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On a Mission to Learn

U of I Army ROTC cadets travel overseas to build relationships, experience new cultures

By Tara Roberts

Army ROTC CULPUniversity of Idaho sophomore Maxwell Emerson spent part of his summer rappelling, climbing, rafting and training in explosives safety.

Emerson is a University of Idaho Army Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) cadet, so his activities weren't too surprising. What made them special was the location - Montenegro, a small Eastern European country on the Adriatic Sea.

Emerson and two other cadets of the U of I Army ROTC's Chrisman Battalion - junior Suzanne Avery and sophomore Matthew Buchanan - immersed themselves in new countries this summer through the Army's Cultural Understanding and Language Proficiency Program, or CULP. The program sends young ROTC cadets from around the U.S. to foreign nations to connect with their militaries, perform humanitarian work and build cultural understanding.

"It was a really awesome experience just to see how another military operates in day-to-day life," Emerson said. "It was an opportunity to build relationships and personal friendships with these other soldiers across the world."

In Montenegro, Emerson's main mission was to help strengthen the bond between the American and Montenegrin militaries, helping the soldiers he worked with become more familiar with English and learning about their experiences. Montenegro is a young country - it gained independence in 2006 - and is seeking to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Army ROTC CULPBuchanan traveled to Bosnia and Herzegovina, where his mission was a bit messier - assisting European Union forces in cleaning up debris after a severe flood.

"It was pretty interesting. This was a true, real military operation that we were part of," he said. "It's not something that comes up every day for a cadet."

Buchanan's trip also offered the chance to get to know members of the EU forces with whom he worked. He was struck by how similar military life and goals are across international borders, and formed a bond with an EU training and doctrine - TRADOC in military parlance - commander.

"He taught me if you're a professional of arms, you're equipped to be in any military," Buchanan said. "Since Bosnia is a new country, it's changed a lot in history. He's been through all of it, and it's given him a lot of experience and knowledge of the world."

Avery's mission took her to the West African nation of Senegal to teach English to members of the Senegalese military.

"English is the business language of the world," she said. "Almost all of them spoke English fluently, but we helped them learn everyday English, conversational English."

Army ROTC CULPAvery's trip also had a humanitarian side. She and her fellow CULP cadets visited two orphanages in the Thies region, pooling their money to buy 500 pounds of rice, toothbrushes and soccer balls for the children.

She found the experience humbling, but also encouraging.

"We really got to know more about their culture," she said. "It was interesting seeing the commonality of our culture and theirs and getting a better understanding of Africa."

Emerson and Buchanan also said cultural immersion was one of the most valuable takeaways from their time overseas.

"Montenegro has so much rich culture and history," Emerson said. "They have castles that are hundreds of years old, older than our nation. Getting to experience that was inspiring."

The cadets agreed their experience in the CULP program gave them new insight and skills to be better students and better soldiers - and they also agreed their trip served a greater purpose in helping the United States build positive relationships with people around the globe.

"Sending cadets to CULP is important because it gives them, at a very young age, exposure to an international environment," said Lt. Col. Brad Martin, U of I professor of military science. "This is good for their personal and professional development, and the experience they gain participating in the program brings great benefit to the classroom and the Chrisman Battalion."

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