FORT DRUM, N.Y. (Aug. 1, 2022) -- About a week into their summer internship with the Fort Drum Cultural Resources Program, the four Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) cadets arrived just a few minutes late to LeRay Mansion one morning – an act that would have unexpected consequences.
Dr. Laurie Rush and Karen Koekenberg, Cultural Resource Program manager and curator, respectively, seized the opportunity to create a teachable moment for the future Army officers. Meeting the cadets at LeRay Mansion, they quickly ushered them inside to begin – without warning – the day’s key leader engagement (KLE).
The scenario involved an incident where an American Soldier had damaged a sacred site, and the cadets had to meet with host nation officials to remedy the volatile situation.
Having conducted countless KLEs with 10th Mountain Division (LI) Soldiers during training exercises, Koekenberg said she was impressed with how well the cadets quickly responded to the situation and maintained their military bearing.
“It was the perfect way to start the key leader engagement,” she said. “I think it helped them understand in a real-world situation that things happen, especially in a war zone. But when you’re not where you are supposed to be when you said you would be there, that may have an effect on the outcome.”
During the KLE, Koekenberg said they tested the cadets to see if they would compromise troop locations to appease the village leaders, and pressed them to see if they would respond in frustration or anger.
“Treating people of other cultures with respect, and respecting their culture, is important and I think they did a phenomenal job,” she said.
The key leader engagement lasted only an hour but it provided the cadets with valuable insight that resonated during their cultural property protection (CPP) internship. Throughout July, the group immersed themselves in archaeological and historic site tours, meetings and discussions with subject-matter experts, and other professional development opportunities.
A daylong archaeology tour allowed the cadets to appreciate the scope of culturally significant sites throughout Fort Drum, such as the Lost Villages and Quarry Pond.
The sites, which are protected by local, state, national and international laws, include cemeteries, abandoned towns and homesteads, foundations and ancient Native American ceremonial places – some of which dates back thousands of years.
“I found that to be one of the most interesting topics we covered,” said Cadet Gregory Mowle, who is earning his master’s degree in social work at Rutgers University. “It was interesting to personally see ruins and artifacts still standing, and learn how it contributed to past society.”
Cadet Louis Randall, an accounting major at the University of Guam, said the tour made him realize the extent the Army goes in protecting local indigenous culture.
“I used to think cultural property protection is just to tell Soldiers what not to touch,” he said. “Now I understand how the archaeological community can and is actively working with the Army on improving its reputation and providing valuable lessons on how to improve our fighting capabilities.”
Rush said that members of the invasive species team and foresters joined the tour to lend some of their knowledge about the natural environment at Fort Drum.
“What the cadets were able to see from that was how well, and how integrated, all these small teams within the Directorate of Public Works and the Environmental Division work together,” she said. “And you see where our work overlaps – for example, on the old homesteads and historic sites you will see different kinds of invasive species – and they got to see a little bit of that and the potential collaborations on the tour.”
Rush introduced the cadets to Dr. Shannon Lewis-Simpson, assistant professor at the Dallaire Centre of Excellence for Peace and Security, and her students, on a video teleconference. She also took them to the Oneida Heritage Center to meet Ron Patterson, Oneida Indian Nation cultural program coordinator, as well as the Oneida archaeologist and local youths.
“They had a whole immersive day of being in another culture, which I felt helped inform them of the need to be respectful of indigenous elders,” Rush said. “Between that and the KLE training, they got a real sense of cross-cultural awareness."
ROTC cadets are given a list of summer internship programs to select from, but there is no guarantee they will get their top pick. Cadet Daxton Gautreaux, an anthropology major at the University of Central Missouri, was fortunate to get his, because he was curious about how the military protects cultural sites.
“This opportunity has allowed me to see how I can use my degree in anthropology to ethically and responsibly support military operations globally,” he said.
More so, Gautreaux said he gained extensive knowledge over the past month on how he, as an Army officer, will consider host nation cultural properties and sites when planning and executing missions.
“This unique skill set is advantageous to the safety and security of all U.S. forces and civilians in our areas of operation,” he said. “Additionally, I hope that having this knowledge will allow me to continue work on CPP programs, contributing ideas that help shape them ethically while supporting the Army’s mission.”
Randall said the CPP internship was his top choice because of the interest in history and archaeology he developed from his father.
“However, with eight years of living in China, I’m also curious about the implication of historical and cultural properties in this increasingly unstable geo-political environment, especially as a future officer who is going to lead Soldiers in this environment,” he said. “Also, coming from an island territory, I inherited a lot of pride in the culture that I came from. That cultural pride also pushed my desire to get this internship.”
What impressed Gautreaux during his internship was what he learned every day from Rush herself.
“Countless times throughout the internship, military leaders around the world would call on her expertise in shaping their CPP programs,” he said. “To see this was rewarding, because it showed how vital this work is and how lucky I was to be working with someone so qualified.”
Rush said that she established the internship program in 2012, after she was encouraged by the 10th Mountain Division (LI) chief of staff at the time, who advocating for CPP training. She said that most cadet internship opportunities are STEM-related (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), and that the program at Fort Drum was the first to focus on CPP.
“At the end of the day, our goal is for them to leave with the fundamental understanding that being able to identify and respect other people’s sacred sites and objects of values can affect the success of their missions and maybe save lives,” Rush said.
Cadet Eric Reynoso, an Army Reservist and history major at Queens College in New York City, found that intriguing, and it prompted him to apply for the internship. He enlisted in 2018 as a quartermaster and chemical equipment repairer but he wants to commission into the Ordnance branch and become a logistician.
“The most interesting thing about this internship was the sponsor,” he said. “Dr. Laurie Rush is one of the strongest people that I have ever met in my career. The way she is able to commandeer her presence in a room full of high-ranking officers is something that was amazing to witness.”
Rush said that she enjoyed working with the cadets, and that they took every opportunity – even off duty – to educate themselves.
“We had a stellar group of cadets this year, who were genuinely interested in learning from us,” Rush said. “They were outstanding.”
The internship ended with a trip to Joint Base Cape Cod in Massachusetts, where they participated in Operation Viking, a joint task force exercise with the 360th Civil Affairs Brigade. Rush, Koekenberg and the cadets served as role players in a CPP training lane for the 412nd Civil Affairs Battalion.
“I thought it was rewarding to participate in the role-playing scenarios and, knowing that as a cadet I could help Dr. Rush educate civil affairs teams in cultural situations,” Reynoso said.
Koekenberg said the cadets had a chance to participate in a Special Forces training lane, and role-play as local militia.
“They had the opportunity to do that, but instead they chose to stay with us on our CPP lane,” she said. “I think that speaks to their integrity and the genuine interest they had in what we were doing. The captain in charge of our lane was totally blown away by that, and he was so excited that they chose to stay.”
Although this was the culminating event in the internship program, Rush found one last educational opportunity for the cadets before they parted ways. On the way home from Massachusetts, they stopped by the Cultural Resources Division of the New York State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) where the cadets learned what the organization does and how it works with Fort Drum.
“It was just a wonderful meeting, and the cadets got a great overview of the Section 106 process,” Rush said. “That’s the section of the Historic National Preservation Act – which is why we all have jobs here – that federal law requires federal agencies to consult with stakeholders when they make decisions about historic preservation. One of the key stakeholders, in addition to our Native American partners, is the NYS Historic Preservation Office.”
Rush said that before Fort Drum Public Works was able to repair and restore the dam on the Historic LeRay Mansion District property, she consulted with SHPO and submitted the project plan for their approval.
It was an impromptu side trip, but Rush said that it served to reinforce once more the relevance of CPP in the Army.
“I refer to this effort as subversive institutionalization,” she said. “The idea is if you can build the ethic in an officer, junior officer or cadet and they can take that with them, they will later implement that ethic in senior leadership roles."
"I think one of the reason this CPP program at Fort Drum has been so successful is because the 10th Mountain Division is the most deployed division," she added. "So we have leaders coming back from deployments who have figured it out because their mission and their Soldiers' lives depended on them getting it right.”