By Staff Sgt. Vicky Spesard, 123rd Airlift Wing Public Affairs
/ Published August 21, 2014
KENTUCKY AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Master Sgt. Zakiya Taylor didn't know a single word of French when she arrived in Burkina Faso in early June, traveling not as a tourist but as a mentor to the eight Army ROTC cadets who accompanied her.
In support of the U.S. Army Cadet Command's Cultural Understanding and Language Proficiency Program, Taylor's mission was to serve as their cadre leader, aiding the young cadets in bridging cultural divides between themselves and African officer cadets from the Georges Namoano Military Academy.
"I was really excited to be chosen for this mission," said Taylor, a Kentucky Air National Guardsman who normally serves as dining facility manager for the 123rd Airlift Wing in Louisville, Ky. "This gave me an opportunity to mentor young people and to test my leadership skills."
While in Burkina Faso, Taylor and the cadets lived in barracks alongside their African counterparts, attended classes with them and visited a local population whose dominant language is French.
"Some of their cadets could read and write our language, but had little understanding of it," Taylor explained. "Our cadets went through English language workbooks with them and provided teachable moments. It was a wonderful experience for both groups."
The idea behind the CULP Program, which is headquartered at Fort Knox, Ky., is for young Army leaders to develop more cultural awareness and foreign language proficiency skills. According to the program's website, cadets experience up to three different "venues" during immersion, learning about humanitarian service, host nation military-to-military contact, and the social, cultural and historical aspects of a country.
In 2013, more than 1,200 ROTC Cadets traveled across the world to participate in CULP. As the program has grown, the Army discovered it did not have enough personnel to accompany the cadets, according to Air Force Lt. Col. Shawn Keller, so other services were invited to provide cadre leaders. The 2014 effort marked the second year of participation for the Kentucky National Guard.
Keller, a Kentucky Air Guardsman and director of the Kentucky National Guard State Partnership Program, became a bridge between the Cadet Command and the Kentucky Guard in 2013, serving as a test case by accompanying a group of cadets to Burkina Faso last year. Upon his return, he knew the mission could be fulfilled by the state's Army and Air Guard members.
"The program sends cadets to more than 40 countries around the world each summer for a period of approximately three weeks," Keller said. "When the program reached out to the Kentucky Guard, they found qualified people with life experience and experience working with young people. When the Army asked for the Guard's assistance, I knew where to get it."
This partnership between the Army and the Kentucky Guard is an invaluable asset to the continued growth of the program, according to Cadet Command officials.
"We recognize and appreciate the outstanding support we get every year from the Kentucky National Guard and other National Guard partners across the United States," said Army Col. Brian Mennes, deputy commanding officer for U.S. Army Cadet Command. "This year 75 percent of our culture and language proficiency missions are supported with National Guard NCOs and officers, who are acting as cadre, providing essential coaching, mentoring and training to our future leaders.
"Missions such as these," he continued, "are good examples of the experience and knowledge our cadets gain from their time with members of the National Guard."
Besides Taylor, three additional Kentucky Air Guardsmen and two Soldiers from the Kentucky Army Guard accompanied cadets overseas this summer. Air Force Lt. Col. Brian McMorrow, medical plans and operations officer for the Kentucky Air Guard's CBRNE Enhanced Response Force Package, accompanied one group to the Democratic Republic of Congo, while Air Force 1st Lt. Jessica Ellis, medical liaison officer for the CBRNE Enhanced Response Force Package, took another group to Croatia. Air Force Lt. Col. Dallas Kratzer, director of military personnel for the Kentucky Air Guard, traveled to Bosnia where his group of cadets experienced all three venues of the CULP Program.
"Originally, my group of cadets was going to go to another location when record rains turned into devastating floods throughout Bosnia," Kratzer explained. "We were rerouted to Bosnia to help with flood-relief efforts. The operation became a multi-nation effort as military forces from around Europe came to help.
"Working side by side with so many different militaries was an invaluable learning experience," he continued. "The students were focused on getting to know the other service members as well as assisting local Bosnians. When we ended the mission with one-on-one contact with the cadet officers, it gave our cadets a true sense of immersion into different cultures. It was a truly fantastic mission."
McMorrow's mission to the Democratic Republic of Congo mirrored Taylor's mission to Africa, with U.S. cadets visiting foreign military cadet installations and teaching English language and culture to their foreign counterparts.
"It was truly fabulous watching our young Army cadets leading their (Congolese) cadet officers and building relationships with each other," McMorrow said. "The give and take between the two vastly different groups on such a human level was an experience that I and my group of cadets will never forget."
Taylor echoed those sentiments.
"This was a great leadership opportunity for me," she said. "I was solely responsible for these cadets, getting them to their mission location and taking care of them from start to finish. The mission didn't improve my French, but it has made me a better leader. I know the cadets' experiences will make them better leaders, too."