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MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Va(Nov. 24, 2004) -- Training and Education Command leaders held a seminar here Friday in order to explore the possibility of a future comprehensive, cohesive, systemic cultural awareness training package for the Marine Corps that would build upon and enhance current training offered to deploying Marines.
Dr. Barak A. Salmoni, an assistant professor of National Security Affairs at U.S. Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, Calif., said that an improved awareness of indigenous culture could provide a tactical advantage to Marines on the ground.
“We need to neutralize culture as a barrier to successful mission accomplishment,” said Salmoni, who trained elements of the Army’s 1st Infantry Division and National Guard on operational culture in Iraq from October 2003 to January 2004 and the 1st Marine Division from December 2003 to July 2004.
“We need to understand whatever the local dynamics are in a way that permits you to not weaponize, but to maximize your understanding of the local culture and to use it effectively against the indigenous population. The vision is that every Marine, regardless of rank, who has interaction with indigenous populations, will receive that amount and kind of knowledge about the indigenous environment that will let him interact with civilians and security forces. [Marines will achieve] the minimum required language capability to derive meaning about the basic cultural mores, about male to female interaction, about introductions, about how you use force in a way that communicates not arrogance but strength, for example.”
Salmoni said that Marines must often interact with local populations as a matter of course, and have an innate ability to serve as American ambassadors abroad.
“The Marine Corps is the ideal environment to educate and train about cultural environments, what culture is, how to think in that way, and how to still shoot and move and do all the tactical stuff,” said Salmoni. “I found from observing and talking that it comes naturally.
The lance corporal - the fire team leader - is not even thinking he is doing it right, and he is. We need to gain from that implicit knowledge they have and make it explicit. Why shouldn’t the captains and majors benefit from the lance corporal?”
Capt. Jeffrey Landis, TECOM spokesman, said an enhanced, systemic cultural awareness training program will aid Marines in Iraq, especially as they shift from combat operations to stability and support operations.
“The end state is having every Marine understand even more about the people and how their culture operates in order to truly help them,” said Landis. “We are in a transitional phase in Iraq, supporting and stabilizing a nation. To do that effectively, you have to understand the culture. Getting in-depth knowledge of the culture will assist Marines greatly in building trust with Iraqis as well as confidence in their own abilities to help them. We are not there to impose our will, but to provide an example for Iraqis to take control of their own future.
We are providing them with the means to make their own decisions, and the way ahead is to engage their culture.”
Landis said that TECOM and Marine Corps Intelligence Activity currently work with recognized cultural experts such as Salmoni to provide Marines with the skills necessary to accomplish their evolving mission in the Middle East, and potentially anywhere they may deploy worldwide.
“It’s one thing to kick in the door, and frankly, Marines are used to that,” said Landis. “Knocking on the door offering humanitarian assistance and aid is very different now.”