Soldiers visit with Islamic center's members as cultural lesson
March 5, 2012
DUBLIN, Ohio -- Any day that Army Reserve Soldiers get the chance to build stronger community relations is a good day.
The 412th Civil Affairs Battalion's Bravo Company, an Army Reserve unit based in Columbus, Ohio, visited the Noor Islamic Cultural Center and mosque Feb. 26 to learn about different customs and bridge potential cultural gaps.
What made this training enticing and valuable for the Ohio residents was the chance for them to learn more about a cultural environment that they may encounter if they should deploy again.
That morning, the 412th Soldiers prepared for the mission by rehearsing and practicing, using the same troop leading procedures they do with all their training. They followed the commander's operation order and drove their HUMVEEs to the mosque.
First Sergeant Kenneth Bell conducted a formation once they arrived.
Once Bell dismissed the troops, the male Soldiers changed their headgear from their combat helmets to maroon berets, while the female unit members put on scarves, known as hijabs.
All of the Soldiers transitioned from tactical to learning mode, then they entered the mosque to learn about what typically transpires inside.
The emphasis of this cultural interaction between Army Soldiers and the members of the mosque, unit leaders said, was to break down any cultural barriers, and for each side to teach and learn from the other.
"This training is a two-way street," said Captain Patrick Seaman, commander of Bravo Company. "It shows the Muslim immigrant community that American Soldiers are human beings, not faceless uniforms. And, Seaman added, "Training in a real mosque gives our Soldiers a better understanding of the Muslim world."
Traditionally, civil affairs-trained service members act as a bridge between local cultures and a unit commander working in a province or area where American Soldiers now find themselves deployed.
"As civil affairs Soldiers, our job is to serve as the cultural advisors to the supported unit commander," said Seaman. "This training will enhance our abilities to operate effectively in Middle-Eastern areas."
The educational interaction between the Reserve Soldiers and members of the mosque lasted three hours. During that time, many people from the mosque came forward to speak with the service members.
Some of the children who were at the mosque sought out Soldiers to ask what civil affairs Soldiers do and what opportunities the Army offers.
Seaman postulated the initiative to train his Soldiers at a mosque when he assumed command late last year--an idea that is unique compared to everyday training.
"I pushed the idea up our chain of command and I got it approved," Seaman said.
One part of the captain's training plan includes interaction with local residents. The other is providing his Soldiers the knowledge and the means to communicate effectively with primarily Islamic cultures when the unit is deployed.
Many members in the 412th have deployed to Islamic countries around the world, but meeting with civilians in a conversational setting facilitates a better understanding of Islam and diverse cultures, some Soldiers said.
"I learned a lot," said Staff Sgt. Jason Alm. "I deployed to Iraq, but I need to know more about the other Islamic countries. Noor is a great resource for our Soldiers."
"This event helps the people at Noor, and it helps the troops who are young, and have not yet traveled overseas," said Asim Haque, a Noor member on its board of directors. "This opportunity today gives them a comfort level when entering a mosque."
Haque is Muslim and a Columbus, Ohio, native.
"It is our civic duty to provide education to our American Soldiers, to give them knowledge about different cultures in Islam. This will help them when they are overseas," he said.
"The doors are always open for people to learn about Islam," said Jeri Milburn, the outreach coordinator for Noor.
The Noor center offers many activities and learning opportunities.
"Noor is a cultural center that has a mosque within it," emphasized Haque. "We are much more than just a mosque."
Seaman selected Noor as a viable training option because of its large, diverse immigrant population.
"Noor has mostly immigrant members," Haque said. "Immigrants from many different countries are the largest group. Our second biggest group is first generation, American --born Muslims; third is converts who join.
"This interaction brings a comfort level to troops when they are interacting with Muslims," Haque continued.
The Soldiers and the volunteers with whom they met have a lot more in common than they first thought.
"I learned a lot about our similarities," said Spec. Dallas Dent. "The volunteer I worked with is a high school senior. His family was the only Muslim family in his community in Kentucky when 9-11 happened. It was hard on his family."
Dent stressed he has learned much that will help him with future deployments.
"My volunteer was well versed in Islam, and he pointed how very similar the religious doctrine is to Christianity," Dent said. "I left the mosque shocked with how similar we are."
Specialist Curtis Hale, who hasn't deployed as a civil affairs Soldier yet, said, "This training helped me sit down with somebody from a different religion and learn about our differences and similarities. We have much more in common than I thought."
At the conclusion, Soldiers and Noor members said goodbyes, exchanged cell phone pictures and mentioned one subject near and dear to central Ohio.
"Go BUCKS," said Haque, an Ohio State University alum.