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Cadet Tribal Engagement Exercise
Cadets 1st Class Cody Freeborn, left, and Blake Noble share tea with actors portraying a village elder and chief of police at Fort Carson Saturday, April 2, 2011. Cadets from Behavioral Sciences 460, Sociology of Violence and War, travelled to a mock Afghan village to engage the local population for information to meet exercise objectives. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Maj. Jimmy Do)
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Cadets conduct tribal engagement exercise

Posted 4/8/2011   Updated 4/8/2011 Email story   Print story


by 2nd Lt. Meredith Kirchoff
U.S. Air Force Academy Public Affairs

4/8/2011 - U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo.  -- Rolling into a simulated Afghan village at Fort Carson Saturday, Air Force Academy cadets from Behavioral Sciences 460, Sociology of Violence and War, arrived by Humvee ready to accomplish their mission of engaging the local population.

Cadets spent the first part of the semester learning about the culture of the people they would encounter, reading texts that prepared them for the stressful situations with which they would be faced, and hearing from an Army Special Forces guest lecturer who relayed expertise from his nine overseas tours.

"People tend to think about war in a more traditional sense where that's not always the case, especially with what we're doing in Afghanistan and Iraq right now," said Cadet 1st Class Ricky Rodriguez, a behavioral sciences major who will go on to pilot training following graduation.

Cultural considerations were one of the most important preparations for entering the village, Cadet Rodriguez said. "One thing that is completely different from our culture is the physical distance--they sat less than a couple inches away from me when I was invited in for a cup of tea, but that's how they show they trust you."

Four teams of cadets entered the village four different times to accomplish predetermined objectives, mostly focused on information and data gathering. Cadets interacted with village members to determine the current living conditions in the village, economic and educational development, law enforcement activity, and health care needs, among other items of interest.

"I believe the most challenging part was trying to talk to the people because it's not just talking to them, it's trying to get the information you want from them," said Cadet 1st Class Jeremiah Baxter, a behavioral sciences major who will go into security forces after graduation. "In that culture, a lot of times you may want to talk about one thing, but they want to talk about something else. Of course we went in with objectives, but at the same time I also had to establish a relationship with them."

Course director and associate professor of behavioral sciences, Dr. Wilbur Scott, said the exercise was intended to impress upon the cadets that the social and cultural skills necessary to augment military skills are crucial to success in the counterinsurgency warfare they were facing.

Participants noted the female cadets played an important role in accomplishing the mission by their unique ability to communicate with the female villagers.

"The second we were welcomed into the women's group, they began to pet and touch our hair, cheeks and nails. They even examined our teeth," said Cadet 1st Class Antonia Concepcion, also a behavioral sciences major. "Because of the unique and strong bond women often have with each other, regardless of how familiar they are, the abundant information we gained contributed vastly to our mission."

Cadet Baxter said he was struck by the leadership lesson in decision-making the exercise provided, and how one of the classroom models of visualizing scenarios before being faced with them helped tremendously. For example, a vehicle driver needing to know in advance how he will negotiate a road block should he encounter one.

"I know you're not going to be prepared for everything, but at the same time, as a lieutenant, you're going to be forced to make decisions," he said. "And, what we saw from the followership side is that when other people were in charge, we just wanted them to make a decision in a timely manner, whether it was wrong or right."

Overall, the cadets expressed that the mock village exercise was an eye-opening experience and one they would remember throughout their Air Force careers.

Maj. Damian McCabe, assistant professor of behavioral sciences, said the hands-on experience these cadets had at Fort Carson was a progression of four courses they have taken throughout their cadet careers.

The courses include BS 110, an introduction to human behavior on the individual level; BS 310, which focuses on leadership and decision-making; BS 358, military and society, and finally the capstone course, BS 460, which integrates all of those principles.

"The area where we thought we could contribute most to building these officers of character is to give them more capacity to make very crucial decisions in very complex social and cultural contexts," said Major McCabe. "We tried to create a course with some level of application, where they would be challenged to think about decision-making models, think about culture, think about social structures, think about the role of the military, and the interplay between the military, society and politics."

Major McCabe went on to explain that one of the common threads the course produced was the recognition and importance of respect for human dignity when faced with those types of decisions in foreign cultures.

This is the first semester BS 460 was offered by the Academy's Behavioral Sciences and Leadership Department, as well as the first time cadets travelled to Fort Carson to participate in tribal engagement scenarios.

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