http://www.cnn.com/2013/01/12/us/troops-cultural-training/?utm_source=Jan+12+BTW&utm_campaign=BTW+Jan+13&utm_medium=email'Smart power': Army making cultural training a priority
(CNN) -- Chemical weapons engulf soldiers carrying 60-pound rucksacks, their mud-filled boots trenching through a river dividing simulated enemy lines.
Troops run in the desert to acclimate to harsh conditions with winter temperatures as low as 8 degrees, summer as high as 120.
The training becomes increasingly realistic in the weeks before deployment, mirroring the topography they may endure, but not necessarily the human terrain -- the cultures they'll be dealing with. And in a foreign land, something as seemingly innocuous as a thumbs-up sign or shaking a woman's hand can land a soldier in trouble.
While physical conditioning and live-fire exercises certainly help prepare troops for deployment, they're culturally blind if they don't understand the people among whom they'll be fighting. In the 21st century, when the U.S. is at war with ideals as much as -- if not more than -- foreign armies, this blind side can be as dangerous as your M249 jamming.
This makes warfare a lot more complex. So we have to be much more expeditionary. We have to be more intelligence-minded, more people-minded. We have to understand the populations that we're operating in and among," said Nick Dowling, a former National Security Council director who runs the culture-training company, IDS International.
The past decade has taught the U.S. Army many lessons. According to Gen. Ray Odierno, Army chief of staff, the biggest takeaway from Iraq and Afghanistan is the importance of "understanding the prevailing culture and values."
To address tomorrow's conflicts, Odierno revealed an initiative in March 2012 to regionally align brigades with the six unified command zones. The plan aims to create brigades better equipped to operate in specific regions by establishing language and cultural proficiency programs in their assigned territory.
Currently, anthropology, language and 10,000 years of heritage are squeezed into troops' curricula a few weeks before deployment, what Dowling calls "cultural training on steroids." Between pre-deployment paperwork and drills, they are handed a small pamphlet outlining some history and cultural no-nos to avoid.
Former soldier Joseph Hurst recalled there was sparse cultural training before his 2003 deployment to Iraq.
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