Breaking Cultural Barriers

Cadet Devonta Banks (kneeling) leads his squad on a vehicle checkpoint exercise.

 At the base of the former Yugoslavia, in a region that survived a decade-long civil war, four Norwich juniors had an opportunity to forge international connections and participate in a new chapter of American foreign policy. Termed “Summer Campus 2010,” the two-week-long military training and cultural exchange was hosted by the Macedonian Military Academy. 

Attended by cadets from the Serbian Military Academy, the Turkish Military Academy, Norwich University, and the Macedonian Military Academy, Summer Campus 2010 was broken down into three components: academic instruction, cultural excursions, and hands-on field training exercises. 

“The training provided our students with a different view of the world—one they hadn’t been exposed to before,” said Norwich faculty member Col (Ret.) Stephen Pomeroy, USMC, who accompanied the four students overseas. 

“It also gave [Norwich] international exposure and solidified our reputation with the other countries with whom we want to work and build lasting ties,” Pomeroy added. 

Army ROTC Cadets Devonta Banks, Joshua Fontanez, Rudolph Racine, and Ryan Van Noordt traveled with Col Pomeroy to the inaugural event, held at the Pepeliste Training Area in Southeast Macedonia. 

Banks, 20, of District Heights, Md., said that while the military training was “awesome,” interacting with cadets from other cultures was his favorite aspect overall. 

“The best part was learning how other people perceived Americans. For example, the Serbians were still mad at Americans for the NATO strikes; they didn’t talk to us for the first three days,” said Banks. “But after some social events, their perceptions of us changed. I think they thought we would play the role of a superpower, but they realized we were normal cadets, just like them.” 

Cadet Devonta Banks (left) poses with fellow cadets from Macedonia and Turkey.

Frank and open discussions concerning the Law of Armed Conflict, Rules of Engagement, and ethical considerations on the use of force were part of the training, which also covered lessons learned during the conflict in Afghanistan. 

Van Noordt, 20, of Lynchburg, Va., appreciated the unique opportunity to adapt to foreign customs firsthand while working as an international coalition. 

“Nowadays the [U.S.] Army doesn’t fight wars on its own,” said Cadet Van Noordt. “Being able to train with [personnel from] different countries is really important for me as a future officer.”
Van Noordt said there was an initial adjustment period, especially with the living situation and getting used to unfamiliar food. Cadets were housed in fairly austere conditions: sleeping in “containers,” using rudimentary latrines, and hand-washing their clothes. 

When cadets were not engaged in training exercises, intra-mural athletic contests provided opportunity for social exchange. 

These informal games helped break down barriers, said Pomeroy, as cadets battled for small trophies and bragging rights. (The Macedonians were victorious in the soccer tournament while the Serbians brought home the gold in basketball.) 

The cadets also participated in several cultural exchanges: They traveled to a local vineyard, toured a pre-Roman archaeological excavation, explored a couple of museums, and enjoyed a two-day excursion to Lake Ohrid—a popular modern resort and ancient archaeological site in Southwestern Macedonia. Their final night was spent in the capital city of Skopje. 

NU cadets Joshua Fontanez '12, Devonta Banks '12, Rudolph Racine '12, and Ryan Van Noordt '12 with their European counterparts.

The cultural exchanges went both ways. With the help of their hosts, the Americans put on a 4th of July party for their European counterparts. The celebration began with the consumption of hot dogs, chips, and soda, continued with a brief history of the origin of the American Day of Independence, and culminated in the singing of patriotic American songs. Reluctant to let the celebration end, the Balkans, Macedonians, Serbians, Americans, and Turks sang and danced late into the night. 

According to Pomeroy, the Norwich cadets developed an incredible cultural understanding in a relatively brief period. 

“The greatest benefit of the trip was the firsthand development of international cooperation, communication, and cultural exposure that our cadets received,” said Col Pomeroy. “Each student…greatly learned from the interaction with their international European peers.” 

Banks became close with a Turkish cadet named Emre, who came to the training with the idea that Americans would be arrogant and hard to work with. 

“He changed his perspective about us,” said Banks. So much so, that at the end of training, when cadets were asked to write down their fondest memory of the event, it wasn’t the military exercises, the cool weapons, or specialized training that they talked about, it was the bonds of friendship they had formed. – L.D. 

Summer Campus 2010 was divided into three phases. Phase I consisted of opening ceremonies, familiarization, and classroom instruction at Pepeliste training area. Phase II consisted of field operations centered on squad and platoon infantry tactics with weapons; and Phase III consisted of a two-day FTX at Krivolak Training Area adjacent to Pepeliste and the towns of Negotino and Krivolak, Macedonia. The exercise showcased for an international audience cadet training in small unit leadership and tactics. 

Classroom instruction was provided by Macedonian Military Academy active-duty faculty, Macedonian Army Special Forces personnel, U.S. fellows from the George Marshall Center in Europe, faculty from the U.S. Air Force Academy and Norwich University, and associate faculty from the University Goce Delchev in Shtip, Macedonia. 

Field training was provided by Republic of Macedonia Army specialists from their respective disciplines, and consisted of engineering; armored vehicle training; chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) training; communications, navigation and topography; first aid; and small unit tactics training. 

The final field training exercise in Krivolak Training Area was conducted simultaneously through live observation and multistation video monitoring. During this training, small units rotated through several stations: patroling to contact, culminating in a flanking attack; preparing, setting, and conducting an ambush; motor vehicle ambush; hasty vehicle checkpoint operations (with both passive and combative civilian and enemy forces, respectively); and a vehicle ambush. 

(Information provided courtesey of Col Pomeroy) 




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