Eight Utah State University students were recently accepted to participate in the Cultural Understanding and Foreign Language Proficiency program (CULP) — an effort by the U.S. Army to teach its future leaders cultural sensitivity and foreign language proficiency. Cadets may teach English, help train foreign military teams, or perform service with a non-governmental agency in strategic and developing nations. They coordinate with the U.S. Embassies to help fill local areas of need.
As the world continues to become increasingly globalized and interconnected, businesses, universities and government agencies have responded by encouraging interdisciplinary work to solve complex problems. So has the United States Army. Today’s military leaders must be capable of operating in interagency, intergovernmental, multinational environments. CULP was established in 2006 to help cadets learn the cultural skills they will need to be better, more confident leaders on the ground.
“Soldiers are not just trigger-pullers anymore, we are diplomats,” said Major Matthew Badel, head of the department of Military Science at USU.
Military personnel are often deployed on peacekeeping missions by the UN and often utilized for non-combat purposes. It is important they understand the impact of their presence in local communities, Badell said.
“Over the past decade, Iraq and Afghanistan have been a very educational time for the Department of the Army,” he said.
Just six cadets went overseas for training the first year of the program. Nearly 1,300 American cadets will participate in the program this summer . Among them include USU students Jeffery Belnap (Rawanda); Taylor Blauer (South Korea); John Gillespie (Indonesia); Garrett Glick (Tanzania); David Sobel (Costa Rica); Kyle Stodtmeister (Cambodia); Aaron Wolcott (Mozambique); and Tyler Worsley (Cape Verde).
Major Ammon Campbell, assistant professor of military science, will also lead a team of cadets to Jordan to participate in a CULP mission there. He believes the program is an indicator of a systemic change in the armed forces’ strategy.
“We can’t just learn when we get there,” he said.
In summer 2011, three USU cadets participated in CULP and returned with life-changing experiences. Jaron Newman visited Slovakia, where he trained with American and Slovak Army cadets and performed community service for local needy populations. He lived in their barracks, competed in military training exercises, and was tasked with building lasting relationships with their armed forces personnel.
Newman, ‘13, a political science major, is a member of Utah State University’s Army ROTC program. After returning from his LDS mission in Russia, he was eager to return to the region. CULP afforded him the opportunity to continue practicing his language acquisition and leadership training.
“The military wants officers who can understand other people,” Newman said. “Early on in Iraq and Afghanistan, a lot of troops were doing things that offended people because they didn’t know what they were doing was offensive in the culture. The Army wants people who realize that different cultures have different ideas and different ways of doing things.”
During his stay in Slovakia, Newman’s unit was assigned to participate in a service project in the remote town of Kezmarok at a social house — a place where homeless, abused and needy groups were provided shelter, food and job training. The cadets spent a week chopping and hauling firewood for the house.
“We had to work together as a team despite our language barriers,” Newman said.
His unit was later taken across the border to Poland to visit the former Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz. The stop was important for the cadets to understand the history of the Slovak people.
“A lot of Slovaks were sent there during World War II,” Newman said. “It is a big part of their culture. You learn all this stuff in class, and then you go there and it cements it in your mind that this really happened. You could feel the sadness there.”
Over the course of the trip Newman became friends with both the American and Slovak soldiers in his unit. He still keeps in touch with them through Facebook.
“I talk to those guys all the time,” he said. “I really hope I can see them again.”
Writer: Kristen Munson, PR specialist, College of Humanities and Social Sciences, (435) 797-0267, email@example.com
Contact: Major Ammon Campbell, (435) 797-6904, firstname.lastname@example.org