Strengthening the intellectual foundation for our profession of arms.
November 8th, 2016 by James Haw
Bottom Line Up Front – An Australian Regional, Culture and Language Familiarisation Program (RCLF)
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:
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:
“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
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:
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:
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.