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Air University focuses on global skills: Culture, language education vital to war on terror

  • Published
  • By Karl Duckworth
  • Air University Public Affairs
"Globally-skilled Airmen" is emerging as a critical initiative in professional military education and training.

Recognizing the need to educate Airmen in cultural awareness and language proficiencies, Air University is putting into place several short-, mid- and long-term programs to support the initiative, said Dr. Bruce Murphy, chief academic officer at the university.

These programs reflect the increased emphasis on how the Department of Defense values, develops and employs cultural training and language ability, and falls in line with other Air Force programs, like the selection of 87 officers to be the first class of international affairs specialists.

In a recent statement announcing changes in training, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. T. Michael Moseley reinforced Air University's role as the intellectual and leadership center of the Air Force. "Starting next year, the students down at Maxwell are going to see a more robust education that is going to prepare them to be leaders in this global war on terror, and that includes language education," he said.

"Part of the Air University curriculum has always been focused on teaching officers, enlisted and civilians how other nations work and how to work with our allies, and we are now emphasizing how to operate in a global environment," Dr. Murphy said.

"The vital need for these global skills is reflected in the 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review, which promotes increased language and cultural capabilities along with enhanced security cooperation activities," said Col. Robert Sarnoski, Air Force international Airmen division chief. "Fielding these skills is just as important as fielding new weapon systems."

According to Dr. Murphy, operating in the international arena is the way of doing business in the 21st century, both in the public and private sectors. As the Department of Defense's expeditionary mindset takes focus, operating with a global perspective is a cornerstone of that ability.

"As a parallel, the business world has been thinking this way for 20-25 years," he said. "We want to prepare our people to serve in a variety of operational situations and give our people the skills to communicate, build relationships and negotiate with people from other cultures."

Though Air University officials will include culture and language across the academic spectrum, the training students receive will be targeted toward their operational levels.

"Lieutenants may have to interact with counterparts at their level and, for instance, might need to figure out streets signs or how to buy provisions, etc.," Dr. Murphy said. "A colonel or general will have to interact and negotiate at a much different level and possibly deal with the flow of resources or deal with rights to be in an area. Different levels will necessitate different preparation."

Language training is getting a lot of attention, in part because of a bonus in the 2006 defense budget of up to $12,000 per year for active duty and Reserve members with certified language proficiency, but academic officials at Air University see language as one facet of cultural training.

"Our focus will be on culture in an increasingly global environment and how language is part of that culture," Dr. Murphy said. "We are looking at the culture portion as it influences our curriculum and how language influences culture."

A key player in this approach will be an intellectual Center of Cultural and Language Studies here which will integrate cultural curriculum across the continuum of education.

According to Dr. Murphy, this is more than just finding linguists and people with the ability to speak languages -- it's a transformation in the way culture and language is viewed.

"At Air University what we are striving to do is to roll (culture) into what we are already doing," Dr. Murphy said. "We have the possibility to impact every Airman: enlisted, officer and civilian, from precommissioning to senior enlisted to general officer. At Air University, we are in a unique position to touch every level of education on one base."

In the short-run, Air University plans to bring on board cutting-edge language software at Air Command and Staff College and take a hard look at all levels of education here.

"We should see the first results this summer," Dr. Murphy said. "We'll have the software setup at ACSC by the end of this fiscal year, and we are looking at ways to do something like this with the Senior NCO Academy. In the longer term, ROTC looking at increasing language scholarships which will play dividends long into the future."

Though Air University officials are still in the planning stages for the Center of Cultural and Language Studies, of primary importance to them is the ability to stay flexible for future needs in a changing global environment. Though languages such as Arabic, French, Mandarin Chinese and Spanish are needed today, officials at the center want to be poised to address culture and language needs as international situations dictate.

To do this, Air University officials plan to hire one-year visiting professors from civilian universities to guide and shape curriculum, and to eventually work through the center with the Defense Language Institute, the Air Force Academy and the Air Staff to provide research and advice to the entire Air Force.

"There was once a time when the United States could say, 'We understand English, and we understand our culture, and it is up to the rest of the world to adapt to us,'" Dr. Murphy said. "We can no longer be successful with that mindset." 

Cultural training by level

Here is a look at a proposal for the goals of the integration of culture into Professional Military Education:

JROTC/Airman Leadership School/ NCO Academy - Gradually introduce cultural awareness in to curriculum

Commissioning programs - Understand U.S. values, appreciate world cultures, develop language aptitude

Air and Space Basic Course/Squadron Officer School/ Senior NCO Academy - Heighten awareness and importance of cultural understanding during deployment

Air Command and Staff College - Develop enhanced cultural knowledge, refresh acquired language skills

Air War College - Enhance cross-cultural communication and negotiation skills, conduct research in one region as foundation of planning military operations
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