JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. -- With wide eyes and open minds, engineers absorb as much information as they can about the Thai culture. Taking notes and asking questions the soldiers realize they will soon be visiting not only another country but what may, to them seem, to be another world.
A cultural awareness team with the 162nd Infantry Brigade from Fort Polk, La., gave a presentation on Thailand culture to soldiers of the 585th Engineer Company here, May 4. The engineers will be traveling to Thailand to partner with the Royal Thai army in late May, helping to complete a construction project and foster relations between the U.S. and Thailand.
The 585th Eng. Company will be sending about 40 soldiers for approximately six weeks to assist in the construction of two schools in South-Central Thailand as part of exercise “Balance Torch,” said 1st Lt. Elizabeth Lewis, platoon leader, 585th Eng. Company.
Thailand and the U.S. have had a long history of working together in joint exercises like “Balance Torch” and “Cobra Gold.” This is another example of the rapport and cooperation that the two countries have built with each other.
The engineers that will be traveling to Thailand will most certainly experience many new ideas and cultural nuances as they work hand-in-hand with the Royal Thai army. As preparation for the possible culture shock the soldiers spent a day learning an overview of Thailand, its history, its military, traits and principles of adviser roles and cultural communication skills.
The class gives the soldiers an idea of what to expect when they arrive in Thailand, how the military operates and how best to communicate and work with the army they are partnered with, said Lt. Col. Donald St. Onge, chief cultural affairs training branch for Pacific Command, 162nd Inf. Bde.
As with any culture there are situations that could offend someone, while the visitor may have no idea they have done anything wrong. This is what we are trying to prevent, said St. Onge.
One example is that it might be perfectly normal to pat a child on the head in America; however, in Thailand it is completely taboo because that is where the soul is stored and by patting someone on the head you are imparting yourself on their soul, said St. Onge.
Partnering with the Thai army for training and a myriad of other projects allows both sides to gain experience and knowledge as they work together. This also helps in the overall idea of fostering better relations and understanding between the two countries. One of the reasons for the class and the preparation of the soldiers is the realization that this will not be the last project or exercise that the two nations will work on together.
“We think this class will open the Soldiers mind and broaden their horizons and hopefully they will realize there is more than just our little piece of the pie when it comes to the world and stability,” said Capt. James Kinter, 162nd Inf. Bde.
For one soldier in the 585th Eng. Company. the class is preparing her for a once in a lifetime opportunity.
“It’s always good to help people and give a helping hand,” said Spc. Morgan Lewis, plumber, 585th Eng. Company. “This is why I joined the military, so I can travel and do things I would never be able to do as a civilian.”
With a basic understanding of Thai cultural under their belts, a few lucky Army engineers prepare to travel to a distant land. The soldiers will leave with hopes of helping and learning from the Thai as well as cementing a lasting bond between the U.S. and Thailand.