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NEWS | Feb. 23, 2021

Civil Affairs and the Smithsonian team up to strengthen Cultural and Heritage knowledge

By 1st Lt. Eileen Parodi and Rosario Urquieta 351st Civil Affairs Command

Civil Affairs and the Smithsonian team up to strengthen Cultural and Heritage knowledge
Soldiers of the 351st Civil Affairs Command out of Mountain View, Calif., along with representatives of the Qawalangin tribe, Ounalashka corporation, and the city of Unalaska gathered to come up with a plan that would provide them all with a way to move forward into the future of the Unalaska Island and its people. The civil affairs Soldiers provided an assessment of the tribal and community resources on the island as part of their innovative readiness training during August 2020.
Photo By: Lt. Col. Hugh Dougalas
VIRIN: 200826-A-BX042-755

Cultural heritage is a universal commonality which continues to influence how people interact worldwide. U.S. Army Reserve and Army Guard Reserve Soldiers from more than 10 units within the civil affairs community participate in a virtual cultural and heritage training here Feb. 20, 2021. This instruction reviewed the impact of the conservation of cultures has while conducting civil affairs missions around the globe.

More than 30 leaders and experts, spread across the U.S., take part in the training to pass knowledge on to their individual units and Soldiers. In turn, this action will prepare every Soldier with the tools necessary to successfully engage and conduct civil affairs missions by grounding them in an understanding and respect for local cultures and heritage.

During the virtual training the participants were instructed on topics such as the 1954 Hague Convention for Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict; Integrating Cultural Property into the Civil Information Management Landscape; Overviews of U.S. agencies, Information Operations, Non-governmental organizations academic institutions engaged in cultural property protection; and introduction to object handling, emergency protection, stabilization of cultural collections and sites.

“We need to understand the effectiveness of operations,” said Col. Scott DeJesse, heritage and preservation officer in the strategic initiatives group at U.S. Army Civil Affairs & Psychological Operations Command. “If you cannot clearly define the direction or the progress of an effort, if it is going towards a positive affect or a negative effect, then that's a bad place to be.”

DeJesse elaborated the paramount need for civil information management to be done correctly by civil affairs personnel in order to effectively conduct missions in their cultural environment.

As DeJesse instructs on civil affairs engagements within communities during various past operations, he speaks about the intangibles and tangibles of cultures. He highlights how civil affairs Soldiers' roles are to aid with programs, such as education, can supply tools to the communities which may help in further development without loss of the cultural heritage.

“First thing is, do no additional harm, that’s number one,” said DeJesse while he instructed on the importance of being supportive of the community's heritage. He further emphasized the importance of understanding a culture and the significance of conserving that culture’s integrity.

“The community is the one who defines the intangible heritage. Knowing what might disrupt that heritage is important, such as a pilgrimage, or a holiday. The idea is that we do not do things that are going to disrupt those intangible heritage practices or events,” said DeJesse. He also mentioned that acknowledging such events needed to occur to show the respect for the culture.

Along with having information about the culture and heritage of the communities in which civil affairs units work with, Cori Wegener describes the necessity to know the physical environment as well.

“Having information about the cultural property of your operational environment is important because it helps advise your command, the military planning, and operations,” said Wegener, director of Smithsonian Cultural Rescue Initiative, and retired U.S. Army Reserve civil affairs officer of more than 20 years.

Wegener explained how understanding the terrain in which you operate is as instrumental as understanding the culture and heritage of the communities.

“You can help your command avoid pitfalls that a regular person would not have taken into account. The information and background that you bring to the table is important,” said Wegener, “to know things such as where the no-strike zones are can contribute to mission success.”

Wegener continued on and said that another part of a successful mission included following the 1954 Hague Convention requirements on culture and heritage conservation and learning to collaborate with other culture and heritage professionals in and outside of the military.

“Cultural heritage professionals have the responsibility to share their knowledge with military operators who are trying to fulfill the obligations under The Hague Convention and who are trying to do a better job with their mission by understanding the cultural heritage landscape that they are confronted with,” said Wegener. She explained how her knowledge as the director of the Smithsonian Cultural Rescue Initiative assisted the military in their operations on cultural and heritage artifacts and their significance.

Sgt. 1st Class Michael Clemency is one of the participants of the virtual training, and a Soldier with the 354th Civil Affairs Brigade out of White Plains, Maryland. Clemency mentioned how he has been in civil affairs since 2007, and how the training that he received is beneficial for any civil affairs Soldier who takes part in future civil affairs operations across the globe.

“It would give me a leg up in whatever area I am operating in,” said Clemency of the training.

Clemency described that this type of  instruction has helped him to have an understanding on how to approach the people in the community while on mission and how to find a common ground to gain their trust.

“I would be approaching this group of people with the knowledge about their culture, which would show that I have actually done research about their culture and their heritage,” said Clemency, “they can then say, ‘this guy does care about what’s happening and our culture’ and it would show that we are willing to work with them.”

Typically, most civil affairs training focuses exclusively on the population in which the units engage. However, the cultural and heritage training provided an understanding on the importance of the artifacts along with its people.

“We are used to focusing on the people, and I don’t think we always think about the important physical stuff,'' said Lt. Col. Eric Christeson, functional specialty team executive officer, 351st Civil Affairs Command. Christeson spoke on the immense relation between the culture and people that the artifacts came from.

“To be successful, especially in a stability type of operation, you need the population to be on your side. If you demonstrate that what the community thinks is important, and that you are willing to help protect it and preserve it, I think it only garnishes goodwill,” said Christeson.

Christeson pointed out that knowing how to display your respect for a culture while conducting civil affairs operations helps in the protection of Soldiers on the ground from adversaries. As Christeson stated the importance of keeping the Soldiers safe, he also mentioned the need of preserving artifacts as part of the legacy of humanity.

“This is the first time we have conducted this kind of training,” said Christeson, “the training was invaluable when it came to handling artifacts. As judge advocate generals we usually focus on the war part of war, so like targeting, protection of the wounded, and prisoners of war. All this was a nice reminder and really good training, showing that we also try to protect and preserve humanity’s culture and heritage by conserving artifacts is important.”