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Foreign MCCC officers share culture with instructors, leaders.

Culturally speaking, the United States and Saudi Arabia are two very different nations--our language, customs, religion, geography, and climate to name a few. Yet, over the years, we have managed to overcome those differences and build an alliance with the Middle Eastern nation.

Recently, Maneuver Center of Excellence Commanding General MG Robert Brown symbolized that bond when he received a memento from six Saudi soldiers who are students at the Maneuver Captains Career Course (MCCC), Fort Benning, Ga.

The exchange took place at a luncheon planned by the Saudi soldiers as a cultural awareness opportunity for their instructors and other senior Fort Benning leaders. It was the first of its type for the directorate that regularly hosts foreign students. The event featured authentic Saudi foods such as kabsa and traditional tea set to the backdrop of an informational slide show displaying images of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

MG Brown dined at the table with the Saudi soldiers, and expressed his thanks for our nation's longstanding friendship. He presented each of them a commemorative coin, recalling when he too trained alongside Saudi officers nearly 30 years ago.

"What I learned, I carried with me years later," MG Brown said. He acknowledged that some suggest the alternative of distance learning via the Internet for exchange educational programs but noted that "you can't get these great relationships from technology."

These opportunities to train together, he said, prepare us to better fight together.

The Saudis were grateful for their U.S. experience and the opportunity to share their culture. Several admitted that since being at Fort Benning they now have a new perception of our country.

"Before I came, I had heard something different than what I have seen here," said Saudi CPT Al-Sahli Abdullah. "But I wanted to gain this experience because we build our relationships together."

Like Abdullah, CPT Sattam Al-Otaibi said he found that everyone he came in contact with was friendly and kind.

"As a child, I heard of the U.S. as a freedom country, and when I came here, I got to see it with my own eyes," Al-Otaibi said. "All the people here respect everyone, and they don't look at skin or nationality. We are proud to work and study here."

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Al-Sahli, who was about a month away from his graduation at the time, said after studying here, he is confident about returning to command troops in Saudi Arabia.

MCoE Directorate of Training Director LTC Louis Zeisman said strengthening friendships by providing opportunities for understanding such as this will yield lasting results.

MCCC prepares recently promoted captains to serve as commanders and staff officers. At the time of the luncheon, one of the three classes, which average 170 students, had 20 students from 18 different countries. Each student is asked to present a cultural briefing for the other students at the beginning of his course.

"It's important that we teach them here what to expect when they go to a different culture," Zeisman said. "Every one of our officers that leaves here, in some sense, will be touched by these interactions."

International students must apply to study in the United States and are chosen only after passing an exam displaying their proficiency in written and spoken English.

The visiting soldiers are allowed to bring their families for the six-month course and are assigned a volunteer sponsor from their class to assist with transportation and other transition issues. Outside of that, no special provisions are made. They are expected to perform physically and academically just as their American peers.

"They feel it's important to come to this course, and they don't want it any other way," Zeisman said.

Those chosen for the program are considered among the most elite of their native armies, and Zeisman said he was honored by the Saudi soldiers' effort.

"It was just amazing," said DOT sergeant major Leslie Hart, himself a member of the Australian Army. Serving as the highest ranking enlisted soldier in the directorate, he noted that all foreign cooperative training arrangements are learning experiences that erase stereotypes.

"It's easy for us to become comfortable doing things our way, but these international students bring in different points of view on military practices," he said. But despite the many differences, he can say one constant prevails throughout the world. "At the end of the day, fundamentally, all soldiers are the same--they love their families, they love their armies, and they love their countries."
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Title Annotation:INFANTRY NEWS
Author:Nabors, Tiffany
Publication:Infantry Magazine
Date:Jan 1, 2011
Words:746
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