CLAY NATIONAL GUARD CENTER, Marietta, Jan. 18, 2011 – No matter where they go, Soldiers have to deal with the language and cultural differences between themselves and the people with whom they come into contact. While most units have interpreters with them to assist in communicating with the locals, basic exposure to the local language is still useful for everyone in the unit.
The same will be true for Georgia’s Agricultural Development Team (ADT) 1 when it hits the ground this year in southeastern Afghanistan. That is why every member of the team is here, or will be here in the coming month, attending a two-week, 80-hour language and cultural training course at the Georgia Army Guard’s Language Lab.
It is to the advantage of both sections of ADT 1 – those helping the Afghans better their agricultural methods and trade, and those assigned to protect them – to have a working knowledge of Afghanistan’s Pashto and Dari dialects, says 2nd Lt. William Westrip, the team’s training officer and the officer-in-charge of the ADT’s security force.
“Every one of us, down to the lowest level, is an ambassador for our country,” Westrip explained. “The better we are at communicating with the locals on a personal level, at understanding the customs of the folks with whom we’ll interact, the more successful we’ll all be at our two missions.”
For Soldiers in the security force (SECFOR), being able to talk with the population facilitates the building of trust between the two groups so that the SECFOR has a better grasp on who is part of the village and who is not, Westrip says. Unlike a neighborhood or even a small town here in the states, where people often come and go unnoticed, an Afghan village is a close-knit community where everyone literally knows everyone, he says.
“Folks are going to know immediately who doesn’t belong, and who’s out spreading bad propaganda about the AG, trying to destroy the relationship the team will work to build with the locals,” Westrip said. “Through our ability to effectively speak the native language, our people will have access to that same insight.”
On the agricultural side, being able to “speak the native tounge” will make it that much easier to teach the Afghans, says Sgt. 1st Class James Horne, one of the ADT’s AG specialists and a life-long farmer and livestock owner from the South Georgia town of Ludowici. Before joining the ADT, Horne worked full-time as a surface maintenance inspector at the Army Guard’s Combines Support Maintenance Shop-South in Hinesville, Ga.
“My job, for example, is to assist the Afghans with improving their planting, their livestock operations and – from time to time – maintaining their farm machinery,” he said. “I can do all that through an interpreter, and that’s OK, but I believe I will be better able to help them if I can talk with them one-on-one.”
Having a basic level of familiarity with the local language will help ADT 1 achieve its mission – to help the Afghan people build better lives through more modern, yet basic farming and agricultural business practices – successfully, Horne adds.
As part of their cultural training, this first group – together with their instructor, Anwar Akbar of the Defense Language Institute’s Washington, D.C., campus – dined at Rumi’s Kitchen, a Persian restaurant in Sandy Springs, Ga. Using what language skills and cultural knowledge they had acquired so far, the team talked amongst themselves, and with their hosts, in Pashto and Dari.
“Afghan people know you respect them when you take the time to learn to speak their language and understand their cultural ‘rights and wrongs,’” Akbar later said. “What these Soldiers are doing here, what the Georgia Guard is doing here, is a great thing. I most certainly enjoy being part of such a program, and I wish them all great success.”
Story and photo by Sgt. 1st Class Roy Henry
Public Affairs Office
Georgia Department of Defense