Dagger Brigade - As teams deploy to Africa, they do so with a new awareness of language and culture. MS&T’s Chuck Weirauch describes culture and language initiatives.

Teams from the US Army's 2nd Brigade, 1st Infantry Division (Dagger Brigade) deploying to various African countries and regions starting this April, will be the first units to do so in support of the US African Command (AFRICOM). They will have undergone language and cultural training specifically geared to their areas of deployment at the newly created Dagger University at the Division's home base at Fort Riley, Kansas. Their mission is to support each country's security forces and to promote development and stability.

Essential Training

This mission depends even more on language and cultural skills of US armed forces and civilian personnel than in the past, since AFRICOM is described by the Department of Defense as a major innovation, a new kind of regional military command, "one focused not on military defense and warfighting, but on peacetime military engagement activities promoting development and stability." There are no plans for a large Army footprint in Africa, and the deployment of a full brigade, for example, would take place only in the event of a crisis. Instead, the Command will be deploying small teams of mentors, with Dagger Brigade teams serving as the main force provider for security cooperation and partnership-building missions in Africa.

"Cultural and language training for our military units participating in engagements on the African continent is vital to the success of those engagements," said Major General Charles Hooper, Director of U.S. Africa Command's Strategy, Plans and Programs Directorate, and who is also the senior Foreign Area Officer (FAO) in the US Army. "We routinely include such training for military personnel traveling to Africa to participate in military-to-military engagements."

"There are numerous reasons why training can enhance mission effectiveness," Hooper continued. "Africa is home to innumerable tribes, ethnic, and social groups, in which only a few countries share a single language. The more we learn about our African partners -- their language, their customs, and their cultures -- the better able we are to communicate, cooperate and perform in a manner that fosters trust and strengthens our relationships."

Dagger University

Dagger Brigade soldiers undergo an initial full week of pre-deployment language and cultural training after they have gone through combat training and Combat Training Center (CTC) live exercises. For while building African nation partnerships and peacekeeping are the primary AFRICOM mission, the African continent is emerging as one of the world's hotbed of terrorist activities, along with political instability in some countries.

According to Dagger Brigade Commander Col. Jeff Broadwater, his command has received assistance in developing the curricula for Dagger University from subject matter experts at the University of Foreign Military and Cultural Studies at the Army's Combined Arms Center (CAC) at Fort Leavenworth, KS, the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, CA and Kansas State University. The 162nd Infantry Brigade advisors based at Fort Polk, LA, deliver the actual training in advisor skills, combat skills, and security force assistance skills.

There are more than 2,100 languages spoken on the African continent; however, Dagger Brigade is initially concentrating on Arabic, French and Swahili, often the official languages of several of the countries to which Dagger Brigade teams will be deployed. Some of the language and cultural skills training is provided by the CAC at Fort Leavenworth and Kansas State. Other learning experiences are provided through role-playing instructional training scenarios provided by the 162nd Brigade that deal with specific social and cultural aspects of the host country to which they will be deployed, Broadwater explained.

"We're not going to make anybody an expert of languages in this first week," Broadwater pointed out. "Initially we want our soldiers to learn basic phrases and have an understanding of the cultural and socials issues so that we can gain a good rapport with that nation's security forces."

But that's just the start for the Dagger University concept. Once Brigade members return from their first month-long deployment, they can return to the school to further enhance their language and cultural skills through Army professional development programs and other curricula. They can also become certified to perform a particular mission. The idea is for Dagger University to continue to develop and grow, incorporating lessons learned and offering more educational opportunities for its soldiers, Broadwater said. The program is also designed to serve as a model for other US regional combatant commands, as the 2nd Brigade is the first to put together such a comprehensive language and cultural training program, he added.

"We are focusing on putting a little sharper point on the pencil for the AFRICOM missions that we will go to," Broadwater summed up. "Dagger University gives the soldiers on the team the tools that they will need as they as they get closer to the execution of the mission. One of the most important lessons that we have learned over the past ten years is just how important it is to have even a little bit of understanding of basic language and culture."

VCAT expansion

Some of the language and cultural tools that are being employed by AFRICOM include Virtual Cultural Awareness trainer (VCAT) Horn of Africa and VCAT North Africa. Both of these interactive, game-and-Web-based trainers have been developed by Alelo for the Defense Language and National Security Education Office (DLNSEO) within the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness. The DLNSEO was created in February 2012 as the merging of the Defense Language Office and the National Security Education Program.

The VCATS are designed to teach language and cultural skills specific to their geographic locations. They provide scenario-driven exercises that enable students to learn the most effective ways to complete missions in that region by using culturally appropriate behaviors and key phrases. Those missions generally include civil affairs operations, security cooperation, partner forces training, and humanitarian operations, along with others.

In addition to VCAT Horn of Africa and VCAT North Africa, Alelo has also provided VCAT Afghanistan and VCAT South America and is currently developing VCAT Central America, VCAT Hispaniola, VCAT Southeast Asia and VCAT Taiwan for DLNSEO. VCAT Afghanistan was the first in the series of this game-based trainer. All of the current VCATS can be accessed via the Department of Defense's Joint Knowledge Online (JKO) organization, and the programs under development will also be offered through JKO once they are available.

According to Marc Hill, DLNSEO's Associate Director for Culture Education and Training, more than 2,600 Army soldiers have enrolled in the Horn of Africa course. Mrs. Cathy Moran, Chief of Advanced Technologies for JKO, pointed out that VCAT Afghanistan is primarily available through the JKO network. She also said that while VCAT Horn of Africa is not considered mandatory for AFRICOM forces, Hooper considers it as a vital part of his command's pre-deployment training package.

According to Alelo President and CEO Lewis Johnson, US regional commands and DLNSEO have been asking his company to expand its language and cultural training products, and he has just gotten a request for additional countries and the mobile version of VCAT Afghanistan. Alelo is also getting ready to roll mobile versions of VCAT out to several other regions of the world as well, he said. Some Pacific Rim products have been specified by DLNSEO and the Navy's Center for Language Expertise and Culture, Johnson added.

"The US regional commands are looking for more cultural trainers, particularly SOUTHCOM," Johnson pointed out. "They are looking for more role-playing scenarios covering more of a range of missions, such as foreign military training disaster relief, as well as looking for more mobile versions to increase the convenience of this training."

Training across the DoD

Along with the US commands' desire to provide more language and cultural skills for frontline armed forces personnel, there is also ongoing effort to expand this effort across the DoD. Hill explained that DLNSEO's goal is to provide a baseline level of language and cultural training for all DoD personnel. To that end, his agency has been working with the JKO organization to develop and implement a trainer similar to the VCAT concept called the Cross Cultural Competency Trainer (3CT).

"We at DLNSEO actually added a section in the DoD language and cultural policy document (DoD Instruction 5160.70 - Management of DoD Language and Regional Proficiency Capabilities) so that everyone in the DoD would be exposed to cross cultural competence in initial training," Hill said. "And if they hadn't had this training, we wanted to provide them with a way so that they could actually get credit for it."

"So in cooperation with JKO we decided to create an online trainer that would include the baseline of cultural competencies that we thought that everyone in the DoD needed," Hill continued. "We brought all of the service cultural centers together to determine what would be the best competencies that would work for this 3CT trainer and how it would mesh with the [DoD 5160.70] Instruction."

According to JKO's Moran, the game-based, scenario-driven 3CT is available through this online network, as well as secure military and public Internet networks for both individual and collective training. 3CT apps for iPhone and Android devices are also available for individual training. The apps were developed in collaboration with the Advanced Distributed Learning (ADL) organization. The 3CT features avatars, story-telling videos and other interactive elements to keep the student engaged.

"The 3CT was developed in two phases, one for the military and one for civilians," Moran explained. "So what we have today is a 3CT with tracks for military missions or civilian missions for a civilian expeditionary workforce provincial reconstruction team. The basic theme is for the 3CT to provide scenario-driven insights as to how to lead successful initial meetings with local leaders, the planning of medical missions and providing security assistance, for example. The 3CT can be employed for pre-deployment training and mission rehearsal as well. It can also be used to learn how various cultures interact with each other."

While the VCAT and 3CT courses are now available, DLNSEO will continue to encourage further development and implementation of language and cultural training courseware, Hill said.

"What we want to do in the future is to work with all of the COCOMS to provide the same type of language and cultural training for them as well," Hill summed up. "We are going to make sure that we continue to update missions and mission support. From the top down, the DoD has placed huge importance on language and cultural training and to maintain those skills, and we are going to make sure that everyone in the DoD is properly prepared and have the tools that they need to accomplish any mission."