Save Your Ammo: Working Across Cultures for National Security by Louise Rasmussen and Winston Sieck. Global Cognition, 2019, 255 pp.
Why is culture education important for everyone? Save Your Ammo is a book that provides the answer. Dr. Louise Rasmussen and Dr. Winston Sieck, founders of Global Cognition, compile an engaging, entertaining, and instructive collection of vignettes that highlight the importance of cultural savvy in global military missions.
The credibility of the authors as scholars is impeccable on their own merits. Further endorsing the accuracy and utility of this work are such noteworthy professionals as Gen Anthony Zinni, USMC, retired, former US Central Command commander, and Maj Gen Michael Rothstein, USAF, retired, former Air University vice commander and Curtis E. LeMay Center for Doctrine Development and Education commander. If a goal of Save Your Ammo is to make culture accessible and practical for the personnel engaging with their international counterparts, the intent is successfully achieved. The target audience is personnel who will engage their allied or coalition counterparts likely below the diplomatic level. Content at the practitioner level sometimes comes across as prescriptive do’s and don’ts, giving the impression that culture is a one-size-fits-all proposition. However, Save Your Ammo is a welcomed departure—nuanced but straightforward. Readers of Malcolm Gladwell or Chip and Dan Heath will feel right at home with the authors’ style of introducing a topic, sharing and explaining extraordinary experiences of ordinary people, and leaving readers with practical lessons at the end of the chapter.
From the opening vignette of a Marine’s tense engagement with a warlord in West Africa, the folksy style of storytelling pulls readers into the pages and places them in the boots of the story’s subject. Through the eyes and direct words of those extensively interviewed individuals, readers will learn and experience the lessons of those who got it right, those who did not, and those who discovered the importance of lifelong learning.
In addition to the high-quality storytelling, another strength of the book is the clarity of the lessons. The authors convey precisely what they want readers to learn with each chapter’s well-defined main points and summary bullets. They illustrate those lessons and effectively summarize them to solidify understanding.
A notable example of a lesson on perspective can be found in the vignette of Captain Muñez, USAF. He learned from an Afghan elder that there are differences in warrior culture between American military members and their Afghan counterparts (pp. 97–99). That lesson helped him understand tactics and decision-making, enhancing interoperability during his deployment. The complementary scenarios of Colonel Hanson, USMC (pp. 67–68), and Sergeant Aaronson, USA (p. 68), effectively communicate the importance of continuous learning in a combination of a “course and experience.” Especially compelling is the story of Air Force senior master sergeant Krautkremer and his unique experience in Kazakhstan (pp. 158–61). There is an important lesson in trying to complete a civil engineering project when cultural perspectives collide on the prioritization of tasks. Understanding the perspective of culture from those who were there long before, and will be there long after, deployment is a sage lesson for all personnel to learn.
At times, the authors try to do a little too much. There is no shortage of personnel interviewed and cited to illustrate points, and many well-developed vignettes are highly memorable. However, some people referenced or quoted immediately piqued the curiosity of the reader but were not given enough context. As a result, readers could be left wanting or trying to determine how a particular input fit into the larger narrative. While this area could have been better, it was not a distraction, nor did it detract from overall readability.
Save Your Ammo is an excellent book that should be on the shelf of practitioners and used by academics to supply stories that bring theory to life. I also recommend it as required reading for anyone before a first overseas deployment. This work reminds us that for all the differences in cultures, there are just as many commonalities that can help establish trust relationships at the tactical and strategic levels. It also reminds us that interoperability begins with one human being willing and able to connect with another. Save Your Ammo would have saved my pride the first time I went overseas many decades ago! I encourage you to read this book and through the vignettes, find your own words to communicate and practice the great power of culture.
Col Walter H. Ward Jr., USAF, Retired
Director, Air Force Culture and Language Center