School's Out: ROTC Cadets gain international experience during Indonesian exercise
June 20, 2013
- More than two dozen cadets from all over America came here June 1 and took part in Garuda Shield 13.
- The program gives the cadets the chance to experience and overcome culture shock.
CILIDONG, Indonesia -- They've eaten snake. They've been dragged around. They've fired weapons with Indonesian and U.S Soldiers, trained local residents, and helped deliver needed school and hygiene supplies. And they've done it all while adapting to a different country.
Now the U.S. Army ROTC cadets are heading home from Indonesia with abilities which will be critical to their futures as leaders.
More than two dozen cadets from all over America came here June 1 and took part in Garuda Shield 13, the latest in a continuing series of exercises designed to strengthen military-to-military cooperation while focusing on international peace support operations. The cadets made the trip under the Army ROTC Cultural Understanding and Language Proficiency program.
The CULP program was created to address the cultural challenges that arise during overseas deployments, said Lt. Col. Adam Carson, professor of military science at the University of Alaska and Indonesian CULP mission commander. Engaging foreign leaders during combat or humanitarian assistance operations is part of the Army mission, so officers need to be culturally astute and skilled communicators, he stressed.
A highly selective program, CULP criteria includes academic and physical training scores, and cadets have to be recommended by their schools, said Carson, of Eagle River, Alaska. Most of the cadets on the Indonesia trip had been overseas before -- on vacations, religious missions or as deployed Soldiers -- and at least two of them were born in foreign countries and migrated to the United States.
The program gives the cadets the chance to experience and overcome culture shock, Carson explained.
Army Missions, Shock and Admiration
That opportunity appeared to have worked for the cadets, who were actively involved in several aspects of Garuda Shield 13, including medical training, jungle-survival classes and weapons training. They also took part in humanitarian missions, such as delivering supplies to a school and an orphanage, and teaching residents proper dental care.
After some surprise, the cadets warmed to the Indonesians and their culture, their initial impressions evolving from shock to admiration.
Cadets like Ikrom Omonov and Colin Barney didn't lack for international experience before coming here. Barney is an Iraq veteran, and Omonov, an Afghanistan veteran, lived most of his life in Uzbekistan, and has been to Thailand and Malaysia.
Both had to adjust to the density and seemingly chaotic nature of Indonesian traffic. In areas where there are no traffic lights, ordinary Indonesians citizens take time out to help direct traffic, noted Omonov, a Jersey City, N.J. resident who's majoring in economics at the University of San Diego. "They've been doing a pretty good job," he said. "I haven't seen a single accident."
The traffic "flows without incident," said Barney, a native of Pocatello, Idaho who's majoring in nursing at Idaho State College. He also adjusted to the relatively crowded conditions of Indonesia.
"This many people in the this small a space is pretty shocking," Barney said. Yet the Indonesians are very industrious use space efficiently, he noted.
Indonesian traffic is one of the similarities between Indonesia and her native China, said Cadet Ashley Zhou, a nursing major at the University of Auburn in Montgomery, Ala. Her most surprising experiences, she recalled, occurred when she and other cadets helped train Indonesian Army medical personnel under Tendon Valiant, which is part of the Garuda Shield suite of events.
During the training, Zhou and other cadets played casualties in a medical exercise under simulated combat conditions -- and found themselves marked up with mock wounds, being dragged across a field by Indonesian medical Soldiers. However Zhou, who has helped treat hospital patients as part of her nursing training, found it enlightening to see another side of medical care -- first aid.
"Now I finally saw what goes on in the field," said Zhou, of Castro Valley, Calif. "That was eye-opening for me."
Cadet Andrew Diaz, a sports medicine major at the University of San Francisco, got over his distaste for snakes -- by eating cobra and drinking its blood during the Indonesian Army's jungle-survival classes. He and other Soldiers also handled cobras and reptiles during the classes, and now he's more comfortable with them, Diaz reflected.
"It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience," said Diaz, of Fairfield, Calif. "I wasn't too fond of cobras."
Omonov loved the jungle-survival training, especially the cobra lunch, and playing with pythons. "It was pretty awesome," he said.
Lasting Impressions, Lasting Lessons
The cadets described the Indonesians as hospitable, welcoming and curious. The Indonesians' courtesy is admirable, considering some of the challenges they face, Diaz said.
"They're a lot more patient, a lot kinder," he said.
"The people are really friendly," Zhou said. "They're really polite to foreigners." They have higher standards of modesty and aren't as blunt as Americans, she added.
That said, she and Barney were somewhat shocked by the bluntness of Indonesian medical troops gave classes about sexually-transmitted diseases. It was part of the training the nursing majors underwent with Indonesian Soldiers, and Zhou and Barney found that the trainers were very upfront about it.
But Zhou later appreciated their seriousness about the subject, and Barney came to understand their focus and emphasis on public health issues like communicable diseases.
Zhou also felt that the trip taught her to be more respectful and tolerant, and the cadets said they would like to visit Indonesia again.
"It's different," Barney said. "I enjoy seeing a new culture and learn new perspectives on things."
It's a great country and he feels comfortable here, Omonov said. "I have that cultural experience now," he said. "I can blend in with less culture shock." Zhou and Diaz agreed.
"It has a lot of potential," she said. "I want to explore it a lot more."
The cadets visited a botanical gardens in the country's capital of Jakarta, and he was amazed at the variety of plant life in Indonesia, Diaz said.
"It's a pretty beautiful country," he said.
The cadets plan to teach these lessons to the troops they hope to command. In addition to being aware of customs, Soldiers must know how to adapt to them, and how to interact with local people wherever they're deployed, Diaz said.
"Always having that situational awareness, I think, is key," he reflected.
First impressions count, especially in military situations, and they could affect missions, Barney said.
Soldiers are often the first to meet with locals, and their behavior reflects on the Army, Omonov said."Cultural understanding is important for the success of the mission."