FORT HUNTER LIGGETT, CA, UNITED STATES
FORT HUNTER LIGGETT, Calif. – Training exercises, such as Combat Support Training Exercise 91, are set up to enhance and train soldiers on a variety of tactics, techniques and procedures. Currently, this includes hiring personnel of Afghan descent to role-play and teach Soldiers the cultural differences between the Afghan world and ours.
“It is the small things that make a big difference,” said Khalid Sadozai, an Afghan-born United States citizen and role-player for Valbin Corporation. “For example, when you want to shake hands, you should always remove your gloves; otherwise, the Afghan may take offense.”
In addition to not wearing gloves for a handshake, you should never wear shoes in a mosque or give an Afghan a ‘thumbs up,’ Sadozai stated. In the Afghan culture, a thumbs up is a derogatory symbol while in the American culture, the thumbs up is a symbol of a good job with a positive connotation, so it is vital for Soldiers to know the difference. A mosque is equal to a church or temple for the Muslim religion.
Sadozai said every Soldier should have basic cultural awareness and they should learn Afghan greetings and what they mean. He said it can be a huge ice breaker and make a difference when interacting with the local people if you show them cultural respect.
Asalamu ‘alaykum means ‘may peace be with you’ and is a greeting in Afghanistan and the proper response is waalaikum as-salaam, which means ‘peace to you as well’ said Sadozai, who has also worked with and provided the United States Marine Corps with cultural awareness training.
“It helps (servicemembers) a great deal,” Sadozai said, “especially the young ones who have never been over there before.”
Sadozai said he has lived in the United States off and on since he was four-years-old and even enlisted in the United States Navy when he was younger. About four years ago when Sadozai heard about the role-playing and cultural programs the military was providing to its servicemembers, he instantly felt the need to participate and saw it as a ‘great program and a great way to serve my country.’
“I went to Afghanistan for the first time four years ago,” said Shela Amin, who is a Hayward, Calif. native and United States citizen of Afghan descent. “I grew up in an Afghan household, where my parents maintained customs and taught me the language, but going back was a culture shock.”
Amin continued to state that her parents lived in Kabul more than 32 years ago, before the Russians invaded, and the way they described the people and atmosphere turned out to be completely different than what she experienced when she visited. She said the local Afghans could tell she was American, even when she wore the traditional clothing.
“I feel like (cultural awareness training) benefits Soldiers by teaching them the culture and giving them a heads-up about what to expect,” said Amin, another role-player with Valbin Corporation. “It shows them the dos and don’ts.”
Amin said Soldiers should take in the culture and the training they receive and make the most of it, no matter where they are sent.
“My main advice would be to observe before you take action,” Amin said. “Come in with a neutral attitude and keep an open mind. Most people come in with a somewhat defensive attitude and it would benefit them to have a neutral attitude instead.”
The Afghan role-players are given different missions and scenarios during CSTX to ensure the Soldiers gain a variety of experience and get a full idea of some of the cultural differences they could expect while deployed.
“Something that might be acceptable (in the United States), might not be (in Afghanistan),” she said. “We want our military to be safe and most importantly, we want them to come back home.”
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This work, Cultural awareness plays an important role during CSTX 91, by SGT Charlotte Fitzgerald, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.