By West Point Firsties Porter Smith and Kyle StaronApril 22, 2010
One might think that a trip section consisting of Egyptian food for breakfast, Pakistani cuisine for lunch and Indian food for dinner would take place at the United Nations or at an international business meeting in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. However, this trip section took place down the road in Jersey City, N.J.
Fourteen cadets from the Department of Social Science's XH467 "Winning the Peace" class visited the multi-ethnic, multi-religious, and multi-cultural community in Jersey City April 15-17, in an effort to better understand different cultures, religious groups and the dynamics of building cross-cultural relationships.
With its large Muslim community, in addition to its diverse and vibrant immigrant populations, this city has dealt with many internal struggles, especially over the past five years. While Jersey City still has occasional ethnic issues, thanks to its very involved city government, police department and ethnic community leaders, the city has diffused many potential problems, thus making it a superb case study for cadets to research prior to witnessing various issues while deployed.
The cadets' trip included visits to Ellis Island, City Hall, Barclay's Bank and a variety of religious institutions.
To further experience the cultural ambiguity that many Army officers face in Iraq and Afghanistan, the class also slept in the Islamic Center of Jersey City (a mosque and Islamic primary school) for two nights, giving them the chance to observe daily prayers that occur throughout the evening and early morning.
"It was a fascinating and eye-opening experience," Firstie James White, Company F-2, said. "It was especially enlightening to see how the various different ethnic communities and religions that historically have been in conflict with one another can so easily work together within the larger community of Jersey City."
For the past six years, retired Jersey City Police Detective Rich Boggiano and local business and religious leader Ahmed Shedeed have facilitated the "Winning the Peace" visit to the Jersey City community, coordinating with other community and religious leaders who gladly open their doors to West Point cadets.
"This trip is a great opportunity for the cadets to come here to Jersey City and learn about what Jersey City has to offer," Boggiano, whose sons are West Point graduates and Army Infantry officers, said.
In the three-day trip, the class visited an Egyptian Coptic Church, Aghazaly Islamic School, the Sunni Rizvi Mosque, a Jewish temple, a Hindu temple, a Christian church, a Jehovah's Witness temple and various other cultural and religious places throughout the city.
These visits, combined with frequent discussions regarding foreign policy, economics and social change within the assorted ethnic communities, allowed the cadets a unique chance to consider different perspectives and beliefs.
"We are privileged to spend a few days with such a wonderful community of caring people who welcome us into their lives so that we may learn from each other," Maj. Angelica Martinez, the course director, said.