Panel discusses cultural issues

Students from Egypt, India, Pakistan and the Netherlands spoke to an auditorium of U.S. Air Force cadets on perspectives and opinions of the U.S. military.

UH Air Force ROTC held the international student discussion panel to raise cultural awareness.

‘I speak for the majority of Arabs when I say that we are happy to see Saddam Hussein and the Taliban fall,’ biochemistry senior Omar Metwalli said.
Each panelist expressed opinions of the United States from an international perspective.

‘The military is a strong symbol and makes me proud to live here, but I think the United States should stay out of other’s affairs,’ biology sophomore Jennifer Carmichael said.

Panelist Rahul Patel described how a chance encounter with a soldier changed his perspective on violence against civilians.

‘I met (a soldier) in the airport, and he told me about how he would throw a bag of M&Ms to the people approaching his vehicle. If people crossed the line (past the M&Ms), he would have to shoot. But I understand now that the soldiers have to protect themselves,’ business administration senior Patel said.

Cadet Wing Commander Ryan Tamez said experiences like Patel’s proves the necessity of the panel discussion.

The ROTC Leadership Laboratory is an environment, where cadets are free to ask questions and learn more about people ‘on the other side’. The Leadership Laboratory keeps in mind that with continued military involvement in the Middle East, it is important for our future armed-service personnel to become culturally aware.

Panelists expressed a concern that many of the ground troops may not be respectful or culturally aware of their host environment. This can translate to hostility against U.S. troops and make a bad situation worse, Metwalli said.
‘After the war, political issues came into play. People have a problem more with U.S. policy rather than the military itself. Having unintelligent troops (overseas) gives a bad image to the U.S. military,’ Metwalli said.

The U.S. Army’s Arab Cultural Awareness Factsheet says a blank face can indicate hostility, while a smile communicates friendship. When the soldiers turned their backs to the crowd, it showed trust.

An incident reported by CNN in 2007 underlines the necessity of cultural awareness during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Lieutenant Colonel Christopher P. Hughes’ unit faced an angry mob in Najaf, Iraq. To avoid a potentially deadly conflict, he ordered his soldiers to, ‘Take a knee, point your rifles to the ground and smile,’ then to ‘stand, turn your backs to the crowd and walk away.’

Hughes’ understanding of the importance of body language in Arab culture saved bloodshed on both sides because he was culturally aware.

Members of the panel took turns discussing things about the U.S. they liked and disliked.

‘The United States has their hands in a lot things, like governments in the Middle East. Despite what people say, I think that most people, given the opportunity to emigrate to the U.S., would take it,’ Metwalli said.

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