Foreign officers trained in U.S. ways
With so much emphasis on coalitions and international partnerships in hot zones like Iraq and Afghanistan, soldiers serving overseas are likely to find themselves in a position where an understanding of their allies is crucial.
At Fort Leavenworth, a true multinational force is working together on the home front. Eighty-five officers from 65 countries are participating in the Army's U.S. Command and General Staff College, a yearlong program that teaches foreign officers about the American military and also exposes them to the lives of ordinary Americans.
Retired Maj. Mike Brettman, field studies program manager for the International Military Student Division at the college, said his main goal is "to expose them to America and eliminate some of the myths they get in their own media and Hollywood."
Of course, there is also an urgent need to create awareness of U.S. forces' tendencies when working together on the battlefield.
"The other goal is when we are in coalitions : we have a common understanding" of resources and ideas so that military operations are flawless, he said.
Brettman joined 15 foreign officers from Australia, South Korea, Japan, Germany, the Philippines, United Kingdom, Czech Republic and France on Saturday, Oct. 27, at Alvamar Country Club in Lawrence for a golf outing that was as much about building coalitions as it was about mixing with regular Americans. The soldiers, dressed down in khaki pants and windbreakers, gathered for sandwiches at the clubhouse before clambering into golf carts. A true American feast of hamburgers awaited them afterwards, at a dinner party thrown by Jim Schwartzburg, a local liaison for the troops.
Schwartzburg said the golf outing was a great opportunity for the soldiers to see normal American life.
Lt. Col. Christian Nawrat, a German army officer who was selected to attend the college after volunteering for a competitive review, said the support for the military in the region has been a pleasant discovery.
"I am very much surprised at how people in the area enjoy and appreciate the military," he said.
Nawrat, who is from rural Bavaria and served in Afghanistan in 2005, said the most essential aspect of the college is the chance for many different viewpoints to be recognized. It is important, he said, to be able to "exchange my ideas with the biggest NATO ally we have. It's a challenge and an opportunity."
Australian army Maj. Jason Ross agreed that knowledge provides stability on the battlefield.
"One of the biggest advantages is to learn an international perspective," he said. "We always work in coalitions now."
Last year Ross trained an Iraqi battalion south of Baghdad and said his time at Fort Leavenworth had given him "a newborn respect for American soldiers."
Not all the officers volunteered to attend the college, which has graduated 26 foreign presidents or prime ministers. Lt. Col. Antonin Genser of the Czech Republic said his government chose him to go.
"I'm a soldier, so I'm not sure it's possible to volunteer," he said.
Regardless, it has been a valuable experience for Genser.
"For me, the best reason (to attend the college) is to understand U.S. military procedure," which is valuable for working with NATO allies in Kosovo, where he has commanded a brigade.
Students at the college, which was established in 1894, are trained in military tactics, but also learn the basics of American agriculture, economics and, of course, culture.
Ross has used the opportunity to travel the country with his wife and young son, who was born earlier in the year in the United States.
"We approached it with great anticipation," Ross said. "We've used it as a base to travel everywhere." So far, he has visited New York, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles, to name a few. He said he was excited to visit Las Vegas this winter.
He summed up his American experience in an expressly unmilitary way: "Awesome."