Veterans Voices: A CULP experience at Nepal

(By guest writer, David Johnson)

My summer experience began when I applied for the Army ROTC cultural understanding and language proficiency (CULP) mission for the summer. I found out I was selected in February to go on this mission to Nepal during summer 2016. Nepal is one of the poorest countries in the world and has suffered recently from a 7.8 magnitude earthquake. This mission consisted of three teams of 10 Cadets who would rotate through three weeks of separate missions. The first week would be cultural experience. The second would be humanitarian assistance. The third and final week would be military to military learning engagement.

My adventure started at Fort Knox where I met the rest of my team members and my team leader, who was a Captain in the Infantry Corps. My time at Fort Knox was spent going through medical readiness as well as getting to know my teammates and team leader. We also had many different classes about the culture in Nepal and how to represent America in a professional manner overseas. My team and I found out we were the first Cadets to ever go on a mission in Nepal.

After all of our training had been completed at Fort Knox, we took a 24 hour flight to Kathmandu, which is the capital city of Nepal. We arrived during the night and traveled to our five star hotel called the Yak and Yeti. The streets were busy with vehicles honking at each other on the way to the hotel. We were immediately greeted by the friendly employees and assigned our rooms and roommates.

The first week was focused on the culture within the Kathmandu Valley. In this first week I learned a great deal about Nepal’s culture. We spent most of our days traveling around to the different temples such as Bhaktapur, Hanuman-dhoka, and Patan. These temples often had destruction from the recent earthquake and were in the process of reconstruction. It was apparent that the two main religions were Hindu and Buddhism. These two religions lived in harmony with one another and were intermixed together in some parts of the city. Walking from temple to temple, I could see the destruction of many homes and people living in poor conditions with houses pieced together with whatever they could find. This week showed me the emphasis of religion in Nepal as well as the hope of the Nepali people to overcome the destruction from the recent earthquake.

The second part of the trip was HA week in Dolakha. This was my favorite part of the trip because my team was able to directly help the community that was affected by the recent earthquake. Our task was to clear rubble from a school that was destroyed by the earthquake. We started our morning by having breakfast and would then work all day removing rubble, only taking short breaks for food and water. Our team worked very well together and accomplished a great deal. We were proud to have cleared rubble from half of the school. At the end of the day we would play soccer with the school kids. It was great to see the smiles and joy in these children. Overall this week was the most important to me because my team and I directly helped a community in need.

The third week was spent traveling to the three different security forces in Nepal. These three forces are: The Nepal Army, Armed Police Force, and the Nepal Police. We learned the history of the Army and the many missions they have been involved in. I learned that the Nepal Army spends much of its energy focusing on disaster management and peace keeping operations and has been involved in 41 peace keeping missions around the world. We were able to spend some of our week learning Aikido from the Nepali Rangers and received demonstrations on their capabilities. We spent the remainder of our week learning about both the Nepal Police and the Armed Police Force. Both police forces spend a large amount of time training and executing disaster management. This last week showed me the emphasis and energy that Nepal’s government puts on both peace keeping operations and disaster management and taught me not to take the safety of America for granted.

This trip helped me develop my cultural awareness and grow as a leader. I feel as though you must have an understanding and an open mind towards other countries as a leader. Having both an open mind and an awareness allows you to work towards a common goal more effectively with other nations. In the next chapter of my life when I commission as a Lieutenant in the Army, I will take the knowledge and lessons I learned from this trip with me and pass them onto my Soldiers.

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