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Rutgers University Cadet reflects on CULP mission to Vietnam (2013)

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1.IMG_1582By Cadet Kenneth Harrison; Rutgers University-Douglass College

As Army ROTC Cadets headed on a CULP mission to Vietnam, we spent some of the pre-deployment phase at Fort Knox, getting to know each other and our mission, We were actually the second rotation of the Vietnam CULP mission, and we believed that it would not be difficult for us to communicate with the people of Vietnam for mission purposes. However, our preconceptions, as they would be throughout our mission, were wrong.

Coming into Vietnam many of us had expectations of what we would see. Some of our expectations would be proven false, but some were accurate. A few of us had been to Vietnam before, but none of us had been to the North of the country. Many of us thought that the students would be more interested in learning the language due to their future missions, and not as interested in learning about the United States. We believed that because of a language and cultural barrier it would be difficult to truly establish a relationship with anyone in the short time that we had available. Many of the Cadets were unsure of what to think of how we would be perceived by our counterparts in Vietnam. Many of us expected a lot of animosity towards us first as Americans, and second, as representatives of the American Army.

The reality was much different. Upon stepping out of the airport we were instantly besieged with foreign-sensory overload. We knew there would be heat, but the first step out of the air-conditioned airport truly shocked us. We were hit by heat, extreme humidity, and smells and sites that we had never experienced before.

Local transportation includes not only buses and taxis, but other means. And  traffic laws are different from those we have in the U.S.

Local transportation includes not only buses and taxis, but other means. And traffic laws are different from those we have in the U.S.

The culture shocks continued as we piled into our bus and were greeted by Vietnam’s unique traffic “laws”. There were people passing our vehicle on all sides, crossing into oncoming traffic and dipping back into their lane just before collision. We repeatedly saw five or more people on a single motor bike. This would be one of the hardest things for us to adjust to during our stay.

During the first couple of days, we were completely immersed in the city of Hanoi. One of the first things we encountered was the aggressiveness of their salespeople. Due to our obvious foreign appearance we were frequently approached by sidewalk-vendors selling us anything from aesthetic fans to Zippo lighters. They would follow us for several blocks and at one time we had a crowd talk to us for 40 minutes attempting vigorously to sell us anything they could.

After our initial exploration we moved into the true execution of the mission, teaching English to officers in the Vietnamese military. The reception was completely and overwhelmingly warm—not what we expected. Our first encounter with the Vietnamese military was through a colonel, a panel of high-ranking officers and an interpreter in a very ornate and formal conference room with a large bust of Ho Chi Minh overlooking the proceedings.

For many of us, this was the realization of the importance and legitimacy of our mission. We walked into the classrooms and were greeted warmly and positively by all the participants. However, we found the first few days to be a challenge. Many of our ice-breaker games failed, and we had difficulty communicating. We were frequently met with “can you please speak slower?” Over the next few days, we learned what words our students could understand, and how we could communicate most effectively with them. At the same time we were focused on creating a positive and enjoyable learning environment.

As we got to know one another we exchanged stories, and even tried ourselves against each other at things like arm wrestling.

As we got to know one another we exchanged stories, and even tried ourselves against each other at things like arm wrestling.

During breaks is when we truly began to interact personally with our students. Class time was when we taught English, but during breaks they asked us to explain American culture while they explained their culture. They were fascinated by where we lived, our families, our girlfriends and boyfriends, and who we were. They were equally eager to show us pictures of their homes, their wives, their children, and their country which interested each of us. We wanted to know as much about Vietnam as they wanted to know about the United States. We were met with history lessons, language lessons, and culture lessons. Over the two weeks our bonds began to grow and our lessons became more involved and interesting. We were surprised at how attached we became to our students and how quickly the relationships formed between us and them.

Finally, we traveled the country. While traveling we learned more and more about the people of the Vietnam. We were amazed at the work ethic we saw.

Local villagers work in a rice field. We saw many people who had a strong work ethic.

Local villagers work in a rice field. We saw many people who had a strong work ethic.

While driving or riding through the nation we were exposed to farmers, working in extreme heat, waist deep in mud, dragging animals through the farms while cultivating rice, using the same techniques that have been efficiently refined for thousands of years. We saw stark differences in standards of living with shacks being placed across the streets from ornate elaborate beach resorts. We began to appreciate some of the systems for standardization and regulation that we have in our country such as the FDA and EPA that were missing here. Most importantly, we were able to see a country’s unique and developed history from its own perspective, independent of our own biases, allowing us to try to formulate a new point of view.boat2-2013-06-16 08.04.47

Our time in Vietnam has been important and has broadened our views. We know that this has been a fantastic learning opportunity for us as future leaders in the United States Army. It has given us the ability to learn to speak with people who not only do not know us, but may or may not understand us. We learned to adapt and use improvised methods to send and receive messages across a language barrier. We saw that Vietnam is completely different from how it has been portrayed by popular media; it is much more developed, vibrant, and complex.

We saw how they viewed their own national heroes when we went to visit the tomb of Ho Chi Minh. This allowed us to overcome the “boogeyman era” of the Cold War. It showed us that we could overcome our own preconceptions and that positive relations are possible–many of us were as worried about our own reactions as we were about theirs.

The CULP mission to Vietnam is incredibly important in the current political climate of Asia. We also know that since the Vietnamese military is investing a lot to teach these officers English that they will be at the forefront of future relations with the United States and it is imperative that they are given a positive image from the beginning.

Most importantly, this mission shows that even after years of some of the most hostile conflicts of the twentieth century, that peace and a positive, mutually beneficial, and long-lasting relationship is possible and well on its way. 2013-06-07 13.47.42

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Cadets teach English, shop on water (2013)

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Cadet Edward Rauch, a junior from The University of Scranton teaches Thai Army Aviation non-commissioned officers correct English pronunciation and vocabulary as a part of the U.S. Army ROTC Cultural Language and Understanding program this summer of 2013.

Cadet Edward Rauch, a junior from The University of Scranton teaches Thai Army Aviation non-commissioned officers correct English pronunciation and vocabulary as a part of the U.S. Army ROTC Cultural Language and Understanding program this summer of 2013.

The Army ROTC Cultural Understanding Language Proficiency program gives Army ROTC Cadets the opportunity to be immersed into a different culture so that Cadets can learn different features of the particular country visited. While Cadets may have left home with one expectation, the reality once they hit the ground wasn’t always the same.

“I never would have thought teaching our native language would be challenging,” said Cadet Edward Rauch, a junior from The University of Scranton, of his initial impression in Thailand. “But I now realize that I am also learning about their culture and understanding of our country and how rewarding teaching our language can be.”
Rauch studies nursing at The University of Scranton and added, “I feel as though this will give me more experience in interacting and teaching in other nations which is especially important in order to provide quality care to patients overseas on deployment to different countries.”

The floating market was a market place that was on the water and visitors shopped by rowing a boat up to each stall.

The floating market was a market place that was on the water and visitors shopped by rowing a boat up to each stall.

The Cadets gained further cultural experience through weekend excursions to historical and cultural sites. Rauch mentioned that one of the most fascinating destinations was the Floating market, “one of the prime examples of cultural differences between the U.S. and the South East Asia region.”

The future nurse has taken many cultural considerations from this trip and believes these experiences to be useful once he is commissioned as an officer in the Nurse Corps.

For more information on the Army ROTC CULP program visit:  http://www.cadetcommand.army.mil/culp/
https://www.facebook.com/ArmyCULP

Cadet learn Thai and how hot peppers can be (2013)

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By Lauren Parrinello, Towson University

While in Thailand on a Cultural Understanding and Language Proficiency mission, Cadets from across the country came to together to teach English to Thai enlisted soldiers and officers. It is important t for the Thai to learn English so when they are serving on NATO missions they can communicate with personnel from other countries.

While the objective in the classroom is to prepare these soldiers for their English test, the objective for the Cadets is focused on enhancing their cultural understanding.

Cadet Cheyenne Szarka said, “This mission is more important than some think. As a future leader, I have to be able to operate in any environment, at any time. On-the-ground missions like CULP increase the Cadets’ relevance and knowledge when participating in a global society. No amount of reading, or research, can replace that.”

One evening we had dinner with Thai pilot Capt. Koom. We enjoyed a traditional Thai dinner with him and he talked us into having a pepper contest. Over the course of dinner we learned about the many facets of Thai Culture; and needless to say, how hot, hot peppers can really be.

Thai pilot Capt. Koom is enjoying a traditional Thai dinner with the Cadets, who he just talked into having a pepper contest. Over the course of dinner the cadets learned about the many facets of Thai Culture; and needless to say, how hot, hot peppers can really be.

Thai pilot Capt. Koom is enjoying a traditional Thai dinner with the Cadets, who he just talked into having a pepper contest. Over the course of dinner the cadets learned about the many facets of Thai Culture; and needless to say, how hot, hot peppers can really be.

Cadets teach English and learn Muay Thai (2013)

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Through the U.S. Army ROTC Cultural Understanding Language Proficiency program, Cadets get the exciting opportunity to explore a new country and learn about its culture as several of us did when we were assigned to the Lopburi Province of Thailand. Here, we worked with the nation’s developing Army aviation unit and taught its officers and maintainers English so that these soldiers can receive further avionics training in the United States.

Cadets teach Thai officers and maintainers English so  these soldiers can receive further avionics training in the United States.

Cadets teach Thai officers and maintainers English so these soldiers can receive further avionics training in the United States.

Cadets covered everything from reading comprehension and vocabulary to American history and phonetic pronunciation daily. More importantly, the Cadets are building a strong camaraderie with the Thai soldiers to foster a lasting and committed relationship between the U.S. Armed Forces and the Royal Thai Military for years to come.

Another important aspect of CULP is to learn about the culture of the country in which the cadets are received. In Thailand, Muay Thai is a significant aspect of its culture, evolving much throughout its history.

Believed to have started over 2,000 years ago, Muay Thai is known worldwide as a combat sport in martial arts with similar ties to modern kickboxing. Early Thais used Muay Thai as a means of self-defense, but also as hand-to-hand combat in battle. Recently, Muay Thai has become widespread and is considered to be the dominant stand-up fighting form of MMA as seen in the UFC.

Cadet Stephen Oh participated in this CULP mission and has spent the past year and a half training in Muay Thai at home. He said he has found the opportunity during his stay in Thailand to learn about its history, techniques and origin. Such a visit is an incomparable experience in the development of his skills and understanding of this martial art.

Cadet Oh  posing in front of the memorial Muay Thai statue in the Bangsai Arts Centre in Ayutthaya, Thailand.

Cadet Oh posing in front of the memorial Muay Thai statue in the Bangsai Arts Centre in Ayutthaya, Thailand.

Cadets create newsletter while teaching English in Tanzania-(2013)

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U.S Army ROTC Cadets in Tanzania rotation2 created a newsletter about their trip to inform family and friends what they were doing and what it was like visiting Africa.

Several things of interest: The newsletter is well laid out; the stories and photos are very interesting–all very impressive as it’s all done by ROTC Cadets. Oh, and they met and had their pictures made with Baltimore Ravens football player Ray Lewis.

See the attached PDF link: Tanz2 newsletter

Balimore Raven's Ray Lewis

Never Judge a Book by its Cover (2013)

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Beninese Cadets hang out with their two English teachers, Cadet Adria Penatzer and  Cadet Kimberly Stiles (left to right), at the going-away party put together for U.S. Cadets on the night before they departed the National Officer’s Academy.

Beninese Cadets hang out with their two English teachers, Cadet Adria Penatzer and Cadet Kimberly Stiles (left to right), at the going-away party put together for U.S. Cadets on the night before they departed the National Officer’s Academy.

By Cadet Adria Penatzer

“Have you checked your email?” the Human Resources Assistant for the University of Virginia’s Army ROTC battalion asked me in January of this year. I knew what that question implied. I immediately unvelcroed my ACU breast pocket, removed my iPhone, and hurriedly scanned my inbox for unread messages. I had one unread message with a subject that read “CULP Selection Results.” Euphoria.

I had been selected to participate in Army ROTC’s Cultural Understanding and Language Proficiency program which sends Cadets across the globe, immersing them in foreign cultures and provides leadership training along the way. Where would I be going? Israel? Korea? I opened the email to determine my destination: “CDT Penatzer – Benin.” Benin? Where is Benin? I logged out of my email account and immediately googled “Benin” and discovered I would be traveling to West Africa.

Over the course of the next few months, I read the scant number of webpages with information about Benin and ordered a book from Amazon to assist me in writing my research paper on the country’s political structure, but before I landed in Cotonou, the major port city of Benin, I had no idea what to expect.

The Benin CULP team’s main mission was to teach English to Beninese Cadets at the National Officer Academy in Toffo. We lived in barracks at the Academy for two weeks and provided four hours of daily English instruction Monday through Friday.

However, the English teaching mission was only a piece of the cultural exchange and understanding that took place over the course of our team’s three week stay in Benin. After the thirty-seven day deployment including pre- and post-deployment time spent at Fort Knox, I can say with confidence that I have learned invaluable lessons about myself and my biases. From interacting daily with Beninese Cadets and the locals of Benin, I have vowed to overhaul my standard method of judging people and character.

Cadet Emmanuel Nyarko handed off a plant to a Beninese cadet as part of the assembly line transporting the 100 plants purchased for the project into the garden.

Cadet Emmanuel Nyarko handed off a plant to a Beninese cadet as part of the assembly line transporting the 100 plants purchased for the project into the garden.

Judgment has a negative connotation, but we all do it, consciously or unconsciously. People judge everything from brand names, to social norms, to people. Living in Benin was an eye-opening experience in terms of how, if, and when judgment is appropriate.
Relative to the American lifestyle, I perceived that the Beninese live in squalor. Clean and running water is a luxury. Villages consist of huts composed of mud and palm branches. Children run around barefoot on dirt roads and through the dense palm forests with their swollen bellies, evidence of their malnutrition. The locals are perpetually at work with women carrying heavy burdens of water, food, and other merchandise on their heads and often a small child on their back.

As our team traveled along the dirt roads riddled with crater-sized potholes, I looked out the window at these passing images feeling almost guilty of voyeurism. Can I truly understand the Beninese way of life? I thought, “I am seeing their lives, but not living it.” Suddenly, I felt as though I should not be taking pictures; this was not a Disney theme park, these were people’s homes and lives.

When our team visited a village in the city of Bohicon, I confirmed my earlier contemplation that I could not pass judgment on the living conditions of the Beninese and injudiciously determine their level happiness or unhappiness. In the village, our team had the opportunity to witness how some Beninese men blacksmith their own tools. Later, we harmonized with the villagers by beating on small, metallic, hand-made instruments and we interacted with the locals as much as the French-English language barrier allowed.

One event in particular seared itself into my memory and shaped how I viewed the Beninese way of life for the remainder of the deployment. One of the blacksmiths in the village refused to sell a shovel we had just watched him craft with only heat, a hammer, and nails. According to our guide, a Captain in the Beninese Army who graciously provided our team with everything from security to transportation, the blacksmith explained that the shovel represented his livelihood. It was not for sale.

Mr. Deutsch, supervisor of the Benin team’s English language teaching mission, harmonizes with a village member using a hand-made metal instrument.

Mr. Deutsch, supervisor of the Benin team’s English language teaching mission, harmonizes with a village member using a hand-made metal instrument.

It was around this time when the same blacksmith challenged a few of the male Cadets to a weight-lifting contest using heavy concrete blocks. The blacksmith lived in a tiny hut without solid walls and was shirtless, but he was a proud and friendly man, not to mention a gracious host to allow a group of nearly twenty Americans into his home. From the outside looking in, I would never have known.

Another instance in the city of Ouidah “taught me a lesson” on passing judgment. On a group tour of various sites in the city, we stopped in a small, deserted square which according to our tour guide was frequently used as a place to practice voodoo. In response this statement, I let out an unconscious, “Oh!” betraying my shock and, to be honest, alarm. The tour guide then turned to me, smiled, and practically sighing said, “Oh? Why you say, ‘Oh?’ Westerners always think voodoo is bad thing, used to hurt people. But voodoo is just a religion and used for good. It is just a way of life.” Slightly embarrassed, I realized that I had probably offended this kind woman, who for all I knew might practice voodoo.

In hindsight, the “Oh!” was a consequence of my unfounded assumptions about voodoo which I undoubtedly have picked up from Western portrayals of the practice in movies and short stories. I was ashamed of my ignorance, but I began to recognize how socialization within Western culture was affecting how I perceived Benin and the locals’ way of life.

A second realization then followed the first. One of the precise purposes of CULP deployments is to force Cadets out of their comfort zones and into an unfamiliar environment, freeing them from judging and experiencing foreign cultures through a solely American and Western lens.

Granted, Westerners are far from the only ones to judge other people and cultures relative to the norms of their own society; however, from my conversations with the Benin locals, they openly acknowledge their perception that Americans view Africans as savages and they hope to change that offensive stereotype.

Personally, I am grateful to have participated in the CULP program which helped me to identify how my judgments and perceptions of different societies and cultures were tainted by my familiarity with the American way of life.

I would encourage all Cadets to seek opportunities for CULP deployments, which I am confident through my own experience are instrumental in preparing the U.S. Army’s future officers to function effectively in foreign countries through increasing knowledge of, and respect for, other cultures and people.

FOR MORE PHOTOS OF THE CADETS TRIP TO BENIN, VISIT:

http://armyrotc.smugmug.com/organize/CULP-2013B/Benin

Maj. Weatherlow-- the Benin Team's mission commander, lifts a local Beninese child onto his shoulders as the team hikes to the local medical consultation center

Maj. Weatherlow– the Benin Team’s mission commander, lifts a local Beninese child onto his shoulders as the team hikes to the local medical consultation center

Opportunity in a delay (2013)

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Because of the delay in departure, cadre came up with training exercises for the Cadets. The best one was a panel of senior officers who discussed leadership, schools, and gave advice for the Cadets future.The panel of officers assembled; (from left to right) COL Wingate, LTC Shank, CPT Henderson, COL Chapman, 1LT Collins, CPT Martin (not pictured), LTC Hartman (not pictured), and LTC Sims-Columbia (not pictured).

Because of the delay in departure, cadre came up with training exercises for the Cadets. The best one was a panel of senior officers who discussed leadership, schools, and gave advice for the Cadets future. The panel of officers assembled; (from left to right) Col. Wingate, Lt. Col. Shank, Capt. Henderson, Col. Chapman, 1st Lt. Collins, Capt. Martin (not pictured), Lt. Col.  Hartman (not pictured), and Lt. Col. Sims-Columbia (not pictured).

By Cadet Scott Geiger Jr,

As a an ROTC Cadet heading into my third and most important year, my actions and preparations will not only affect my next year but the rest of my career in the Army. So I did what I thought would most develop me as a leader and decided to apply to attend CULP in the early summer. Upon being accepted, I would travel with twenty-two other cadets to Benin Africa to teach English to Beninese cadets and military personnel.

We learned quickly that not everything goes according to plan when putting together detailed overseas missions. Due to sequestration and budget cuts within the government and various affiliated organizations, our team’s visas were not processed in time for our scheduled departure.

Our cadre stepped up in a big way and while working on getting us in country, scheduled various activities and training to keep us busy. They embodied the age old adage “fight the fight not the plan,” and if we were sent home they ensured we would at least leave with some new knowledge and experience.

Expecting another question and answer session from somebody too high up to relate to, my Benin team piled into the shuttle vans and headed to a briefing. We took our seats and prepared for what turned out to be a small panel of senior officers, assembled to answer any questions we as Cadets could possibly have. I can say with absolute certainty that this was the best opportunity I have had in my short military career.

This particular officer panel consisted of two full-bird colonels (one being the G3 of Cadet Command,) four lieutenant colonels (two as the acting Human Resource Command personnel for their respective branches,) three captains including our cadre, and one first lieutenant. The most amazing thing about this group of officers is that they were literally assembled the day before, taking time to talk to us on such short notice for our first insight to what the Army’s leadership had to offer.

Our discussion focused on what we as Cadets could do to develop ourselves not only as Cadets but as young officers. There was deep sense of mentorship throughout as we discussed internships, branching, changes to the Leadership Development and Assessment Course, and managing our expectations in a time where our military is drawing down and cutting back. While this was all extremely helpful, it was not the focus of this panel.

LTC Hartman provides valuable advice to (left to right) Cadets Hett and Wildermuth.

Lt. Col. Hartman provides valuable advice to (left to right) Cadets Hett and Wildermuth.

The following is a basic summary of concepts, what we learned and what we as cadets were encouraged to discover then put into practice.

We were instructed to take control of our own future, to be proactive as opposed to reactive, to anticipate the need and exceed the expectation is the best thing we can do, not only as cadets but as a military force. This all flows back into the general theme of self-development and not asking what you can get but what you can give.

We were charged with finding a mentor, to help us along the road to leadership. Nobody can do this alone and having someone there to guide and mentor is crucial in a young officer’s develop.

We were told to continue to learn, read something, anything military. To gain perspective is to grow in knowledge that can be applied later. It’s no secret that the Army is in a period of change.

We were told to learn to adapt, as the leaders of tomorrow, and not only rise to meet any challenge we face but overcome and persevere.

You have the ability to broaden yourself, or put yourself in a position of key development. The relationships that we develop must be intentional and you must give in order to receive. Give to your soldiers and they will give back. I remember what my own father told me; to serve is to lead.

This group of officers affirmed why I am here as an ROTC cadet. They exemplified the best the Army has to offer and the many opportunities that are provided.

I want to be an officer for one reason and one reason alone: the men and women you get to serve with are the best and brightest. It takes a special kind of person to answer the call to serve. It made me look forward to my own chance to lead and for the all the opportunities I will be provided as a young officer.

I’d like to thank all of those men and women for reaching out to the next generation of Army leadership. You have provided a great example for me and my peers.

As I write this, I am packing for my trip. Everything happens for a reason and perhaps we were delayed for this opportunity. I know I have grown from it and look forward to my own chance to impact others.

May 2013

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