By Army Sgt. Daniel Blottenberger
Special to American Forces Press Service
Sept. 22, 2008 - "Kalo," the instructor said in an Iraqi dialect to 10 soldiers who spontaneously began searching through their notes. "Your mom's brother," one of the students answered.
"Correct," the instructor said, as the class continued. "Next word: Abn Amme."
A student instantly responded with, "Your cousin from your dad's side of the family."
This word-familiarization exercise lasted for about another 10 minutes Sept. 19 during the 716th Military Police Battalion's cultural awareness class, which covers various subjects pertaining to Iraqi culture for 10 to 20 Police transition team soldiers a week.
The instructor is Fred Fachou, a Troy, Mich., resident who works as an interpreter with the battalion.
"They use what I teach here while conducting their daily Police transition team missions at Iraqi police stations," said Fachou, who lived in Iraq his entire life before moving to the United States in 1977. "I teach them a lot of the basics, because that is what they use every day at the stations to communicate."
The course, which comprises 40 hours of classroom instruction, educates students about the Iraqi language, how to use and recognize the Iraqi number system, how to recognize and pronounce Iraqi time, how to refer to someone's relatives in Arabic and how to pronounce days of the week in Arabic. The soldiers also learn customs and traditions so they'll have better situational awareness while on mission.
"The cultural awareness class has a direct impact on the capability of the PTT's mission," said Army Capt. Nathan Brookshire, commander of Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment, 716th Military Police Battalion. "Understanding the complex cultural environment the soldiers work in with the added benefit of communicating in the native language enables the PTTs to build enduring relationships with their [Iraqi Police] counterparts."
Brookshire added that the course also affects the Iraqi police development mission. "The relationships created by investing in cultural awareness training increase the battalion's impact on Police professionalism and effectiveness," he said.
The course is taught weekly on Fridays, a day the soldiers normally use to recover from the countless missions during the week, because the Iraqi weekend starts on Fridays.
Soldiers who have attended the class said applying what they have learned has been beneficial when conducting their missions.
"It helps us be able to direct traffic and communicate in Arabic while we are on mission," said Army Pfc. Vanessa Enos, a military police soldier with 978th Military Police Company, assigned to the 716th Military Police Battalion. "The class teaches us the things not to do when dealing with the Iraqi people to make sure we show them the proper courtesies according to their customs."
In one recent class, Fachou taught the soldiers about Ramadan and customs soldiers need to be aware of to ensure they display the proper respect to the Iraqi people during the Muslim religious observance.
Ramadan takes place during the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, which is believed to be the month in which the Koran was revealed to the Archangel Gabriel to deliver it to the Prophet Muhammad. Participating Muslims do not eat or drink anything from dawn until sunset during the month-long observance.
During this serious month of worship, it is important for the soldiers to understand and respect the religious observance.
"We had a class just before Ramadan that told us what not to do when we are out on mission," Enos said. "We would not want to offend any Iraqis during their holy month."
Fachou said he tailors the lessons to make them relevant to the soldiers.
"The soldiers ask what they need to know from the experiences they have had out on missions," he said. "I try to answer all of their questions so they are more prepared the next time they go out. If they ask me something, then that means they will use it a lot when they are out there."
(Army Sgt. Daniel Blottenberger serves in Multinational Division Baghdad with the 18th Military Police Brigade Public Affairs Office.)