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Troops Prepare for Deployment by Learning Local Customs

T.D. Jackson, Camp Atterbury Public Affairs

Rahman Arman, the lead instructor for the Afghan language and culture seminars given to Provincial Reconstruction Teams at Camp Atterbury, sits with the troops as they partake in a traditional Afghan meal coordinated by the 189th Infantry Brigade here through Indiana University. The PRTs participated in the luncheon as part of their cultural awareness training Nov. 14 at Camp Atterbury Joint Maneuver Training Center. T.D. Jackson

CAMP ATTERBURY JOINT MANEUVER TRAINING CENTER, Ind. 11.14.2009 Remember what Mom used to say at the dinner table? 'Sit up straight in the chair! Use your fork! Elbows off the table!' As troops at Camp Atterbury prepare to deploy to Afghanistan they were served up some new manners for meal time.

In the traditional Middle Eastern custom, the troops sat on the floor to eat their meal using their hands. As some seemed uncomfortable with making a "mess," others dug right in.

"I have learned that I need to grab more bread," said Maj. Jocelyn Leventhal who is assigned to Provincial Reconstruction Team Nangahar. "Since they took our utensils away and bread becomes your utensil, I should have grabbed another piece," she said laughing.

This particular group of Provincial Reconstruction Team members, or PRTs, is made up of Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen and upon completion of their training at Camp Atterbury, they will deploy to Afghanistan and work to improve security, economic development, and stronger local governance throughout the nation's multiple provinces.

In addition to the usual pre-deployment training weapons familiarization, land navigation and vehicle maneuvers, to name a few the PRTs also undergo cultural awareness training. From learning and speaking the Pashto and Dari dialects to understanding customary male and female roles in society, the servicemembers are immersed in the customs of their new home.

"It gives you a snapshot into the situation, things you may not have picked up on through books and other materials," Leventhal said of the training."You get an understanding not just of what occurs within the borders but international relations, like with Pakistan and neighboring countries."

The Afghan language and culture seminars are coordinated through the PRT trainers, which is the 189th Infantry Brigade here, and presented by Indiana University students and instructors. Afghanistan native Rahman Arman, the lead instructor for the seminars, beamed like a proud papa as his children his students spoke in his native tongue.

"Assalamu alaikum," said Navy Lt. Andy Jones, practicing the standard greeting. Arman stood off to the side grinning and encouraging Jones.

"Zema num...Andy Jones day," Jones said, saying his name and rank. Earlier Arman had explained the significance of teaching the service members the Afghan customs, specifically how to dine.

"In Afghanistan, maybe the governor of the village invite them to his house," he explained. "In America we have chair and table. In Afghanistan we don't have this stuff," he said. "They have to go inside of a room and sit down and eat with their hands. So that's very important for them to know the culture of Afghanistan."

The troops, courtesy of MAC Mediterranean Cuisine in Indianapolis, were treated to "palau," a traditional rice dish, meatballs, chicken kebabs, and even "firnee," an Afghan custard.

Air Force Capt. Tanya Manning said for her, the luncheon gave reality to something she previously had only heard about.

"I've seen in pictures the families sitting down [to eat]," she said. "But actually sitting down and going through the ritual with everybody, it's an eye opener. I love it," she said. "I just think it's awesome and I can't wait to go. Whoever set all this up I thinks it's a great program and I hope it continues."

Capt. Carla Frederickson with the 189th Infantry Brigade, along with her staff of non-commissioned officers, was responsible for coordinating all of the seminars and the luncheon. The 189th is in charge of instructing all of the PRTs deploying to Afghanistan.

Frederickson said she hoped the luncheon participants walked away with a better acceptance of things that are different than their "normal" habits.

"As ambassadors for the U.S. we want to set a good example and go into a village and have the villagers understand that we are trying to understand them," she said. "So part of doing that is having these service members learn everything from how they eat to how they talk. It's just showing respect."

The PRT members are currently wrapping up their training at Camp Atterbury and are scheduled to deploy to Afghanistan in 12 to 13 teams this month.

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