January 15, 2006

Emphasizing cultural awareness and language proficiency

Emphasizing cultural awareness and language proficiency to ensure success in the global war on terror.

by Representative Jo Ann Davis (R-VA)

As a member of the House Armed Services Committee and House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, I am involved in the oversight and policy direction of both our military and intelligence community. Over the last few years, I have had several opportunities to visit our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, and I am consistently impressed with the dedication and quality of our servicemembers. Additionally, I am also proud to represent the thousands of Marines at Marine Corps Base Quantico, VA. Known as “the crossroads of the Marine Corps”, this is one of the most versatile bases anywhere in the world, and it contributes significantly to the missions of the Marine Corps, both at home and overseas.

While the Department of Defense continues to transform itself for the future, the global war on terrorism is simultaneously challenging our Marines on a number of levels. As a result, our Marines are operating in parts of the world that were previously unthinkable, and our training must adapt to this new reality. We must use every possible advantage in order to defeat the evil of worldwide Islamic extremism and be prepared for any other threat to our security in the 21st century.

With budgetary restrictions being an unfortunate reality in Washington, DC, I am convinced that increasing our emphasis in cultural awareness and language proficiency in the foreign environment will help us in the GWOT. While the services are at varying levels of progress in this endeavor, we clearly need to accelerate the development of this skill set across the Department of Defense.

Our operations overseas have provided a number of lessons learned in the last four years, and it is imperative that our military continue to adapt to meet these emerging security challenges. For example, unconventional and asymmetric warfare poses an entirely different set of threats that require a similar shift in the training of our own forces. I am confident that we are applying the lessons learned to our current and future operations, and we must continue to develop our skills in understanding regional and local cultures, customs and traditions. This will allow us to better interact with the indigenous populations, which are increasingly becoming the key to successful operations in the asymmetric or nontraditional environment.

One example of the move toward increased cultural and language emphasis can be found in the United States Marine Corps, which has a long tradition of understanding the foreign environments where they operate. As the principal expeditionary force of the United States, the Marine Corps’ ability to adapt and train to its many different operational environments has certainly been a hallmark of its success as a military organization. Since the beginning of the global war on terror, this training is being supplemented, expanded, and updated for the 21st century environment that is increasingly combined and joint in nature, and will involve Marines up and down the chain of command.

Located in my district at Marine Corps Base Quantico, the U.S. Marine Corps Center for Advanced Operational Culture Learning (CAOCL) is an organization designed to meet these emerging needs. As a component of the Marine Corps Combat Development Command (MCCDC) and Marine Corps Training and Education Command (TECOM), the CAOCL will be the Marine Corps’ culture and operational language Center of Excellence (COE). Specifically, it will be a “one-stop” center to coordinate, provide and resource targeted culture and language training for deploying Marines in all phases of the deployment cycle. This will contribute significantly to the success in the future expeditionary environment, and I expect the recent announcement of the Marine Corps component to the U.S. Special Operations Command will allow for increased opportunities to collaborate and improve in these areas.

CAOCL began its work in May 2005, and will be fully operational in October 2006. It will oversee a program where sergeants, lieutenants and captains will develop an expertise in certain parts of the world where the Marine Corps expects to conduct future operations. Through a combination of continuing education, classroom study, distance learning and study in language laboratories, the center will provide a wide range of cultural and language training for Marines around the world. The expectation is for senior enlisted and mid-grade officers to become “near experts” in one of the determined fields as a result of continuing education in the specific assigned region. In addition, there will be cultural training and assessment teams that will be able to train and debrief Marines in the expeditionary environment to formulate lessons learned and gain feedback from current operational experiences. I believe the work of this center will only become more important to our future success in the GWOT.

One of the most distinguishing characteristics of these new initiatives will be the integration of this cultural training into the overall operational planning of the Marine Corps. According to recent accounts, intelligence reports will serve as a basis for the cultural focus, with approximately 24 areas or “micro-regions” determined from the assessments of the Marine Corps Intelligence Activity, based on the likelihood of future operations. There simply must be an operational basis to this type of training, and the integration of CAOCL products into the curriculum of existing Marine Corps schools worldwide will further prepare our Marines for operational success.

Daily operations in Iraq and around the globe are providing concrete examples of this emerging requirement of cultural proficiency. When a Marine or soldier is able to connect and relate to a foreign citizen with a basic understanding of the culture and a working knowledge of the language, there is in effect a “force multiplier.”

As our operations continue in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, I am confident that these Marine Corps initiatives will enable our Marines to increase their advantage on the battlefield. Ultimately, the development of language skills and increased cultural awareness will be a tactical and operational aid to the Marine Corps (and the rest of our armed forces) in the global war on terror. Our success in the GWOT depends on our ability to utilize every possible advantage, and I believe that the Marine Corps has appropriately focused on this emerging requirement.

While this capability will not be completely developed overnight, I think that these types of initiatives are exactly what we need for tomorrow’s wars. These program and capability developments have applications for the Army and our special operations forces in all corners of the world, and I am glad that Marine Corps Base Quantico is providing such an essential component of the Marine Corps’ contribution to the global war on terror. Finally, none of these programs or initiatives is of any use without the efforts of the servicemember, the most important part of our military. As we continue in the 109th Congress, I look forward to insuring that our Marine Corps, Special Operations Command and armed forces are the best in the world. Anything less is simply unacceptable.

Representative Jo Ann Davis (R-VA) serves as chair of the House Intelligence Commitee’s Subcommittee on Intelligence Policy. She is also a member of the Special Operations Forces Caucus.

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