Simulating Sheiks

"Salaam alaikum," the tall Army captain says as he ducks into the Iraqi sheik's warm, dimly-lit living room.Peace to you."Wa alaikum salaam," the sheik responds.The captain's escorts and the sheik's bodyguards and advisors all exchange terse nods. Everyone sits on cushions around a low table. At the sheik's insistence, the soldiers remove their body armor. Tea is served. Through his interpreter, the captain makes some small talk before gettting down to business.Engagement U.jpg"I'm sorry we had to meet under these circumstances," he says.The sheik frowns. He's sorry, too.Yesterday, the captain's soldiers from the 1st Cavalry Division accidentally injured some of the sheik's people during a firefight with insurgents. The captain has come to make amends. If the U.S. Army is going to secure this town, it will need the sheik's cooperation.This is a scenario that plays out every day in occupied Iraq. But this meeting between Capt. Robert Nevins and the sheik is taking place in a brand-new facility in Louisiana. The sheik is an Iraqi expatriate employed by Cubic, a firm that provides simulations to the U.S. military. In the corner of the room, an expert in Iraqi culture observes the meeting and takes notes. Later, she will debrief Nevins, correcting his mistakes. In just a few weeks, Nevins will be in Iraq doing this sort of thing for real.Welcome to Engagement University, part of the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk. Here, the Army prepares its officers for the delicate cultural interactions that are critical to success in Iraq. Anyone who has ever accused the U.S. Army of cultural insensitivity has never been to Engagement U.Click here to read more at And click here to check out my JRTC pics at Flickr.-- David AxeP.S. -- Columbia Journalism Review has published a long profile of yours truly focused on my new book WAR FIX and my experiences in Iraq. Check it out.

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