One of the first things an aviation unit does when it arrives in Kuwait is to conduct some refresher training in a desert environment, which is one of the harshest environments for Army Aviation. In addition to familiarizing ourselves with the challenges of landing in dusty environments, we also did some aerial gunnery practice before heading into Iraq.
I read as much as I could about Arab culture before coming to Iraq, and I’d spent several months in third-world countries, but nothing could prepare myself for interacting with the local population here. I was serving as the officer in charge of the aerial gunnery range, observing a helicopter firing at some targets, when I saw a Jeep Cherokee drive up upon the range, and a local Kuwaiti man and woman exit the vehicle, speaking animatedly.
Getting up close and personal with the local wildlife of Kuwait...
Here’s where I need to segue here into a bit of military strategy. Much has been written about the Surge Strategy of 2007. With the addition of 20,000 troops to Iraq also came a revised counterinsurgency strategy that included interacting with and building a rapport with the local population. That being said, soldiers were given courses in cultural communication and basic Arabic in order to better facilitate communications with the citizens of Iraq. You might think that someone trained as a pilot would be best to simply sleep through these classes. You’d be wrong.
Using some pidgin Arabic (as well as some hand gestures and pointing at an Arabic phrase book), I was able to determine that the local man was no threat to us, he was simply trying to make an honest living collecting brass from spent shell casings, and wanted to know when we’d be done shooting. I took the liberty of typing the time into his cell phone. Fortunately, we in the West borrowed our numbering system from the Arabs, so that made communication a little bit easier. Plus, I’ve been able to talk my way out of being of quite a bit of trouble in more than one foreign country, so I’m well-qualified in that area.