Small Wars Journal

Marine Corps to have mandatory cultural training

An article in Marine Corps Times discusses a new mandatory cultural training program for U.S. Marine Corps officers and NCOs:

Fighting in any clime or place means Marines often come into close contact with people of all nationalities and cultures. An intimate understanding of those cultures can make the difference between mission success and mission failure. That's why the Marine Corps is now rolling out mandatory cultural training that will assign most Marine a specific region of specialization that they will study for the duration of their career.

The program, which will include reservists, will begin in late August with first and second lieutenants, but eventually be expanded to all enlisted Marines ranked sergeant and above, and all officers up to colonel.

The Regional, Culture, and Language Familiarization Program was created by the Marine Corps Center for Advanced Operational and Cultural Learning at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va. Eventually, officers and enlisted Marines will be assigned to one of 17 global regions of study, which they will focus on for the duration of their careers, according to Marine Administrative Message 468/10.


When assigning regions, a Marine's history will be taken into account. That includes prior education, native culture or birthplace. The number of available slots for each region will be determined by three variables: requests from combatant commanders, requests from unit commanders and Corps threat assessments. More Marines will be assigned to volatile regions, as it is where they are most likely to deploy.

The 17 global regions in the program are Central Africa, Eastern Africa, North Africa, Sahel, Southern Africa, West Africa, West South Africa, Central Asia, Northeast Asia, South Asia, Southeast Asia, Arabian Gulf, Levant, Balkans, Central America/Caribbean, South America and the Transcaucuses.


Great idea. It would be good if the Army were to implement this as well.

Perhaps one way to augment/ reinforce this training would be to send officers and NCOs on short tours (30-45 days) to work with NGOs working in the areas the officer/ NCO is specializing in, or serve as observers with paramilitary forces in their country speciality area. Our guys get to work, albeit briefly, in different areas around the world, primarily in 3d World (or "Gap") countries which are the likely future hot-spots, and we get guys who are familiar with the non-military agencies that we may end up working with.

Language training is a MUST, of course.

I don't think this sort of training is at all a bad thing, but the realistic limitations of what can be learned about another culture in a classroom, in a limited time, have to be understood. I very much doubt that the product will be "an intimate understanding of those cultures".

My own gut feeling would be that training on specific cultures might be less useful than a basic grounding in the methods and practices by which one adjusts to and learns about new cultures in general.. sort of a modified version of the methods coursework in an anthropology curriculum.


Tue, 09/14/2010 - 4:05pm

This is news? I had my geographical focus assigned when I went through TBS in 2006. Flash forward to 2010 and I'm not authorized to use Tuition Assistance to pay for Arabic courses at the local community college because they're bachelor level classes and I already have a B.A. This seems to be another one of those concepts that we pay lip service to but don't actually support.

Good idea, but they might as well have given me the Outer Rim Territories as my geographical focus for all the education support I've received.

Overall, I think this is a good idea, though the devil will be in the details. Having a corps/core of Marines, Sailors, Airmen, Soldiers with understanding/appreciation of the far ends of the world is a net gain. How you encourage or mandate that capability is the crutch.

Military officers and senior NCOs SHOULD already be interested in the cultures and histories of the world (in addition to military history, tactics, etc...), but pentathletes should also already be PT studs, tactical experts, linguists, governors, diplomats, etc... Assigning an area of interest for a career may be limiting though, and maybe change it with each assignment. It is unlikely each officer/NCO will become a FAO, so having him/her rotate their focus over the length of a career will leave the leader with good baseline of the whole world.

Forcing junior enlisted to study could have a positive influence overall, but if it becomes an annual quiz that the Marine studies for the night prior, it may brief better than it performs. The trick is demonstrating how this pays off to the Marine, the unit, and the Corps. Making it part of the culture, like PT or weapon proficiency, is a noble goal, but I don't know if it is realistic. 24 hours in a day is already insufficient for all our servicemembers NEED to know.

On the personnel side, will S1 start filling billets based on cultural areas to assure every unit has someone for every country? Will commanders trade for specialties (ie: "I'll trade 3 South West Africas for your 1 Levant.") Will some be promoted because they luckily got the right future "hot spot" ten years prior? Tongue in cheek yes, but if it becomes a career issue, who knows?

Overall, I think it is the right intent and depending on delivery, could pay dividends, though they will be subtle and cultural and not easily displayed on a Power Point slide, though I am sure some will try. "Sir, my company is 92% on culture, SPC Jones failed Lebanese history but is retraining with SGT Smith. PFC Thompson was on profile, but will retest Kazak language next week." ATW!