17th AF takes part in cultural training

RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany -- Members of 17th Air Force (Air Forces Africa) are well aware of the impact culture can play in building relationships. As members of U.S. Africa Command's air component, they routinely encounter myriad cultures across their area of activity, from South Africa to Morocco. They know understanding the cultural perspective of their African partners is part of the job.

That's why AFAFRICA's A1 (Personnel) directorate has been working with the Air Force Culture and Language Center at Maxwell AFB, Ala., in recent months to tailor a training program for people charged with building and maintaining relationships in Africa. The AFCLC had the expertise to increase AFAFRICA's effectiveness, according to A1 Director Col. Catherine Chin. After she gave the center a rundown on the unit's mission in Africa, they brought a program to Ramstein March 22-26.

Because AFAFRICA is designed as a lean organization with no assigned forces, the Colonel explained, expertise is at a premium. Though AFAFRICA does request personnel through the global force management system, members from AFAFRICA's Ramstein AB headquarters are doing a lot of the direct engagement with African partners.

"We are a learning organization, and it is essential that we build a staff that knows Africa, and can pass this info along to our deployers throughout the Air Force," Col Chin said. "In order to succeed in building relationships in Africa, it is essential that we understand the cultures of the people we are partnering with. First and foremost, it's a matter of respect and consideration toward our hosts - but it's also a matter of effectiveness."
The end result was a week-long session of culture and language training. Hank Finn, AFCLC director of Expeditionary Skills Training, explained how the training gave students the tools to work in different cultures.

"The training included a culture general piece which helps members understand the principles of culture and gives them general skills that can be transferred and built upon for specific regions or countries," Mr. Finn said. The more specific aspects included cross-cultural communication, building cross-cultural relations and cross-cultural negotiations. For a specific group of Airmen, 30 hours of French immersion was also part of the program.

The training was valuable for engaging with partners in Africa and beyond, according to Maj. Demetrius Mizell of AFAFRIC's A5/8 (Plans) directorate.

"I found the cultural diversity lessons and French immersion classes to be extremely beneficial," the Major said. "The information taught in the Building Cross-Cultural Relations, Cultural Negotiation and Cultural Mediation sessions have given me a greater understanding of how to foster stronger relationships with our interagency, joint, and especially our African partners."

AFAFRICA Protocol NCOIC Tech. Sgt. Heather Campbell gave an equally strong endorsement to the French immersion.

"I went from not having French skills to now being able to communicate in very basic French, and if I wish to pursue the language on my own further, I can easily do so," Sergeant Campbell said.

Moreover, she now has the fundamentals and confidence to communicate basic information in a contingency.

"I could deal with an emergency situation," Sergeant Campbell said. "The class also received a small French handbook with basic terms such as food, language, travel, etc. So if I get stuck and don't happen to remember a term, I could look it up quickly in the handbook."

The language course was taught by Mr. Tariq Khaitous, an associate professor at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, Calif. He said that students understood the training's relevance to their mission.

"The students were very interested and eager to learn," Mr. Khaitous said. "These students are part of Air Forces Africa and they know French language is part of their job - they know it will help them in Africa."

AFAFRICA and AFCLC are currently working on the next blocks of training, which officials hope to conduct in the coming months. This will include a week-long session for the 110th Air Operations Group at Battle Creek, Mich., AFAFRICA's partner organization in the Air National Guard. Expanded French immersion is also in the works, Colonel Chin said.
"These courses are building blocks that will deepen our cultural understanding and help us form lasting relationships in Africa," Colonel Chin said.