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Task Force Liberty Cultural Team Uses AFCLC Culture Guide app for Mission Training

  • Published
  • By Mikala McCurry, AFCLC Outreach Team

The Cultural Advisement and Assessment Team at Task Force Liberty implemented a culture training regimen for the task force using the Air Force Culture and Language Center’s Culture Guide app. This task force oversaw the immediate care and wellbeing of displaced individuals from Afghanistan during Operation Allies Welcome.

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. CQ Brown, Jr. challenged Air Force leadership to ensure Airmen and Guardians have a renewed focus on preparation and readiness for the high-end fight in Action Order A. U.S. Space Force Lt. Col. Adam Howland, Commander, 319 Combat Training Squadron; and U.S. Space Force Capt. Ronald Miller, Executive Officer, Space Delta 9, were assigned to Task Force Liberty due to their extensive background in Afghan affairs. Howland, a former AFPAK Hand for the United States Air Force and proficient Dari speaker, served as a lead cultural advisor in Afghanistan. Miller brought immense skills in speaking Pashto due to prior service as a Pashto language specialist with the USAF. 

The two active-duty Guardians were hand-selected to serve the task force due to their unique skillsets in the two most prominent languages spoken in Afghanistan. Both Howland and Miller are also members of the Language Enabled Airman Program, so they understood and valued the critical importance of equipping their team with cultural knowledge, resources, and experience to effectively engage in the mission.

Of the task forces established to support the transition from Operation Allies Refuge to Operation Allies Welcome, Task Force Liberty was the first to establish a “Cultural Awareness and Advisement Team” to equip service members with the resources and information needed to communicate and connect with Afghan individuals effectively. 

According to Miller, this team was recognized as a “means to bridge the gap in cultural competence between American response and serving the Afghan individuals in a culturally dignified manner.”

“We gathered people with language backgrounds, cultural competencies, and in-depth understanding of different cultural behaviors,” Miller said. “Col. Howland used AFCLC’s Afghanistan Culture Guide [app] to analyze how we could help American service members, non-governmental organizations, and other individuals provide better compassionate care to Afghans settling in America.”

Upon arrival at Fort Dix, they quickly became deeply involved with advocating multiple aspects of cultural competency, both with the Afghan persons that arrived in America as well as with the thousands of service members providing for them at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst.

“We correlated the ‘12 Domains of Culture’ model from the Culture Guide app to what task force members were experiencing,” Howland explained. “We collected vignettes to reinforce the aspects of culture and challenges for the task force to consider how different cultures may look at the same experience differently. It was especially important to the culture team, as it provided a way to train them. We were literally the first line of defense for the task force, but the information was useful to everyone; that’s why we had such success.”

Howland’s idea to develop a tactical curriculum regimen using the ‘12 Domains of Culture’ model rose from a need to help service members better understand the Afghan culture to effectively help those displaced individuals. Each training focused on one aspect of the Domains of Culture and included an introduction to that domain, a comparison between the Afghan and U.S. perspectives of that domain, and real-world scenarios from members of the culture team related to that domain.

“We had more than 2,000 individuals helping serve more than 13,000 Afghan individuals in our location. We identified early on that most of our service members did not have experience with Afghans, so our leadership looked to the culture team to find solutions to keep the peace between our teams and the displaced Afghan individuals,” Howland said. “This training allowed us to help our service members frame a pattern of thinking about cultural competence.”

The culture team received support and encouragement for the training from senior levels of the task force, including the Department of State, Homeland Security, and the Commander of the Expeditionary Center at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst. They went village by village training service members using the curriculum framework. Each member of the task force also had access to the Afghanistan Expeditionary Culture Field Guide, both in hard copy form and through the Culture Guide mobile app.

According to Miller, task force leadership began to see a consistent change in the way American individuals were interacting with the Afghan individuals after the trainings. 
“Before implementing this training, people had some very incorrect reactions to situations. There are lots of right ways to handle things, but we saw incorrect handling of people. Our goal was to influence these instances before wrong decisions were made,” Howland explained. “There was not a moment when we were not interacting with the Afghan individuals, so we needed this culture education and training every moment of every day.”

Once the culture team began training servicemembers using this curriculum, leadership saw a major improvement in the connection, communication, and overall relationship between the service teams and the Afghan individuals.

“Whenever there were problems with other task forces and they needed to separate certain Afghan individuals from each other, they sent them to us,” Howland said. “From an adviser’s perspective, I saw the implementation of culture training as a critical keystone in our success as one of the largest task forces of Operation Allies Welcome.”

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