Cadets as translators; Panama medical exercise (2013)

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Sharing a package of M&Ms while waiting on a doctor isn't a bad way to bide the time.

Sharing a package of M&Ms while waiting on a doctor isn’t a bad way to bide the time.

Cadets who were proficient in Spanish were sent to Panama on a humanitarian medical mission to act as translators as part of the ROTC Cultural Understanding Language Proficiency program.

Our participation in the medical readiness training exercise in Cañita was an excellent start to our mission in Panama. Approximately 3,000 patients and 4,000 animals were treated over the five days we were there. Patients came from all over to see the doctors–one patient reportedly traveling eight hours by foot and boat to get to the clinic. Some came for a simple checkup and vitamins while others had a common cold or severe back pain. In a few cases patients had serious infections requiring surgical intervention. The medical team was able to care for most health problems which left a good impression on the local population, although some cases required medical beyond the clinic’s capacity.

The crowd to visit the different clinics varied in size at any give time, but people came from all over.

The crowd to visit the different clinics varied in size at any given time, but people came from all over.

The medical team included doctors, nurses, medics, civilian affairs, we were translators, and psychological operations personnel. Each day, doctors attended to patients while the psychological operations team went into surrounding towns to promote the clinic by talking to restaurant owners and posting fliers. We rotated through the different departments to help break the language barrier, improve our Spanish speaking ability, and experience different areas of medicine. At the end of each day, civilian affair personnel updated the Army chain of command on daily operations.

Also supporting the American medical team were local Panamanian doctors, nurses, pharmacists, administrative personnel, and security, adding to the diversity and effectiveness of the group.

Cooperation with the local population was essential to mission success. The local elementary school in Cañita provided our medical team with a location for the clinic and also cooked meals for lunch. Adding the Panamanian medical personnel to our numbers allowed more patients to be seen and when American doctors did not have the tools to deal with a patient, the patients were referred to Panamanian doctors who could provide further help through local hospitals. Also, the local Panamanian police force provided a base of operations and security throughout the entire trip.

Farm animals were vacinated, as well as the family pet.

Family pets and farm animals were vaccinated for their health and protection.

Different medical departments in the clinic included general medicine, optometry, dentistry, pharmacy, and veterinary care. General medicine had three rooms because it dealt with the greatest number of patients every day. Doctors in different specialties helped fill in as family practice doctors when the need arose. Optometry was also extremely busy. Many patients suffered from UV damage to their eyes due to the strong sun, resulting in cataracts and turigiums. Three of us were placed in optometry as translators which helped with the heavy patient load.

Additionally, the veterinarians were occupied with daily trips to vaccinate cows and horses on local farms. The pharmacy was open the longest every day because they were filling prescriptions for patients from all departments.

The most common health problems were the flu, fungal infections, constant itching, rashes, intestinal parasites, and insect bites. The common cold is ever present because the humid climate increases the chance of contracting an upper respiratory infection. Fungus was common among Panamanians who work long hours in humid conditions without adequate foot care, just as itching and rashes were common because of insect bites, fungus and allergies.

Supplies via boat.

Supplies were transported via boat.

 Another ailment we encountered were intestinal parasites which were widespread due to the lack of potable drinking water in many areas. These problems, if not treated, often lead to more serious problems that are more difficult to deal with Limited access to modern medical care and health insurance coverage in rural areas makes treating simple health problems difficult. The indigenous communities in Panama often have the least access to modern health care and the worst living conditions. As a result, they are more susceptible to diseases that are uncommon in the United States such as scabies and lice.

adet Rushing getting a hug

Cadet Rushing getting a hug

Our mission in Cañitas was successful because we were able to help provide medical aid to the local population. We were also able to immerse ourselves in the culture of Panama, interact with locals, learn about the cultural norms, and expand our view of the world. Ultimately, we hope the connections made between Panamanians and Cadets will serve as a bridge to foster cooperation and understanding between both countries.


Prepping for Panama–advanced language training (2013)

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Cadets translated for doctors while in Panama on a humanitarian medical mission.

Cadets translated for doctors while in Panama on a humanitarian medical mission.


By Cadet Austin Welch

For our CULP mission we were tasked with assisting in a humanitarian aid mission to Panama as translators for medical personnel. All of us were fairly fluent in Spanish, but for the mission to be successful we needed to learn medical terminology in Spanish.

Throughout our first week at Fort Knox, Ky., we were exposed to advanced Spanish language training that covered themes such as taking a patient’s medical history, social history, and background, as well as terms used by medical professionals and their Spanish language counterparts. The advanced medical language training augmented medical familiarity for us and provided a deeper understanding of the Spanish language as well.

The course, taught by retired Maj. Gen. Burn Loeffke, was instrumental in our success throughout the course and our cultural immersion in Panamá.

            Loeffke’s course began with an assessment of our prior levels of Spanish understanding. He seemed immediately impressed with our existing Spanish abilities and because of this, he tailored the course to facilitate a higher level of understanding our CULP mission. His book La Medicina Abre Puertas (Medicine Opens Doors) was instrumental in our medical Spanish foundation.

Retired Maj. Gen. Burn Loeffke instructed the Cadets in advanced Spanish medical translation.

Retired Maj. Gen. Burn Loeffke instructed the Cadets in advanced Spanish medical translation.


            The first lesson involved several pre-course modules—in a classroom setting—designed to serve as a refresher covering verbs, salutations or greetings, and different body parts. As Loeffke described to us, different cultures use different verbiage for the same things. Because of this, he adapted all of our lessons for the Panamanian region. Because of his time as the USARSO commander stationed in Panamá City, he had firsthand knowledge of cultural customs, norms, and terms which were imperative to our understanding and learning.

            The team’s next series of lessons covered medical history to include: complete medical history, sample medical interview practices, history of present illness’, past medical history, social history, and finally family history. With each of these lessons, Loeffke created helpful mnemonics, or acronyms, that enabled us to move step by step through each portion of a medical interview but not omit any important information.

Through his cultural lesson, he drilled into us that in Panamá it’s very important to focus on the individual to whom you are speaking. Anything to the contrary could be construed as highly inappropriate and could denigrate from the abilities of the doctor or interpreter to gain an accurate medical picture of the individual. His coaching and mentoring taught us to take a complete history through a series of 33 questions was made easy through his mnemonics. By the end of the lessons, we were able to do an interview, summarize, and then report the findings to a physician without taking a break to translate in the middle of questioning the patient. While difficult to do, it proved invaluable once in-country and facilitated the full cooperation and respect of the patients which we saw.  

            To lend perspective to a typical interview, the following demonstration of the mnemonics OLDCARTS, a method to gain a history of the patient’s complaint, establishes its usefulness as a tool to gain the required information. The mnemonics, line by line, was asked in the following fashion:

Onset: ¿Cuando Comenzo? (When did your pain/sickness begin?)

Location: ¿Dónde está el dolor? (Where is your pain?)

Duration: ¿Cuánto dura el dolor? (How long does the pain last?)

Characteristics: ¿Cómo es el carácter del dolor..pulsante, constante, cuchillada? (What are the characteristics of your pain i.e. pulsating, constant, knifing?)

Aggravating/Alleviating factors: ¿Que agravia/alivia el dolor? (What aggravates/alleviates pain?)

Radiation: ¿Se mueve el dolor…donde? (Does the pain move – to where?)

Time: ¿Cuándo tiene el dolor? (When do you have the pain (time of day)?)

Severity ¿De 1-10, Qué severo es el dolor? (On a scale of 1-10, how severe is the pain?)DSCF1898EDITED


            The answers to these questions were summarized by the translator back to the patient to confirm its validity. Once the information was verified between the patient and the translator, it was then be provided to the physician who made a diagnosis, performed additional tests, or asked any follow on questions. Armed with this acronym, along with the other mnemonics, we were able to affectively converse with the patients and gain necessary information for the physician to provide treatment.

            Loeffke’s training put us in a unique position to have a large impact on the overall success of the mission and to allow more patients to be effectively treated. The physicians seemed impressed with our level of medical Spanish proficiency, which was due to the success of our training beforehand. Overall, the level of patients seen was higher because of our ability to use mnemonics, like OLDCARTS, while still maintaining and exercising cultural customs, norms, and respects.

The week of training at Fort Knox clearly had a positive impact on this mission and we are very thankful for the hard work that Maj. Gen. Loeffke put into his training program to prepare us.

US Army Cadets train with Romanian Jandarmeria (2013)

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Cadets trained with Romania's First Battalion, Special Intervention Brigade of the Jandarmeria.  The Jandarmeria is a police force organized like a military unit.

Cadets trained with Romania’s First Battalion, Special Intervention Brigade of the Jandarmeria.
The Jandarmeria is a police force organized like a military unit.

Every year, college students all over the country spend their summers partying, sleeping, and sometimes working. I, on the other hand, had the unique opportunity to spend my summer representing my country in Romania through the U.S. Army.
The Cultural Understanding and Language Proficiency is a program offered exclusively to Army ROTC cadets. Through CULP, Cadets travel in a group to a foreign country to conduct non-combat missions specific to their destination. While overseas, my team was able to become fully immersed in Romanian language in culture. We made lifelong friends, ate amazing food, and overall, had the time of my life.

Our team, combined with another team assigned to Romania, consisted of 21 Cadets and one cadre leader. We were located in the capital city of Romania, Bucharest, for 23 days. Our mission in this vibrant city was to work with the First Battalion, Special Intervention Brigade of the Jandarmeria.

Training for building entry with the Jandarmeria

Training for building entry with the Jandarmeria

The Jandarmeria is a police force organized like a military unit. The men and women in the brigade all struck us as very pleasant and professional despite not appearing to make a lot of money or having the best living conditions. Specifically, our mission was centered on improving the English language skills and proficiency of the Jandarmeria soldiers.

In turn, our colleagues would help enhance our understanding of Romanian culture and history. This was accomplished by dividing the Cadets and our Jandarmeria counterparts into four different groups. This allowed for a more personal experience between the Cadets and our Romanian counterparts, and encouraged English communication proficiency with the Romanians.

Cadets practicing land nav with the Romanian soldiers.

Cadets practicing land nav with the Romanian soldiers.

We discussed topics such as holidays, sports, flags, history, the military and rank structure, and tactics. This strategy facilitated colorful discussion, and consequently showed a clear and successful increase in their English language skills and understanding of American culture. Our team also gained valuable knowledge about the Romanian language, culture and the differences and similarities between ours and theirs. These are valuable experiences that will help us when we become officers, as well as help Romanians interact with Americans in future endeavors.
While our schedule was hectic and time was precious, our team did have the opportunity to travel the country of Romania and experience two distinct and vibrant cities on the weekends. This part of our time in Romania enhanced our understanding of the distinctive regions on Romania, and how they are all different and separately energetic.
We enjoyed our first free weekend in the quaint Romanian city of Brasov.

Brasov is located in Transylvania, centered between three large mountains, which added to the animated culture of this small, mountain village. Several of our Romanian counterparts joined us to help further develop our understanding of the history and culture of the Transylvania region of Romania, as opposed to the urban jungle we were familiar with in Bucharest. While in Brasov, we visited the old city’s fortifications and Dracula’s castle which enriched our appreciation for Romania’s rich and diverse history.

Cadets explored Dracula’s castle near the city of Brasov along with other sites to learn about the culture

Cadets explored Dracula’s castle near the city of Brasov along with other sites to learn about the culture

Our second weekend trip consisted of a three hour adventure to Constanta, a lively town located on the Black Sea. The Romanians traveled along once again. The weekend trips provided an opportunity to experience Romanian culture to its fullest. Although the weekends were incredible and very interesting, we also enjoyed great cultural experiences in Bucharest too.
In Bucharest, we visited many museums centered on Romanian history, military, and culture. We, and our Romanian counterparts, saw the national bank—one of the most luxurious buildings I have ever seen. Other museums we toured include the National Art Museum, the Jandarmeria Museum, The Parliament Building, and the Old Village Museum. The Old Village Museum was especially interesting because it shows how the lives of Romanians has changed and developed throughout the centuries, a crucial aspect of any cultural study.
Overall, the trip was excellent. While we completed our mission of increasing their English proficiency, working with the Jandarmeria taught us how to interact with foreign units which gives us valuable experience in the future as officers. Through our weekend trips our group gained experience in interacting and dealing with a different culture which will help as officers as we deal with civilian populations. The trip resulted in many new experiences and we formed good relationships with the Romanians. The friends we made and the experience we hade will last a lifetime and will always be in our hearts and minds.

Playing volleyball  was not only good for PT, but good for us to practice a different language, and to socialize.

Playing volleyball was not only good for PT, but good for us to practice a different language, and to socialize.

Mariposa Magazine provides update of cadets humanitarian ROTC CULP mission to Costa Rica

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 This is a follow-up to Mariposa Magazine’s story on Cadet Vanessa Cerda’s selection and preparation for a humanitarian  ROTC CULP mission to Costa Rica. ( Vanessa Cerda – An ROTC Army Strong Latina .  Emily Hahn, the author, asked Cerda to provide readers with an update.  Here , in her owns words, is her account of that great trip. 
(Emily Hahn is publisher and editor-in-chief of Mariposa Magazine. She’s passionate about the hugely important role that Latinas play in the well-being and advancement of their families. She writes about Latina success stories and observations on life.)

Magazine to follow up on Cadet Cerda

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The following article interests us because the magazine is going to follow-up on the progress of this cadet. What a wonderful opportunity!  

“This article is provided to us by Venessa Cerda, a remarkable young Latina who is proudly serving her country and obtaining an amazing education and traveling the world in return!  We will follow Venessa’s progress as she continues her studies and service.” 


The FY 2013 CULP Deployment application instructions

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Cadets in Benin 2011

The FY 2013 Culture and Language Immersion Deployment  application period is  OPEN!

The Department of the Army Execution Order 070-11 requires United States Army Cadet Command (USACC) conduct overseas cultural deployments in support of worldwide Army Security Cooperation  plans and the Army Culture and Foreign Language Strategy.

USACC performs this task by providing Cadets to perform missions all over the world during the summer training period ( May 25 – August 30). These missions include non-governmental organization (NGO)/Humanitarian service learning projects, Military Exercises, Translator Support, Military to Military contacts, and most recently Cadet English Language Training Teams.

To determine which Cadet attends Culture and Language Deployment Program missions, USACC Cultural Understanding and Language Proficiency Division annually solicits applications from Cadets through a competitive process.


To be eligible to apply and be selected for a CULP Deployment, Cadets must be CONTRACTED, MEDICALLY QUALIFIED (DODMERB COMPLETED), and in GOOD STANDING.


Cadets apply using the USACC application procedures listed below during the period Sept. 15, 2012 through  Nov. 2, 2012. Once a Cadet completes the on-line application, CULP division requests approval for attendance from his or her Professor of Military Science (PMS). After the close of the application period, CULP Division sends brigade commanders an Order of Merit List (OML) for all recommended Cadets. CULP division bases the OML on the Cadet’s GPA, ROTC GPA, language skills, and other considerations.

After receiving the OML, brigade commanders select attendees from their battalions in accordance with their Cadet Professional Development priorities. They make their final decision by matching each Cadet’s skills against the language and skill requirements for the quota. Traditionally, the selection rate is between 40 and 70 percent (455 selected from 1218 applicants FY11; 1194 selected from 1600 applicants in FY12).


Culture and Language Deployments are NOT tourist tours. Each deployment has a mission that supports the Embassy’s strategic plan for that country. Many of these missions are performed in austere conditions which include unusual living conditions, foods, and risks of common traveler’s illnesses. However during these missions, Cadets receive an education experience unmatched by anything you will do in college.

Deployments are usually 31-33 days long consisting of 5 days Pre-Deployment Soldier Readiness Processing and Training at Fort Knox, 21-23 days in the foreign country to complete the mission, and 3-5 days of Post-Deployment Soldier Readiness Processing, also at Fort Knox. Deployments are generally organized as a section of 9 Cadets and 1 cadre leader (usually a senior officer or a senior NCO). Often, the CULP Division will combine two sections to form a platoon.

While deployed, USACC pays for the Cadet’s transportation, food, lodging, and incidentals. Cadets are not authorized per diem, however they are eligible for ROTC base pay if deployed in excess of 28 days. While deployed, USACC expects Cadets to perform as future officers in the United States Army as they are under scrutiny by host nation military members and citizens. Cadre leaders evaluate leadership and competence during the entire deployment. These evaluations become part of the Cadet’s Professional Development Training File used during the basic branch selection process. Cadets are on active duty for training orders and therefore under the jurisdiction of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.


The application process has two steps. First, Cadets need to register on the Army Cadet Portal using these procedures.


The Cadet will use this process to gain access to the Army Cadet Portal application to apply for CLIP-B and CULP Deployments.

1. The Cadet will go to https://www.armycadetportal.com.

2. A login screen will appear asking the Cadet to either sign in or create an account.

3. For first time users they must create an account by selecting the ‘create an account’ link in the instructions.

4. Once ‘create an account’ has been selected the Cadet will be taken to the ‘user registration & login’ of My.GoArmy.com webpage.

a. The Cadet must create an account.

b. Enter First Name.

c. Enter Last Name.

d. Select Date of Birth.

e. Enter a valid email address.

f. Enter the security text as it appears.

g. Select ‘continue.’

5. After the Cadet selects continue they will be taken to an email confirmation screen.

6. An email will be sent to the email Address the Cadet entered when completing the account setup.

7. The Cadet can select the Link within the message. It will take them to the set password portion of the ‘create an account’ in My.GoArmy.com.

8. The Cadet will need to set their password.

a. Cadet must select the Date of Birth they entered during a previous step.

b. Enter a Screen Name.

c. Enter a Password. (Please Read the instructions on the webpage for password requirements.)

d. Retype password.

e. Select Finish.

9. After the Cadet selects finish they will be brought to the Army Cadet Portal sign in page.

a. The Cadet must enter the email address they used for creating the account in MygoArmy.com.

b. The Cadet must enter the password they created during the account setup in My.GoArmy.com.

c. Cadet must select ‘sign in’.

10. The Cadet will now be asked to verify their Contracted Status by entering their SSN and Date of Birth.

11. Once the Cadet has been verified by the application they will be brought to the Home screen.


The next step is to create an application. Many of the fields are required so please have your personal and professional information available before you begin. You must have an Army Knowledge On-Line e-mail address before you apply. Additionally, you should have a ROTC Blackboard account, as much of the information about your future administrative and training requirements will only be available on the ROTC Blackboard. Click on “Create New Application” link (Shown above) to begin.