executed route-clearing are so much less ambiguous than the metrics of engagement.
-James Dickey, LTC, USA

The Twisted Genius


Thanks for the education on this subject and on current PME structure in the Army. All these centers of excellence, functional areas, functional components and enterprises are leaving me in the dust. I would imagine ROTC students will be taking Anthropology 101 and a regional cultural course to satisfy this requirement as well as added emphasis in their military science courses. Do you foresee a requirement for learning a foreign language to obtain a commission through ROTC or the service academies?

Adam L. Silverman

Professor Brenner: They are still using the little booklets. I've got several in a foot locker that someone gave me before I deployed to Iraq.

Adam L. Silverman


You are absolutely correct. A good chunk of what was developed, ad hoc, over the past decade in regard to culture and cultural inputs on the operational side of the house, was intended to allow US personnel to operate in a way that generated less animosity by the host country nationals. This meant more non-lethal operations and engagements and less lethal ones. The idea behind the ACFLS, the ACFLD, and the CFLAs is to being to institutionalize this over time through the individual PME system. So it isn't something that is just dumped on FORSCOM and done for redeployment training purposes.

Adam L. Silverman

LTC Dickey,

You are absolutely correct about the division between individual, and regular PME, and the redeployment training. The issue going forward for the Army, regardless of FORSCOM or TRADOC, is how to crosswalk and weave these different strands together so there is some coherence to and between individual PME done in the schoolhouses and unit training (PME) done in garrison either in preparation for a deployment or as part of just the normal garrison environment as things continue to wind down. A third important issue is with ongoing education for Army personnel, regardless of cohort, throughout the course of a career that is neither done in the schoolhouse or in garrison. So we have a lot of moving pieces, and while a lot of them are quality, they are often moving without coordination.

Adam L. Silverman


I honestly always have to check an org chart to check where half my counterparts are! So I feel your pain. As to the ROTC cadets, as well as those at the Point, VMI, etc, there are programs already in place to promote culture and foreign language education. If I recall correctly, from the last time I looked at this stuff, I think the ROTC cadets, as well as those at the Point are required to take a foreign language, as well as culture coursework, and if not they are strongly encouraged to. The real issue is not that they will be required to take one in order to obtain a commission, but rather which one to take given that we do not have a regionally aligned force. As I'm sure you've observed (as have several others here including myself), we often misalign our foreign language speakers. I know of several 2nd and 3rd Generation Arab American soldiers who are assigned to PACOM or SouthCOM, not CENTCOM. This is the result of how we generate the Force and until that gets reworked, the issue is less having to learn the language and more of whether you'll be assigned to the AOR that would allow you to use it.

Tom Richard

it has always been a tough challenge for all those who have worked at the US military forces at some point in their life. Hence now they can opt for various degree programs for military people or military scholarship programs to give their career new boost.


Eastham Irons

Learned from this post of yours Sir. Though my profession is not related to the topic of your post, but I am a citizen concerned with world peace.

Difranco Creighton

It's not easy to undergo in military training/ education. They are ready to offer their lives just to serve their fellowmen. The endpoint their is to have world peace!

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