View Full Version : U.S. Wants Cultural Savvy Troops

07-04-2006, 09:51 PM
5 July Christian Science Monitor - What U.S. Wants in Its Troops: Cultural Savvy (http://www.csmonitor.com/2006/0705/p01s01-usmi.html) by Mark Sappenfield.

Lt. Thomas Tompkins had a decision to make. His unit had come under fire from a band of insurgents, who had just fled for cover in a mosque.

Strictly speaking, the rules of engagement allowed Lieutenant Tompkins to storm the front door and spread through the mosque in search of the enemy. But there was another option, it turned out: Knock on the door and talk to the imam.

Tompkins's test came not in the furnace of Baghdad or Baquba, but in a quiet classroom exercise on the lush countryside campus of Marine Corps Base Quantico. The lesson is one example of the US military's efforts to instill in troops the notion that - in a war where support from the local populace is as important as raids and airstrikes - cultural awareness can be an effective weapon.

In addition to their core training on the rules of engagement, US troops of every stripe are learning how to lunch with sheihks and conduct raids without offending the man of the house. Though recent allegations of murder, rape, and massacre by US soldiers and marines in Iraq may point out the limits of this type of training, they may just as easily underscore the importance of reinforcing it for all troops who will come into contact with the local citizenry.

"One of the things we educate most repetitively ... is being comfortable in an uncomfortable environment," says Barak Salmoni, deputy director of the Center for Advanced Operational Cultural Learning (CAOCL) at the Quantico base.

Though the armed forces have sought to take culture into consideration since the beginning of the Iraq war, CAOCL represents how that accumulated knowledge on the ground is being distilled into discrete lessons and institutionalized.

As the Marines' "center of excellence" for culture and language, the year-old center is charged with spreading cultural understanding - of lands wherever marines are deployed - into all levels of its forces education, training, and operations. Likewise, the Army has opened a similar "center of excellence" for cultural training at Fort Huachuca in Arizona.

In Iraq, the commander of US forces, Army Gen. George Casey, has created a Counterinsurgency Academy for all arriving officers. Meanwhile, Central Command, the military command that oversees Iraq and Afghanistan, started a three-week course in which Jordanian forces teach US soldiers about Arabic culture.

The purpose is not to be a nicer military. Rather, it is to help troops grasp how cultural factors can affect tactical decisions...

07-05-2006, 11:10 PM
Each TBS class at Quantico is getting more and more exposure to this program, Dr. Salmoni from the article gives a brief to each company in addition to cultural awareness tactical decision games.

All officers and SNCOs are being assigned a geographic region and will be required to complete correspondence courses on the culture and language. The most recent company to graduate TBS (mine, coincidentally) was only the second to be assigned "microregions". Additionally, both the Army and Marine Corps are changing the METT-T analysis concept to METT-TC. (The C stands for civilians for the Army, culture for the Marine Corps)

I'm a big believer in the new cultural program. My only problem with it is how we're going to sell it to young PFCs and Lance Coconuts who understandably see the best way to survive as shooting first and asking questions later.

07-07-2006, 12:42 PM
You pose an excellent question, one which about every Marine has a different answer. My answer and approach was/is clear. Understanding the culture, and being technically proficient in non-kinetic approaches to tactical tasks, will shape our success in the future. That's why I'm here at the SWJ.

If you can establish the requisite level of trust between you and your men, through showing: 1) you care, 2) you're firm but fair, 3) you know your job like the back of your hand, Marines will go to hell and back when a good leader says, "We must do these things."

As much as we want to instill independent thought in our junior leaders and allow for decentralized decision-making, discipline remains the key. General Mattis displayed these traits, and many Marines in my circles agree that he is something of a modern day Gen. Lejeune. He demanded discipline and high honor, but recognized that when it came time for bad guys to be killed, it was to be carried out efficiently.

There's another dimension to the problem of shooting first and asking questions later. As a leader, you'll have to ensure that certain tactical tasks are executed properly with no corners cut. A good example is the VCP. Whether it is a snap or deliberate one, SOPs have been established that reduce the risk to Marines, and afford Iraqis as much time/space as possible to realize that they are indeed headed toward a VCP. Without getting into details, a strand of wire stretched across the road with your Marines standing on either side is not the answer. If you're lazy and cut corners, Marines will be put in a situation where they have no choice but to shoot first.

Finally, everything we do in combat arms poses certain "occupational hazards". Drill it into the Marines' heads that all hazards cannot be removed, and you will always apply good judgement, and you'll have a good foundation.

07-08-2006, 05:46 AM
There has been a lot coming out by military authors on Cultural / Cultural-Centric Warfare over the last few years. Do any of these make it in the reading list for this new version of the "strategic SNCO / officer" from the training centers?

Edit: I guess what I'm really asking is how does the training break down? Is it practical and class?

07-11-2006, 09:01 PM
It's getting to be that way. So far it's only a class, and then a tactical decision game. And from what I saw, not a whole lot of my fellow students bought it. So there's a problem with "selling" the concept to Marines of any rank.

A lot of the training at TBS is based on the "train the trainer" concept: teaching Lieutenants how to teach concepts to their Marines. But I don't think the cultural awareness portion has achieved that goal yet. Beyond giving lectures, and maybe tasking out lectures to a few key leaders, I really have no idea how to get the message across. I believe it will be easier when I have a deployment warning order and at least a region that I can focus my efforts on.

Steve Blair
07-11-2006, 10:02 PM
I think that's what it really comes down to. It's hard enough to design a course within a limited block of time to cover one culture and/or region, let alone trying to do some kind of blanket deal. I've seen it in AFROTC when they try to cram the entire world situation into a couple of Power Point classes and a quickie exam. One of the areas I'm trying to address in a couple of exercises/games I'm designing here is what I call situational awareness. It works out rather like the cultural awareness you're talking about, but on a more operational scale. In my case it's something like "if you bomb the cities, the people in your region with ethnic ties to the folks you bomb (we're using a rather Balkan model for the setting) will get uneasy and maybe revolt or something nasty." We then expect our people to balance that risk against any possible reward for strikes. And it's not always easy to do when dealing with a bunch of kids who've seen Top Gun about six times too many...:)

Sorry if I'm rambling a bit, but what I'm getting at is sometimes you have to show them the benefits of a particular approach that entails some risk. Discipline and honor are outstanding starting points, and everything I've read leads me to agree with you regarding Gen Mattis. But if you can show the kid that by restraining his trigger finger he might win some local goodwill, which can translate into good intel and thus fewer losses, he might see the reward behind the risk. I'm sure this is already being done, so I may be reinventing the wheel. But it's a thought to consider.