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Arming Marines with Operational Culture

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The counter‐insurgency environments in Afghanistan and Iraq have presented the US military with an unprecedented set of challenges: Marines are required to simultaneously fight a war and build a nation, while having to work with the indigenous population. 

In order for Marines, and the coalition forces, to effectively operate in these regions – it is operational culture that will help them comprehend the complicated balance of power and the relationships between formal and informal leadership there – between the government officials and the tribal leaders and mullahs.

CAOCL is the USMC’s Center of Excellence for operational culture and language familiarization. CAOCL develops resources and training programs to help Marines make tactically sound, informed decisions on the battlefield – based on a better understanding of the complexities of different cultures, traditions, religions and languages.

To succeed on the ground, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, is adamant that “all ISAF [International Security Assistance Force] personnel must show respect for local cultures and customs and demonstrate intellectual curiosity about the people of Afghanistan.”

“ISAF must alter its operational culture to focus on building personal relationships with its Afghan partners and the protected population. Strong personal relationships forged between security forces and local populations will be a key to success,” he said.

This is why CAOCL’s training is indispensible. “Our job is to make sure that Marines are best prepared to deal with war in foreign lands. Our specific focus is culture, with an understanding of the foreign languages that are involved,” retired Marine Colonel George Dallas, director of CAOCL, recently told reporters. Dallas said it is now a Marine priority to institutionalize culture and language. “If you take the idea of what the war fighting function is – culture and language fit right into that.”

Through its training, CAOCL can help Marines be prepared for the likely cultural challenges that can help them avert both immediate and potential long‐term crises and ensures operational relevancy, by consistently reassessing its culture and language programs and making adjustments as required.

Also, by incorporating their knowledge of operational culture into their planning, Marines can anticipate potential responses from the local population which can help them not be caught off guard by otherwise unexpected second and third order cultural effects. Dallas is pushing for the adoption of operational culture as the “7th Warfighting function.” “Think of it as the same level as planning fires, maneuver, logistics or intel. Just like you would be planning fires in support of maneuver, this would be planning culture in support of a scheme, maneuver or operation. We’re writing doctrine, we’re writing an overarching Marine Corps strategy on culture and language and regional studies, and we have built a Training and Readiness manual for culture and language that sets accepted standards across the Marine Corps.”

 

Training the Full Continuum

As the Marine Corps’ lead organization for developing, providing, and coordinating operational language training and education for the General Purpose Force (GPF), CAOCL supports learning across the entire training and education continuum.

In order to achieve this, CAOCL takes a two‐pronged approach to language training and education: Regional, Culture, and Language Familiarization Program (RCLF), and the Pre‐deployment Training Program.

The focus on practical application in operational settings is the common thread running through all CAOCL language training. The overall goals and objectives of CAOCL’s programs are identical, although each language instruction approach may have a slightly different focus along the training and education continuum.

Tools used to facilitate CAOCL language training and education span the Department of Defense’s DOTMLPF (Doctrine, Organization, Training, Materiel, Leadership and Education, Personnel and Facilities) process, and are a mix of ‘on‐staf’ language instruction, specialized distributed learning software, and language learning resource centers.

CAOCL also works in partnership with the U.S. military’s Defense Language Institute (DLI) and others to deliver its brand operational language to the GPF. CAOCL’s staff is available to brief deploying forces, no matter what region of the world they travel to, and follow up this training with a variety of training materials and computer‐based products.

The operational support offered by CAOCL, includes dispatching subject matter experts (SMEs) to the operating forces. These CAOCL Heritage SMEs  help a Commander and his staff try to understand the cultural terrain of their battle space. Importantly, CAOCL training is available to help all ranks of Marines deal with operational culture.

To summarize: CAOCL provides:

1. Mobile Training Teams (MTTs): These are CAOCL personnel available to deliver classes and briefings at a home station or while forces are underway:

- Operational Culture Classes

- Operational Culture Briefs

- Operational Language Classes

2. Self-Study Culture & Language Resources: In order to provide an assortment of additional opportunities to Marines for operational culture & language self‐study, CAOCL is currently providing access to a number of distributed learning computer‐based products.

- The CL‐150 Technology Matrix for Critical Languages: Designed to support learning of all languages determined by U.S. Government organizations to be of national security interest. CL‐150’s suite consists of software programs that provide a blend of cultural training, regional understanding, and language familiarization for specific countries around the world. These programs can be downloaded to your computer or viewed on the web.

- Rosetta Stone: All active duty and reserve Marines are able to access the Rosetta Stone Language Learning Software via MarineNet (www.marinenet.usmc.mil). Rosetta Stone provides 150 hours of selfpaced computer based language familiarization in numerous languages.

- Tactical Language Training System (TLTS) currently provides language and culture training via four modules: Tactical Iraqi, Tactical Pashto, Tactical Dari, and Tactical Sub‐Saharan Africa French. These modules are high‐end, interactive, video simulations using computerized characters, or ‘avatars,’ in a variety of tactical scenarios.

3. Language Learning Resource Centers (LLRCs): In an effort to meet home station training requirements, CAOCL is establishing Language Learning Resource Centers (LLRC) at all eight major Marine Corps Bases to facilitate culture and language training for all Marines. The LLRCs are computer labs equipped with culture & language study materials/software.

4. CAOCL Liaison Officers (LNOs): CAOCL LNOs are to assist Marine forces in accessing resources, scheduling briefings, and fulfilling culture and language requirements.

Dallas, CAOCL’s director, says his team will continue to reinforce the importance of cultural understanding as a lifesaving tool and provide the training tools Marines need to succeed on the front lines. More than ever before, he said, in today’s ever‐evolving battlefield, winning hearts and minds is much more than a catch phrase. It’s the difference between creating an enemy or an ally.

For more information on CAOCL, log onto: www.tecom.usmc.mil/caocl.