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Meet the Field Guide Development Team

  • Published
  • By Mikala McCurry, AFCLC Outreach Team

As the Air Force’s Global Classroom, the Air Force Culture and Language Center utilizes various education, training resources, and tools to develop a cross-culturally competent total force. One of the tools used to accomplish this mission is AFCLC’s library of Expeditionary Culture Field Guides.

AFCLC has developed field guides for more than 70 countries based on the ‘12 Domains of Culture’ model. This model covers the integral parts of a country’s culture to equip service members with the baseline cultural competence needed to thrive in a culturally diverse environment. While many of the guides are available in print, they are also available online in PDF format and electronically through AFCLC’s Culture Guide mobile app.

These pocket-sized handbooks, packed with invaluable cultural information, help U.S. forces achieve mission success in culturally complex settings. Each guide is developed by a team of dynamic research analysts, prestigious faculty members, and region and culture subject matter experts.

Ben Hemenway, Nicolas Montano, Talia Govoni, and Mike Struk are the research analysts who collectively work to develop the content for the field guides alongside faculty members and other subject matter experts. Sarah McKay, the Content Administrative Support Specialist, also assists the research team to develop, audit, and process each guide. Mary Newbern, AFCLC’s Chief of Expeditionary Programs, oversees the team throughout the development and production process.

As the research manager, Hemenway leads the initiative of developing each field guide by creating the schedule and research plans, reviewing drafts, coordinating with independent subject matter experts, and communicating with leadership to finalize each guide. 

“Context is key. It’s vital to know what’s currently going on in the given country and to place it within a larger regional context within U.S. foreign policy objectives,” he said. “Understanding the ‘big picture’ helps the team develop a guide that’s most useful for service members deployed there or working with foreign nationals from the country. Beyond that, it’s important to step back from each section and ask ourselves if the information we’re providing will be helpful for someone who knows next to nothing about the country or culture. Details are certainly important, but so are the context and big picture.”

According to Hemenway, the entire process of developing a guide takes approximately six months from research initiation to submission of the final product. At any given time, the team is working on developing multiple guides simultaneously.

McKay manages the electronic versions of the guides and provides routine updates for the full inventory of guides based on the ever-changing geopolitical landscape. She is one of the final set of eyes on each guide before it goes for final publication, so her keen attention to detail plays a vital role in the impact of each guide.

“I’m one of the last people to see a new ECFG before it goes into publication. After receiving the final draft from Ms. Newbern, I review the content for any spelling and grammatical errors and formatting issues. Then I review and research the content to ensure that the ECFG is current at the time of production,” she said. “When I’ve completed the review, I send Ms. Newbern a list of potential changes and any suggestions I might have. Once Ms. Newbern approves the changes, we send the item to print, upload the PDF version to the AFCLC website, and load content into our Content Management System for uploading to the app.”

Despite the challenge of gathering, vetting, and aggregating the vast amount of data and research needed to create each guide, the research team finds the learning aspect rewarding. Govoni, who is responsible for researching several country-specific topics for each guide, often regards her role as “getting paid to learn.”
Similarly, Hemenway finds learning and working with his team as one of the most rewarding aspects of his role.

“It’s a privilege to learn about so many different countries as part of my job. I sign off for the day not only feeling that I completed another workday, but also that I learned useful information about a country or culture I may have been almost entirely unfamiliar with,” he said. “Working with the research team is also gratifying – getting to know each other, building a team, and working with a group of intelligent, kind people with diverse backgrounds is a true pleasure.”

AFCLC can consistently lead the way in developing a cross-culturally competent force due largely to its library of field guides.

“The products we produce not only help our service members but also travelers with no military affiliation better understand, appreciate, and interact with individuals of a different culture. In 2018, the Air Force Culture Guide app was listed in the Wall Street Journal’s article, Six Indispensable Apps for Business Travelers. At that time, only 40-50 guides were available through the app. The mobile app has since expanded beyond field guides and now offers courses and educational videos. We are helping cultivate cultural/intercultural competence and global citizenship; I’m very proud to contribute to such an endeavor,” McKay said.

AFCLC’s library currently includes guides for 72 countries, with several more in process based on strategic need. For more information, visit 

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551 E. Maxwell Blvd, Bldg 500, Maxwell AFB, AL 36112


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