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Idea Pitch – A Cultural and Regional Training Continuum

November 8th, 2016 by James Haw

Bottom Line Up Front – An Australian Regional, Culture and Language Familiarisation Program (RCLF)

Australian Army trainer instructs Iraqi Army soldiers on group formations during a lesson at the Taji Military Complex, Iraq, 2015 Corporal Matthew Bickerton, ADF

Photo courtesy of Australian Defence Force

The Australian Army’s ability to operate in complex and human-dense environments is enhanced through cultural and regional training. If the Australian Army is to become a truly expeditionary force, able to respond rapidly to unforseen government requirements, this training must be done pre-emptively. For cultural and regional training to achieve tactical and strategic maturity it must be both relevant and continuous. This training should be generic at first with the ability to develop into specialised training. This type of program already exists within the United States Marine Corps (USMC) as the Regional, Culture and Language Familiarization Programme (RCLF). The Australian Army could adopt a similar solution – albeit on a smaller scale.

 Culture Isn’t a New Concern

First, let it be clear that there’s nothing new about addressing (or re-dressing) cultural training in the Australian Army. Without going into the external academic or international debate, below is a brief five-year synopsis:

  • 2011 – Then Vice Chief of the Defence Force, General David Hurley, observed that the Australian Defence Force needs to be ‘deeply engaged with regional countries and possess an exceptionally strong understanding of their cultures, languages, and ways of thinking’.
  • 2012 – The Australian Strategic Policy Institute released a Special Report outlining the importance of cultural training for the profession of Arms in Australia.
  • 2013 – Major Matthew Carr argued for the early placement of cultural and language training in both the soldier and officer training continuum.
  • 2014 – David Kilcullen outlined the future of coastal, connected cities and the value of cultural knowledge.
  • 2015 – Major Dan Gosling argued for the introduction of Languages Other Than English (LOTE) and cross-cultural awareness training at both ARTC and RMC-D.

The above synopsis makes it clear: people care about culture.

But Why? And So What?

“The importance of cultural awareness should not be underestimated. Culturally based conflicts between foreign troops and local populations can have significant strategic consequences. In 2012 ISAF commanders estimated that between 50 and 90% of so-called ‘green on blue’ attacks could be attributed to cultural and personal differences between Afghan and coalition forces. As part of a package of measures designed to curb the number of such attacks – which threatened to derail ISAF’s training mission and consequently its exit strategy – NATO increased cultural sensitivity programs for foreign soldiers.” Roslyn Richardson ASPI Analyst, Culture Matters for the ADF

The value of cultural and language training is immense, and it is relevant to the Australian Army for five key reasons:

  1. The Australian Army will continue to operate in conflicts defined by complex human terrain, where cultural awareness enhances the ability to achieve mission success.
  1. The Australian Army will continue to conduct ‘military diplomacy’ and regional engagement tasks.
  1. Cultural training creates an environment of cultural awareness internally, as well as externally.
  1. A higher level of cultural (and behavioural) understanding is needed by those who devise tactics, strategies and lead in conflict. The effective leader needs a high degree of ‘cultural competency’ in order to adapt to increasingly diverse, remote and antagonistic cultural environments.
  1. The Australian Army will continue to work with coalition and foreign forces who do not share our values and/or language.

“The Australian Army’s experience in Iraq and Afghanistan has clearly shown that a lack of cultural understanding can have tactical and strategic effects…This raises the question of whether some form of generic cultural training could provide a mechanism for addressing both tactical and strategic objectives.” Major Matthew Carr, The Value of Generic Cultural Training

The Solution? 

Well…the USMC already has a solution. The RCLF is a career-long training and education program that begins at accession and instils, develops and sustains a language, regional and culture capability for career US Marines. This ensures that the Corps has assets within each unit to assist in operational planning and execution in all operationally significant regions of the world (see image below, courtesy of the Center for Advanced Operational Culture and Learning).


Managed by the CAOCL, the RCLF provides generic cultural awareness exposure during initial training and assigns regional ‘assignments’ during career progression courses for both soldiers and officers. These courses are divided into two components:

  1. Language Familiarisation Training – Used for all personnel who don’t require specialist language training (such as linguists). This component utilises defence language instructors and computer-based language training for language maintenance.
  1. Operational Culture Training – focussed on the operationally-relevant aspects of cultural training; those that will enhance the USMC’s ability to influence the operating environment during the accomplishment of missions. This utilises cultural reference material and field guides, as well as courses on utilising interpreters, non-verbal communication, and interacting with foreign populations.

What this means, is that a Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) is able to respond anywhere in the world, with at least one soldier, NCO or Officer who has some form of cultural or language competency in the region. Further, for those members of the MEU who don’t have the specific language and cultural skill-set, they at least have an awareness of cultural and language difference from the training they’ve received. This not only enables commanders, but also fortifies the capabilities of the ‘strategic corporal’.

 An Australian RCLF

Naturally, the size and scope of the Australian Army’s RCLF could never be as large as that of the USMC. This, however, simply means an Australian RCLF could be focussed on key strategic regions, such as the Southeast Asia and the Pacific.

The program would require ab initio cultural training – as is already conducted at RMC-D and ARTC – and then continue to further LOTE and cultural training in line with career progression courses.

An easily accessible, and advertised, online database with field guides, online language tools and cultural courses would need to be made available.

Furthermore, these courses could be used as a catchment for soldiers and officers to conduct further language training and cultural exchanges during periods of low operational or career tempo.

 Conclusion – What I need from you?

For the Australian Army to be a truly expeditionary force, it needs the ability to deploy at short notice to potentially unforeseen zones of conflict, unrest, or humanitarian concern. An Australian RCLF provides the ability to meet strategic needs at short notice, and to create a force that is not only aware of, but also able to navigate and comprehend most cultures.

In order to help me pitch this idea to the DEF Board and Chief of Army I need your help in answering the following questions:

  • Question 1: Is there popular support amongst military leaders for this type of training?
  • Question 2: Would an RCLF add value to soldier career development?
  • Question 3: How could such a course be implemented, staffed, and managed?

If you have any suggestions or feedback, please comment on this article. I look forward to your perspective!

About the author

James Haw is a junior officer from the 2nd/14th Light Horse Regiment (Queensland Mounted Infantry).


Grounded Curiosity is a platform to spark debate, focused on junior commanders. The views expressed do not reflect any official position or that of any of the author’s employers – see more here.

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6 Comments on "Idea Pitch – A Cultural and Regional Training Continuum"

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This is a critically important contribution. At UNSW, we have also found postgrad level ‘education’ on culture and conflict was viewed as highly relevant for defence and intelligence personnel.

How about starting nat grass roots at the “Home of the Soldier?” We do it at ADFA, so why not at Recruit Training?
We could man an exisiting company as a mult-national recruit training unit, with our already in place RTI’s as well as instructors from other nations.

Interesting idea’s, I believe this is something that is not done overly well in our Army, it seem’s to be more reactive than proactive, or it get’s paid off.

Definitely needs to be started at Ab-initio training, the one 40 minute lesson on cultural diversity is not enough of a good foundation.

Hello Jimmy. Love the concept. Genuine cultural and regional training is largely paid lip service at the moment, and those who develop genuine knowledge-in-depth have done so because of a personal and professional interest. While it is difficult in an Army of our comparitively small size to promote an RCLF specialised trade, there are any number of training opportunities to include cultural and regional awareness training, particularly using the skills and knowledge of Army’s pool of linguists, and soldiers from the ethnic diversity we are lucky to have serving.
Good luck with this pitch.
Bob T