QUANTICO, VA.— The Marine Corps has launched an effort to improve the ability of its troops to cope with the complex cultural issues that they are encountering in anti-terrorism and counter-insurgency operations.
Here, at the headquarters of the Corps’ Combat Development Command, the Marines in May 2005 established a center for advanced operational culture learning. The center’s director, retired Marine Col. Jeff Bearor, told National Defense that he learned the value of cultural awareness firsthand as a career infantryman with considerable experience in intelligence work. He was an operations officer with the CIA Counterterrorism Center and later commanded the recruit training regiment at the Corps’ Parris Island, S.C., boot camp.
Cultural awareness, he said, is nothing new for the Marines. “Throughout our history, small units of Marines have been have been deployed in foreign countries, with other cultures and languages. We have learned to adjust.”
Until now, however, cultural and language training have been uneven and uncoordinated throughout the Corps, Bearor said.
In 2004, the Marine commandant, Gen. Michel W. Hagee, decided to centralize pre-deployment training within the Combat Development Command at Quantico.
Later that year, when Lt. Gen. James N. Mattis took over the command, he saw the need for enhanced cultural training. Mattis had commanded troops in first Persian Gulf War, Afghanistan and most recently in Iraq, where he headed the 1st Marine Division. “General Mattis ordered all of the cultural training gathered together in this one center,” Bearor said.
An immediate focus is to help the service’s new foreign military training unit—a component of the emerging Marine Corps Special Operations Command—prepare for its mission. The FMTU was stood up in October 2005 to provide basic military schooling and advisors for the troops of friendly nations.
Eventually, however, the center wants to offer the training to all deploying Marines through a combination of briefings, role-playing, and distance learning.
Courses already are being developed, starting with Quantico’s Basic School, where newly minted second lieutenants polish their skills, and the Expeditionary Warfare School, where captains learn the fine points of command and control, air-ground coordination and amphibious operations.
“By the end of the year, we hope to have full operational capability and have the program in all Marine Corps school houses,” Bearor said.
The program plans to offer studies covering about two dozen countries or regions where the Corps conceivably might deploy, including the Middle East, Central and South Asia, Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America. Marines will be taught, at a minimum, basic phrases in such languages as Iraqi Arabic, Kurdish, Dari, Pashto, Russian, West African French, Spanish, Turkish and Uzbek.
“The idea is to teach them enough of a language to do the things they need to do,” Bearor said. “What are the 15 phrases you need to know to operate a checkpoint? How do you teach assembling an AK-47 in West African French? Special Forces has been doing this for years.
“If you believe what the commandant has been saying—and I do—this kind of thing is going to become more and more important for a long time to come.”
The center is starting small. It currently operates out of a single mobile home, but it is growing. Bearor has asked for two more similar structures, and eventually, he expects to have a staff of 20 to 25 personnel, including active-duty Marines, reservists, civilian government workers and contractors.
- Harold Kennedy