Socials educate foreign Soldiers on American culture
Mike Walton, Wiregrass commandant of the Marine Corps League and Toys for Tots local coordinator, Derold Boyett (middle right), Wiregrass Jr. vice commandant of the Marine Corps League, and Joseph R. Fernandez (right), IMSO field studies program manager, present the Commandants Award to German Army liaison Sgt. Maj. Mohamed Bouhloui (middle left) at Divots during a IMSO social Jan. 24.

FORT RUCKER, Ala. (January 31, 2013) -- There are a large number of foreign students that come through Fort Rucker every year, and one way the U.S. Army educates them on American culture is by hosting events that bring the soldiers together.

The bi-monthly social, held Jan. 24 at Divots, is one such event that the International Military Student Office hosts to inform students, and provide a meet and greet so students can interact in an informal environment, according to Joseph R. Fernandez, IMSO field studies program manager.

"We hold them so the students can meet each other. They mingle in a social manner instead of their usual military manner. We teach them about American culture, customs and institutions, so getting them out to actually see what American life is like really lets them learn and understand," he said.

The socials are also where awards are given out and the office welcomes new students and staff.

"Students can interact with the IMSO staff as well as other students and their instructors. We want them to experience an American social gathering instead of the typical business-like atmosphere that they usually operate in," continued Fernandez.

The latest social had special guests in attendance in the form of Toys for Tots representatives. The awards ceremony from the Marine Corps League was in recognition for the support that IMSO provided to the Toys for Tots campaign in the Wiregrass Area. The officials were there to present several awards to Soldiers for their dedication and participation.

But one special award was given to German Army liaison Sgt. Maj. Mohamed Bouhloui. He was recognized for his outstanding participation in the Christmas campaign by receiving the Commandant Award and was also made an associate member of the Marine Corps League, which was a surprise to the sergeant major.

"When I received the award, I was almost embarrassed because I just wanted to help out. It was a pleasure to help, but it is nice to be recognized for hard work, especially from the Marine Corps, being a foreigner," said Bouhloui.

Bouhloui went out to the post exchange when the program collected toys, in his dress uniform, to help gather the toys and was there all day, according to Mike Walton, commandant of the Marine Corps League and Toys for Tots local coordinator.

"Then he came to the distribution and helped organize things and even helped people to their cars. He went over and beyond the call of duty," he said. "Thanks to his and the other Soldiers' help, we were able to gift toys to 2,166 children in the local area."

As a foreigner, Bouhloui said, to participate in something in the local area to feel like he belonged was priceless.

"People could tell I was different because of my uniform and my accent, and to be accepted by the citizens of the area was wonderful. It was very special for me.

"I am truly elated that the men of this organization considered me to receive such an honorary status. This award will enrich the relationship between our two countries. I am very proud to get the award because it is the Marine Corps after all," said Bouhloui.

The Commanders Award for Civilian Service was awarded during the night to Fernandez. He also earned the 2012 1st Battalion, 13th Aviation Regiment Civilian of the Year award for his selfless service.

"His dedication, mission focus and professionalism bring distinct credit upon him, the U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence, the United States Army and federal service," said Staff Sgt. Kimberly Price, D Co., 1st Bn., 13th (IMSO) Avn. Regt. acting deputy chief.

Many of the students at the event for the first time were happy that they could mix and mingle with each other to learn new things about even more cultures.

"It is good. It's a great opportunity to get out and meet new people because otherwise I would not have met any of these guys. It's a great opportunity," said Capt. Steve Young, from Australia.

Staff Sgt. Francisco Alvarez, who hails from Columbia, not only agreed but said he has fallen in love with America.

"I love America. There are so many things to love like the amusement parks and the people. But the social is [great]. To learn more about other countries and people that are also studying here is precious. I can learn so much about their cultures, as well as American culture.

"But my favorite thing I have experienced here so far is the freedom. Columbia can be dangerous, so I have to be careful where I go. But here, I can go anywhere and be safe," he said.

For international soldiers whose Family and friends are thousands of miles away, Fernandez said that the social is an opportunity for them to casually meet new people that they may not have had the chance to because of their training schedule.

"They get to meet and see a lot of new faces instead of only meeting the people that are in [their] class where it is going to be a professional relationship from the get-go," he said.

Page last updated Thu January 31st, 2013 at 00:00