LOUISVILLE, Ky. –
Travelling across the globe to more than 42 countries were 1,300 Army Reserve Officer Training Corps cadets taking part in the U.S. Army Cadet Command's Cultural Understanding & Language Proficiency program.
In the role of chaperone, Air Force Master Sgt. Brittany Ingram from the 123rd Airlift Wing, Louisville, Kentucky, was able to accompany a group of these college-age cadets to the Republic of Djibouti in the horn of Africa over the summer.
“I volunteered to assist with the program to enhance my own leadership ability and experience a new culture,” explained Ingram, whose primary role was to oversee training and cultural exchanges between the 30 army cadets she accompanied and 40 Djiboutian army cadets there.
“The opportunities to lead, gain experience working with another branch of the service and to actually see the world are the reasons why I really wanted to go on this mission,” she continued.
The mission itself was to share military training and exchange cultural ideas, an objective of the CULP program, with Djiboutian army cadets, also in training to become military officers and leaders.
Ingram, along with two fellow chaperones (cadre), from the Kentucky Army National Guard, travelled 45 minutes by bus each day with her cadets from Camp Lemonnier U.S Naval Expeditionary Base to meet with their Djiboutian counterparts at the Djiboutian Military Academy in the Arta Mountains.
There, cadets from both groups participated in small group cultural discussions, weapons training and physical fitness activities. While participating in the confidence course alongside the Djiboutian cadets, Ingram discovered one of many cultural differences.
“There is a very small female presence in the Djiboutian army and they are not allowed to do all of the things that the men get to do, including certain physical activities,” described Ingram. “So when our female cadets wanted to go through the course we had to explain to them that we were capable and could do it and it was expected of us.”
Although there were many differences between the two groups, there were also many similarities that Ingram did not expect.
“Through our small group discussions, we found out that their cadets are very familiar with American music and movies,” she recalled with a laugh. “They knew all about country, hip hop, rock and many other styles and they were familiar with all of our popular movies. They knew our big sports’ stars which was all very surprising to me.”
Ingram knew before she arrived in Djibouti that it was one of the poorest countries in the horn of Africa; but to actually see it for herself really surprised the Kentucky native.
“The naval base we stayed on had all of the amenities that we needed,” she explained. “We had restaurants, good living quarters, recreation; it was very nice.
“But when we would travel outside the gate, it was often very sad,” Ingram continued. “They really have nothing, yet they are very kind, generous and sweet people. They will give you their last. It really makes you appreciate what you have and the necessities you need to survive.”
Travelling outside the base was very limited and very structured due to security concerns, according to Ingram. So, to expose her cadets to more an overseas deployment experience, she was able arrange visits to surrounding foreign military bases.
“We were able to go to a French naval, army and marine base which was important for my cadets,” explained Ingram. “Even though we could only move around with security, it was important for my cadets to see militarily what other support the country was receiving and how that operated.”
Finding leadership opportunities for the cadets while on the CULP mission was another task that Ingram performed as one of the cadre.
“The cadets came from universities and colleges from all around the U.S. and they ranged from different year levels,” described Ingram. “We (cadre) turned them into squad leaders and swapped them in out of leadership roles to see how they would react.
“We also paired our cadets with officers on the naval base that had jobs similar to what each cadet would be doing as active duty Army officers,” she continued. “We really wanted them to have as much leadership experience that we could give them in the short amount of time we were there.”
With travel time to and from the United States to Djibouti and time spent on the ground, Ingram’s mission with the Army cadets ran about 22 days, which was enough time for her to gain leadership experience as well.
“I have been overseas but never really close to a deployed location,” said Ingram about her decision to volunteer for the mission. “I gained more knowledge of what the Army does, I learned more about myself, and overall, became a stronger leader and individual.”