"Three plus years ago the moniker was 'cultural sensitivity,'" says Barak A. Salmoni, deputy director of the Center for Advanced Operational Culture Learning, part of the Marine Corps Training and Education Command at the Marine base in Quantico, Va. "But being sensitive is not the same thing as being aware, and being aware is not the same thing as being capable - being able to apply your knowledge so as to have an effect on the people with whom or against whom you're operating."
Early sensitivity training focused on behavioral do's and don'ts to avoid offending Muslims and included a lot of regional and religious history."At some point, Marines started asking, 'Well, now that I know all this stuff, so what?' " Salmoni
job to guide the training and to develop the curricula that answer the "so what" question.Salmoni, who holds a doctorate in Middle Eastern history from Harvard University, has traveled far from the ivory tower to occupy a windowless office in the white trailer that serves as headquarters for CAOCL (pronounced KAY-ockle), something he says he considers an enormous privilege.
You don't learn the 99 names of God this way, but you do learn how to talk about Islam in a way that allows someone to talk to you about it," Salmoni
, the Marine
Corps has increasingly incorporated what it calls "operational cultural learning" not just into pre-deployment training, but throughout its professional education system for officers and noncommissioned officers.Marine
second lieutenants, who will be captains four years from now, will be the first cadre of Marine officers to have encountered cultural education at every level, Salmoni
"The whole idea here is for none of this to be just-in-time training, or just good information, but to permeate the skills base" of the Corps, Salmoni
Over time, Salmoni
hopes the Marine
Corps will be able to adopt an approach the Army has used, which is to train the trainers.By training senior NCOs who have had significant field experience working with indigenous people, the Marine
Corps will be able to ensure that units have their own in-house expertise to draw on whenever it's needed.
There's a Marine
expression that says you've got to be able to shoot, move and communicate."Part of this is the moving and communicating," says Salmoni