Morale: Understanding Exotic People


July 11, 2009: The U.S. Army has learned to keep track of those troops who can speak foreign languages, and even pay bonuses if they maintain their fluency in certain languages (that are likely to be needed in the next decade). But now comes the realization that cultural knowledge is even more important than language proficiency. That's because you can hire translators locally (or even use electronic devices for crossing the language barrier), but what troops need more is a knowledge of how the local culture works (basic customs, and attitudes towards politics, working with foreigners and so on.)

You can teach cultural awareness to troops. The U.S. Army Special Forces has been doing it for over half a century. And you don't get into the Special Forces unless you can ace a cultural awareness exam in one or more cultures. You don't get promoted unless you keep those skills current. So now army officers are pushing cultural awareness skills as something troops are rewarded for acquiring, and maintaining. While it's obvious to anyone who has served in Iraq and Afghanistan, that cultural awareness pays off, when there's not a war on, the troops concentrate on learning those things that will get them promoted, or otherwise rewarded. Cultural awareness fades from the priority list.



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