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Department of Military Science

Husky Cadets abroad

In their own words:  the Cultural Understanding and Language Proficiency (CULP) Program

Albania

This past summer I  spent a month in Albania as part of a Cultural Understanding and Language Proficiency (CULP) mission, comprised of 32 cadets. Our primary mission was to increase the English-proficiency level of 45 Albanian Non-Commissioned Officers (NCO’s) by planning lessons and interacting with them for three weeks. In addition, we did training with the Albanian Special Forces, toured several Albanian Naval and Air Force Bases, and provided humanitarian assistance with the Peace Corps. We were also allowed time to explore the cities we visited in small teams in an effort to understand the civilian culture of the country.

During my time in Albania, I was able to glean several ideas about their culture and how it relates to ours, on a military and civilian level. On a military level, the biggest contrast between our forces is the level of responsibility and authority of NCO’s. In the American military, NCO’s are empowered with both responsibility and respect in leading their units’ to complete the objective at hand. Commonly referred to as the “backbone of the Army,” they are essential to the smooth functioning of the U.S. Army. In the Albanian Armed Forces, NCO’s are treated very differently. They still promote and gain rank, but this rank is more indicative of the time they have served and does not mean additional responsibility. For instance, a Sergeant Major in the Albanian Army could be responsible for guarding a gate. Also, the reasons why soldiers in the Albanian Army joined are also different. With the Albanian economy very weak and the presence of very high unemployment rates, most Albanian soldiers joined just because it was an available job. While many U.S. soldiers entered into service because of a sense of patriotism, this is a much less common reason in the Albanian Army.

Aside from their military, the Albanian culture differed from American culture in several ways. Chief among them was their religious demographic, with the country being split between Christianity (Catholicism and Orthodox) and Islam. While I initially expected significant friction between the faiths, I was pleasantly surprised to find that they got along harmoniously. In fact, in talking with the Albanian NCO’s we learned that it was not unusual for a Muslim woman to be married to a Christian man and visa-versa. Additionally, the Albanian people put an extreme priority on spending time with their family. While this is also valued in the United States, it was significantly heightened there. The Albanian NCO’s were surprised and somewhat saddened to hear that Americans usually leave home around age 18 and were also curious as to why the rate of divorce is so high in the U.S.

Though there were many differences in culture, the Albanian and American cultures had certain similarities. For instance, many of the teenagers there could have blended seamlessly with American teenagers, armed with hip clothes and cell phones at all times. Also, the music there was mostly American pop, which was surprising considering that most Albanians didn’t speak English.

From the month I spent in Albania, I am confident that the skills I gained in relating to people and working with those very different from myself will help make me a better leader. These skills were put to the test everyday, even with my fellow cadets, who were from every corner of the U.S. I found myself working with those I had little in common with, but forging friendships and positive work relationships nonetheless. With this in mind, I am confident that I will be better able to understand and lead my future soldiers. – Cadet Hein

 

On top of an old castle in the town of Kruja, the previous capital of Albania.

Slovakia

Slovakia is a small East European nation with a rich culture and history that is mostly unknown to the average American. Despite the fact that it is a small country with an active military force of just 14,000, Slovakia offers unique experiences for both military and civilian visitors. Through the Cultural Understanding and Learning Program, I was afforded an opportunity to explore these experiences, allowing myself to develop both as an officer in the U.S. Army and as a person.

For the military component of this trip we trained with the best (only) CBRN unit in Slovakia. We learned about their special equipment, took their fitness test, spoke english with their soldiers, shot their weapons, and explored the beautiful city of Rožnava. It was a great experience to see how similarly their Army operates to our Army, yet how different it was as well. This component of the trip really showed how our cadets dealt with adaptability since the timeline was constantly changing as well as how we lead across cultures because many of the Slovak soldiers spoke very little english. All-in-all it was a great learning experience training with their military and I hope to have this opportunity again soon.

Slovakia’s rich culture and deep history made it hard to leave. Slovakia has more castles per capita than any other place in the world and we were lucky enough to visit multiple beautiful pieces of history. We were reminded of Slovakia’s rough history and how most of the buildings here are older than the country itself, not to mention older than the United States as well. Travelling along the Danube river and across the country, it was hard not to be reminded of the cold war era. Being in a country with such a deep history, yet such a thriving culture, it was easy to appreciate everything around us. While in Rožnava, we were able to learn some traditional Slovak dancing and wear traditional clothing, which was not only a great learning experience, but it was fun too!

During our final week in Slovakia, we got to train with the Slovak Army cadets at their training center in Lešť. We spent many days at the shooting range learning about their weapons and safety rules. We also did tactics and learned how they operate checkpoints. It was a great experience because we got to see how their cadets are exactly like American Army cadets. We traded patches, hats, and stories about how each other operates. It is really cool to know that we have friends on the other side of the world who are going through the same experiences that we are.

Overall, I know that this trip has made me a better leader and better suited to be an officer in the United States Army because I have learned a lot about how I can lead across cultures as well as how I will work with other U.S. Army officers. Not only did I learn countless things about Slovakia’s military and culture, but by being brought together with other American cadets from across our nation, I was able to learn about our military as well. I am so grateful for this experience and am sure that I will take everything I learned and apply it at the Kinnear Husky Battalion. – Cadet Goodfliesh

 

Mongolia

This summer I had the privilege of going on a CULP mission to Mongolia. CULP stands for Cultural Understanding and Language Program. The Army Cadet Command annually sends approximately 1,300 cadets overseas in order to develop cultural awareness and foreign language skills. Tracing back to May, I remember feeling slightly disappointed because I thought I couldn’t go after receiving the travel dates for a CULP mission to Korea that conflicted with my school schedule. Fortunately enough, two weeks later, I was given a spot to a different mission; in fact I was given the option to choose among five countries. In this moment of eustress, I asked myself a question that eventually led me to decide where to go, “How many times in my lifetime will I have the chance to travel to Mongolia?” Our mission during the first half portion of the trip in Mongolia was unique from those of other countries in the sense that we took part in the United Nations Multi-National Peacekeeping Operation called KhaanQuest hosted by the MAF (Mongolian Armed Forces). Within this mission all twenty three Army cadets were able to participate in various areas of the training. A cadre, six other cadets and I took part in the ten day long medical mission along with approximately fifty uniformed individuals and civilian experts from around the world. Although the site was an old vacated high school with limited classrooms, we were able to model the facility in the form of a hospital. Classrooms were transformed into the offices of Optometry, Dentistry, Internal Medicine, Pediatrics, OBGYN, Neurology, labs with EKG/Ultrasound, and Pharmacy. For cadets specifically, we would rotate around the different departments assisting doctors and actively serving the patients. At Pharmacy, I was quick to learn the names of every medication on shelf and interpret doctors’ scribbles on paper since I was required to understand what was written on the prescription, locate the correct medication, fill then have it ready for confirmation by the pharmacist. At Optometry, I was responsible for assisting the patients in finding the pair of glasses that not only fit their prescription, but also to their personal aesthetic liking. The latter proved to be significantly more difficult. At Dentistry, I served as a dental hygienist. At Pediatrics I served as security and Santa for the children by handing out Mickey Mouse stickers. Without comprehensive medical background I was able to achieve all these tasks with adaptive learning and the help of kind professionals. We served over 4,800 patients during the mission. While the medical mission was going on, other cadets took part in one of the two following missions: engineering or military training. Cadets at the engineering site served as muscle experts by constructing fences and playgrounds, installing doors and toilets, renovating gymnasiums, and rewiring of the school. On the other hand, the third team participated in the FTX (Field Training Exercise). During this training, cadets engaged in different lane trainings led by the Korean Special Forces, Japanese Special Forces, USMC, and the US Army. Some lanes included Cordon and Search, Dismounted Patrolling and C-IED, Check Point Operations, Distro Ops/Riot Control, Convoy Ops, Combat First Aid, and IED Awareness. Upon celebrating the completion of KhaanQuest, all three teams reconsolidated at the hotel located at the heart of Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia’s capital. Over the period of three days, we were deeply engaged in cultural activities such as visiting the Mongolian Military Museum and participating in the 13th century tour led by American and local field experts during which we learned the history of the Mongol Empire led by the infamous leader Chinghis Khan and the traditional lifestyle of a nomadic family. Furthermore, staying in Ulaanbaatar allowed us to visit various restaurants in its city downtown and shop for souvenirs. The adventure did not end here. Leaving the hotel, we were led an extensive week-long tour by the locals. Initially, we planned to drive South from the capital to reach the Gobi Desert; however considering distance and limited number of travel days we decided to plan a route North towards Russia. Despite the change of plans, we were able to explore beautiful landscapes, multiple archeological sites such as deer stones and the ancestral graves of Khan, the most well-known monastery in Mongolia, and the ger, a portable round tent used by the nomads in the steppe of Central Asia. Chief among all sites at which to immerse in the Mongolian culture was the Amarbayasgalant monastery. During this four day period, we hiked to the prayer site, explored and cleaned various temples, observed the practice of Buddhism, played a friendly game of soccer against the monks, and my personal favorite, ate Mongolian BBQ. Unlike that of any other culture, barbeque here was prepared by stuffing pieces of lamb meat (bone attached) into a large steel container along with heated stones followed by placing the container inside a fire. Very yummy. Despite the language barrier, playing soccer and sharing a meal together brought the two nations closer together. If I were to describe my CULP experience in a few vocabulary, they would be service, learning, and fun. Going on a CULP mission overseas was never a right, but a privilege. Through all I was given the opportunity to serve the local community as well as my peers. I learned how operations were run. I recall feeling confused and lost reading the sixty page long logistical PowerPoint slides of the medical mission. By the end, it all made sense. I met influential people who taught me to do things the right way. I observed human interactions. I heard stories from a nine time war veteran, SFC Gervascio, my team leader. I saw how the war affects people. I saw good and bad examples of leadership. I put myself through personal AARs and set goals. Above all, I had fun and am now left with an unforgettable experience. Thanks to the Army and the CULP. — Cadet Yu

Barbados

Breaking down Barriers

When people tell you “join the army, you’ll see the world,” they’re not lying. This summer, I had the amazing opportunity to participate in a cultural exchange that landed me in the beautiful Caribbean island of Barbados. Our mission was to immerse ourselves culturally in the lifestyle and way of thinking of the local Bajan population and their military in order to foster a good working relationship between the United States and Barbados. In simpler words, we were there to be ambassadors for the United States. The experiences and relationships I gained over the course of these three weeks were one’s that would completely change my outlook on what it meant to be a leader.

Our assignment in Barbados was a military to military contact deployment. This meant that we were to spend each week with a different component of the Barbados Defense Force (BDF). The first week was spent with the BDF infantry. At their gorgeous cliff side commando training base, we spent time conducting land navigation, first aid and my favorite, weapons training. Our second week was spent with the Coast Guard and Marines. Here we had the opportunity to do extensive work in the water with inflatable Zodiac boats identical to the boats used by Navy Seals. We learned how to paddle, drive and upright these Zodiac boats. In addition, we learned and executed a beach landing that landed us on the front page of the National Barbados newspaper. The final week of our mission was spent at Good Shepard Primary School painting the exterior of their buildings with the help of the local students, teachers and BDF service members. On top of these scheduled training events, on weekends, we had the opportunity to soak up all that the island and its people had to offer. My favorite of these outings were SCUBA diving, deep sea fishing and playing cricket for the first time. As you can see, I had an amazing time in Barbados and the best thing was that the Army paid for it!

While these outings and tactical training were fun and educational, I believe the most influential lessons I learned were from the simple interactions and conversations I shared with the BDF soldiers and the locals. By just talking to these soldiers at lunch we were able to break down the stereotypes they had of Americans and instead plant positive images of America. In the same sense, I completely dispelled my own ideas of American superiority, in that, America was better than every other country. Don’t get me wrong I love America and all it stands for, however, by relating to these foreign soldiers I realized that even though we lived thousands of miles apart we were all soldiers who dealt with the same dilemmas and thrived in the same successes. For example we bonded over the hatred of having to wake up at 0500 for PT and had a competition on who had gotten the worse punishment from an NCO.

In the past, I believed that in order for you to be a good soldier and leader you had to be 100% competent in all the skills and tactics required of being a soldier. However, after being in Barbados and conversing with foreign soldiers I realized that more important than skills, knowledge and physical ability is your character and the relationships that you make with others. Although my trip to Barbados was a paid vacation, it wasn’t frivolous. I learned that I needed to respect everyone regardless of their background and be open minded, not stuck on a “my way or the high way” mentality. Hopefully, by doing so I be the best leader I can be. — Cadet Dunn

Lithuania

We arrived in Vilnius, Lithuania on Saturday, and had time to roam around the city and experience the relaxed nature of European cuisine. The second day was another free day and we had the opportunity to walk into 400 hundred year old churches and venture around the KGB museum which included a prison that served as a detainment and execution facility during the Cold War. We drove to Klaipeda yesterday and the hotel staff hosted us for a traditional Lithuanian dinner, alongside the 173rd Airborne unit who joined us as they working closely with the Lithuanians at the same time.Today, we met our class for the first time and taught them all about advertising. The group I am working with is the developing group, which we consider to be on the lower scale of English knowledge. These people are incredibly smart so its been nothing short of a pleasure to be here. We are all working very hard to create lesson plans, as well as required reports just as the real Army would do. Aside from learning about the Lithuanian culture, I am happy to say that I am developing skills that will benefit me in my career as a future officer. – Cadet Menges