Cultural Awareness (and Afghanistan Lecture)

Cultural Awareness and Operational Impacts of Culture- CDT Weber/ CDT Dick

Cultural Awareness is something that is very important in today’s military.  We have soldiers in many countries all around the world to which we work and cooperate with.  From the deserts of Afghanistan to the rice paddy fields in South Korea, each country has its own unique culture and people.  Being able to understand the culture of a people will make communication and interaction easier in whatever environment you’re in.

An Organizational Culture not only applies towards the people within a host country, but even within your own unit.  Knowing the intricate components of an organizational culture will insure that you are well prepared for the task at hand; these components can be described as levels, sensitivity and other characteristics of culture.

To begin with, there are three levels of culture that have been identified as being applicable to any organization or country.

Artifacts– things that one sees, hears, and feels when encountering a group culture.

Espoused Values– beliefs or values held by one or more members of a group.

Shared Basic assumptions– attitudes, beliefs, values, methods, or behaviors that have repeatedly enabled the cultural group to solve important problems and that member of the group accept as reality.

Cultural Sensitivity is the respect and awareness of the norms of a culture that is different than your own.  Being able to acknowledge differences with a people and at the same time respect them, will allow a greater understanding towards working with them to accomplish your goals.

Potential issues that can derail cultural understanding….  (please share your thoughts on these and on the above comments)

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    • Top Shelf
    • April 14th, 2010

    The army is always teaching classes about awareness it seems like. I feel like this is because its human nature to think that other people simply feel like we do about what we encounter on a day by day basis, and I think that this is so because it’s human nature to see ourselves as “normal”.

    Aside from being aware ourselves, we need to make sure that we take the time before a deployment to a give area to give our soldiers the proper training on what to expect and how to act to prevent there being a misunderstanding in theater that could potentially cause a huge problem for you and your unit.

    • halo33
    • April 15th, 2010

    Potential issues that can derail cultural understanding will be faced while deployed. One of the issues that could come up could be the personal views and beliefs that your soldiers have been raised up to believe in. They might not be able to ve diverse enough to accept another person’s culture in belief that their way is the only way there is to believe in. As an officer it is our job to explain the importance of diversity that everyone believes in to our soldiers. This will not be an easy task but can be done through the explanation for what the Army is fighting for, the freedom to live individual lives.

    • deathstroke13
    • April 18th, 2010

    I think we all agree that on today’s battlefield this is a key issue let alone the impacts it can have with in a unit. When trying to win hearts and minds disrespect is cannot be taken lightly. We may do 10 good things for someone but then if one joker mistreats them or their culture all the good thats been done will most likly be forgotten.

    • Porsche
    • April 18th, 2010

    I’ve always felt the best way to learn about a culture is to be immersed in it. This is hard to do for deployments in a war zone. Soldiers are suddenly thrown in to a different culture, and no matter how much they have previously studied a culture there will be shocks. It is our job to try and lessen any shock. Perhaps by having a role play situation where are soldiers must act out scenerios as if they are from that culture could help give a better feel for the new lifestyle they are about to encounter.

    • Shake and bake
    • April 19th, 2010

    One thing that could be a major cause of a lack of cultural awareness is the difference in living conditions. Afganistan is the fourth lowest country on the human developement index report, which translates to them being an incredibly poor and illiterate population. It is very difficult trying to effectively communicate and build trust with a group of people who we share so little in common with.

    • Fred Rogers
    • April 19th, 2010

    Apply the golden rule, treat others as you yourself would like to be treated, be respectful towards others and you cannot go wrong in any culture you are immersed into. But knowing the daily activities, religious and cultural beliefs, as well as the common courtesy of that people group is essential to interacting effectively with that people group. Learning the language to the best of your ability will help in judging each situation that occurs in the urban/rural environment.
    Other cultures see the American way of life and US Army core values as curious, that is why the American soldier sets the example in that nation or culture where he/she is deployed in matters of justice and respect.

    • Smooth
    • April 19th, 2010

    Shake and bake brings up a good point. There’s only so much you can understand about a culture that is so different than the one you grew up in.

    That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to understand their culture as much as possible, but we have to be aware that no matter how much studying we do or how much immersion we have in some cultures, there will be things that we don’t understand. If we respect the culture as much as possible though, hopefully we will have locals that we can work with who do understand the culture better than us who can help guide us through potential problems.

    • stewiegriffen519
    • April 19th, 2010

    Culture is so vital to our future as army officers and leaders of soldiers. Operational success can depend on our ability to interact with a tribe leader or elder. It is our responsibility to do our homework and to make sure that our subordinates do the same. While we may not “understand” or agree with anything that culture believes in, we must KNOW what THEY believe in and make our COA reflect according. A strategy for a campaign in Iraq will not work in AFghanistan any better than it would in Korea, Vietnam, or South America. This goes far beyond artifacts values and basic assumptions.

    • Jack
    • April 19th, 2010

    Another thing that must be kept in mind when dealing with other cultures is their “sphere of influence.” This is just a fancy term that people use to describe the different things people hold in high regard. The inner sphere is the most important thing while and the further you go out the less important things seem to people. The important thing to keep in mind when thinking about this is what that inner sphere is. For instance, most US citizens value their family most while in East Asia, particularly China, people value their reputation and/or which college they graduate from over their family. If you know what this inner sphere is then it makes it much easier to see where people are coming when they make decisions and thus makes it much easier to negotiate with them.

    • CDT Ricky
    • April 23rd, 2010

    Besides getting to know the culture as a whole, it is also important to recognize members of the culture as individuals. No where in the world is everyone exactly the same. Not all people in Afghanistan are bad and all people in the Army are good. It’s important to concrete on what you have in common with cultures than to focus on what you don’t have in common.

    • Rooster
    • April 26th, 2010

    This is obviously an important topic. As Jr. Officers, our soldiers will look to us and how we talk and act when in theater and at home. Being aware of other cultures that differ from your own and respecting these differences will go along way in mission success. As many others have pointed out, respect can go along way.

    • Pork Soda
    • April 27th, 2010

    ‘We are in Transylvania; and Transylvania is not England. Our ways are not your ways, and there shall be to you many strange things.’

    Take the time to learn about the people in your AO.

    • Pea Tear Griffen
    • May 4th, 2010

    This issue is of high importance to us and our soldiers. We need the support of the local population if we are to succeed over there. If we offend them then that will make our mission difficult if not impossible to complete. Therefore we need to drill this into the heads of our soldiers to do the right things

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