FORWARD OPERATING BASE SALERNO, Afghanistan (Army News Service, March 14, 2007) - While on deployment, an education center presents many learning opportunities to Soldiers. The services offered help servicemembers reach their goals of achieving degrees, it also assists them with their military mission.

Task Force Fury paratroopers from the 782nd Brigade Support Battalion, Task Force Fury, took a cultural awareness class while here in an effort to better understand the Afghan culture.

"That is the purpose of this program," said Suresh C. Bhatnagar, education service center officer, FOB Salerno. Bhatnagar organized the class of four local Afghans to speak to the Soldiers about Afghan culture.

"It is to enhance the awareness of Afghan culture, customs, traditions and religion so that when Soldiers go to remote areas, or downtown, they are aware of the things they should not do or should do," he added.

Army Command Sgt. Maj. Armando Alfaro, the top enlisted man in the 782nd, approached Bhatnagar and requested the class be administered to all the officers and noncommissioned officers in the battalion.

"Many of our paratroopers will deal directly with the local populace, and it will be important for them to know what they can and cannot do," Alfaro explained. "It was a duty I felt was required and essential for all the leaders to understand."

The education center organized the Afghan presenters on the topics of culture, tribal divisions, Afghan history and religious beliefs and Soldiers had the opportunity to eat a traditional Afghan lunch before the class.
After lunch, the presenters took turns speaking and answering Soldiers questions.

Bhatnagar stressed the importance of always dealing with the tribal leaders in towns and districts on all issues ranging from dealing with charitable donations to reparations for accidental damage done to private property by Soldiers.

"Everything is sorted out through the tribal leader," Bhatnagar explained.

He cautioned Soldiers of small offenses, which included asking a man's wife her name without speaking to him or touching a Quran while conducting a search of a house.

To step foot inside a mosque as a non-Muslim is considered a violation of the sanctity of the house of worship. It is better to send a member of the Afghan National Army or Afghan National Police inside, he said.

"It is the little things such as these facts that are most important for Soldiers to know about," Bhatnagar said. "We do not want Soldiers to get in trouble unknowingly when they go into villages on their missions," he added.

While some of these social faux pas were already known to the Soldiers, it was important to hear of some of the social courtesies. The information provided was well received by the crowd and led to further discussions among the presenters and the Soldiers about the Afghan culture and customs.

"I think it was a good idea, so we could get the information and get it down to the troops," said Sgt. Patrick M. Fuller, operations NCO, B Co. "I mean, the last thing we want to do is go out and offend the Afghan citizens."

Combining the life experiences of four speakers with the message of cultural understanding made an excellent forum for learning, Alfaro agreed.

"In the end, the goal of the session was to improve the relationship between foreign troops and the Afghans," Bhatnagar said. "We do not want to lose a single life because Soldiers erroneously, or ignorantly, made a mistake that caused resentment among the local people against us."