13th MEU maintains cultural awareness amid current events

4 Sep 2013 | Sgt. Jennifer Pirante 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit

After the Marines and Sailors of 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit and Boxer Amphibious Ready Group departed Naval Base San Diego, Aug. 23, on Western Pacific Deployment, professors from the Naval Postgraduate School kept the units' senior leaders informed about the current state of Middle-Eastern countries through the Regional Security Education Program.

Mark Huber, program manager for Middle East and Central Asia for the Center for Civil-Military Relations; Tristan Mabry and Thomas H. Johnson, professors in the department of National Security Affairs; and Army Lt. Col. Marcus Snow, instructor at the U.S. Army War College, delivered a week-long series of cultural awareness presentations aboard the USS Boxer (LHD 4), Aug. 24-29.

The presentations covered an array of topics including Iran, Pakistan, regional economic and development trends in the Horn of Africa, Islamic beliefs, and the on-going Syrian Civil War.

"Sometimes, it's so that there is a greater cultural understanding of who [military personnel] are working with and, sometimes, it's so you have a greater strategic understanding of who [they] are guarding against," Mabry said. "By communicating the perspective of the people [they] work with or guard against, [they] can do a better job all around."

According to the school's website, Chief of Naval Operations directed NPS to implement a program following the attack on the Navy guided-missile destroyer USS Cole (DDG 67), Oct. 12, 2000, in the Yemen port of Aden.  The attack, which killed 17 American sailors and injured 39, was later claimed by al-Qaeda. In response, NPS developed RSEP as an outreach program to better prepare Naval Forces and Strike Groups for overseas operations by providing education about the regions in which they may operate by keeping Marines and Sailors informed, not only about cultural norms in other countries, but also significant current events such the most recent chemical attacks of Aug. 21, which killed more than 1400 people, including 426 children, according to the New York Post.

"We want the leadership of the Amphibious Ready Group to be prepared for all contingencies, even beyond the ones that are seemingly the most high profile at the time," Huber said. "Even with exceptionally busy schedules in terms of getting ready for deployment, clearly [military personnel] have been paying attention to current events and follow them even closely.  By virtue of the very high-quality questions that are being asked, clearly, [they] are paying attention to the extent that we can contribute to their existing knowledge that they gain through the media. I think it makes for real optimized interaction."

Marines and Sailors aboard the USS Boxer turned their attention to television screens as President Barack Obama addressed the issue, Aug. 31, and claimed U.S. intelligence shows the attacks were carried out by the Syrian government against its own people. The claim sparked controversy across international media about whether U.S. forces will choose to get involved and raised questions among 13th MEU Marines and Sailors about how these attacks may affect deployment.

"What is different about these particular attacks is the way they were chronicled in the media and the fact that there were so many people killed, and so many of the people perished in the attacks were also small children," Huber said. "In this case, even if there is ambiguity about who has used them, the scale of the suffering and the scale of the death, as a result of this chemical attack creates a new type of force very different from any catalyst that any previous chemical attacks might have brought. So, the pressure to do something is much more intense now than it has been before."

This type and scope of training to improve situational awareness for 13th MEU BOXARG Marines and Sailors highlights the depth of comprehensive training this unit undergoes in order maintain readiness to respond to the full spectrum of Marine Air-Ground Task Force capabilities from rapid-response humanitarian assistance to combat operations.  One thing is certain, 13th MEU BOXARG stands ready to respond to any situation.

13th Marine Expeditionary Unit