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Wednesday, Jun. 22, 2011

New program trains Soldiers on ‘cultural perspective’

- The Bayonet
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The first class under Fort Benning’s Culture and Foreign Language Program began June 14. Taught on post through Columbus State University’s Continuing Education division, the classes are geared toward Soldiers and designed to equip them for a broad range of intercultural operations.

The Culture and Foreign Language Program began at Fort Sill, Okla., in 2009, said Jay Brimstin, acting director of Training and Doctrine, which oversees the program on post.

“The Army recognized several years ago that we didn’t do a real good job of preparing Soldiers and leaders to operate in foreign cultures,” he said. “Consequently, as part of the Army Campaign Plan, they established a Culture and Foreign Language Program, and ultimately the goal was to establish some level of institutional training.”

Fort Benning was the second center of excellence to receive a culture and foreign language adviser — Dr. Ronald Holt, who arrived in August. A second adviser, Dr. Toni Fisher, arrived in March.

The first class is Spanish. Arabic will be offered this fall and languages like Chinese or Dari may follow.

While language is part of the instruction, the focus, particularly for Soldiers, is the culture, which can make all the difference in counterinsurgency and stability operations, said Brimstin, who retired as a command sergeant major after 30 years of service.

“If we are engaged with the local populace and we’re operating from the perspective of American culture, it makes it challenging, (especially) if we don’t understand the cultural perspective of the people were dealing with,” Brimstin said.

“The people who spend the most time on the ground with locals are going to be the dismounted squads, and that’s why it’s important even at the fire team and squad level that they have an understanding of the cultural aspects of operations.”

Holt, a tenured professor in anthropology who specializes in Middle Eastern tribes, said the classes will focus not only on customs but on aspects of the culture that are relevant to operations, such as religion and negotiations.

“There’s nothing instant to this,” he said.

“We’re trying to get down to where they can actually understand how to negotiate with people, how to build credibility, how to accomplish the mission and yet not offend the local people and really build longer term relationships.”

Holt has been to the Middle East on several occasions. After he and other cultural advisers worked alongside the 101st Airborne Division in Afghanistan, kinetic encounters dropped by 60 percent, he said.

“Understanding how the local people feel really does have an immediate impact on operations and casualties,” he said.

Soldiers who attend the classes may be eligible for reimbursement. They should talk with the chain of command and explore financial aid opportunities through CSU.

For more information, call Holt at 706-545-0301 or log in at www.us.army.mil/suite/doc/22052884.

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