India exposes cadets to a ‘significant country’

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- During the period when India was all over the news for its IT industry, call centers, tremendous economic growth, receiving out-sourced American jobs and becoming a strategic ally of the United States, Capt. Robert Mishev's sense was that India would become a more important player in global affairs.

The seed was planted for him to lead a cultural immersion trip to the subcontinent, June 24 to July 11.

"In the context of the Academy and cadet wing, I can't imagine exposing cadets to a more significant country from the United States perspective," said the 1999 Academy graduate from Bowie, Md.

He teaches strategic management.

"Going through the Administration's National Security Strategy, it becomes apparent how important the United States considers India and its potential," said Captain Mishev. "From President Bush's strategic partnership for peaceful nuclear cooperation between the two countries to increase defense and science and technology cooperation, India is a country we not only need to understand as officers and officer candidates in the Air Force, but also as citizens of the world."

With him on the trip were Cadets 1st Class Lars-Kristian Hinrichsen, Bryce Luken, Collin O'Bryant and Asha Padmanabhan.

When interviewing cadets for this trip, the captain explicitly stated that there was going to be a lot of reading and discussing before they left.

Invaluable help came from Colorado College President Dick Celeste, a former U.S. Ambassador to India.

"We met through serendipity, but he used his connections and personal relationships to open up doors for us into the highest levels of Indian government and business," Captain Mishev said.

The trip was planned in two parts: business and government meetings in both Mumbai and Delhi, and a 10-day cultural immersion through North India's "Golden Triangle" Delhi, Jaipur, Agra, Khajuraho and Varanasi.

In Mumbai, they met with officials at the U.S. Consulate and Commercial Service, Harvard Business School's India Research Center, Microsoft, Mahindra & Mahindra (Farm Equipment Sector) and Carlyle Group.

While in Delhi, William Bissell the chief executive officer of Fabindia, an international consumer retail company, met with them twice.

Some aspects were high-brow.

"On one occasion he threw a dinner party in our honor at his residence and then had us over for tea," said the captain. "Both occasions were wonderful and our discussions spanned from U.S. - India relations and military cooperation to India-Pakistan and Hindu-Muslim relations and the development of India's infrastructure."

Another meeting was with the Honorable Jaswant Singh, currently the leader of the opposition of the Rajya Sabha, the Upper House of India's Parliament and roughly equivalent to the U.S. Senate minority leader.

"He met with our group of five in his parliament office for a question-and-answer session for more than an hour-and-a-half," Captain Mishev said. "We left with an increased understanding of the nuances and complexities of India and India's political landscape, and we had talked to a man who nobly lived to serve his country."

They saw many of the splendors of Northern India, including the Taj Mahal, just days before it was voted as one of the "New 7 Wonders of the World."

"We all left the Taj Mahal with the realization that none of us could truly describe the magnificence or effect it has when you first see it," the escort officer said. "The Taj Mahal is simply most beautiful man-made creation we have ever seen."

Travels through the Golden Triangle saw them talking and bartering with the locals, watching Indian weddings and appreciating the sights, sounds and smells. Other highlights were the Jama Masjid and Qutab Minar in Delhi, the Birla Temple and Amber Fort in Jaipur, Fatehpur Sikri, Agra Fort, the western temples in Khajuraho, and a sunrise boat tour down the Ganges.
The Indian people they met were gracious hosts.
"In villages many questioned where we were from and they usually guessed Europe, which made us infer there aren't too many Americans touring in India yet," Captain Mishev said. "India proved to be extremely pro-United States and Indians they met made mention of aspects of the United States that they would like to see India adopt or develop within their country."

Communications were not a problem because the Academy group traveled to cities that were either business or political centers or popular tourist destinations.

"As India was a British colony for almost 100 years, English and Hindi are the two official languages of India," the captain said.

India was joyously more and appallingly less than Captain Mishev expected.

"The poverty I saw was worse than I could imagine while the riches and beauty were greater than I could believe," he said. "India is home to some of the best technical universities and engineers in the world while having the largest population of illiterate citizens. It is the country of Ghandi, yet the political and business environments are rife with corruption."

The sights, sounds and smells of India are indelibly etched in his memory.

"For many of us, we gradually start taking everyday opportunities for granted or feel we're entitled to them," he said. "When you travel to a country like India, where abject poverty is all around, you can't hide from it. Some 350 million people live on less than $1 a day. You realize how fortunate you are to have won the genetic lottery by being born in the United States or moving to the United States. They passionately pursue the opportunities that have been afforded to them."

India provides for lively discussion.

"How great will it be to have Air Force officers familiar with the geopolitics and culture of India, not to mention officers who have made relationships with key players in the Indian business and political arenas," Captain Mishev said. "Every country has great things to offer and issues that need to be addressed. Our takeaway is that we need to be active citizens of the world, in our Air Force careers and beyond."