USS IWO JIMA -- If the ancient adage “knowledge is power” holds true, Marines with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit are gaining strength by participating in Arabic language courses offered at the small unit level aboard the USS Iwo Jima during the MEU’s Certification Exercise, held April 27 through May 12.
Taught by noncommissioned officers within parent units, the courses are the continuation of a MEU-wide effort to immerse Marines in Arabic culture before deployment this spring to the European and Central Command theaters of operation. Prior to CERTEX, MEU Marines trained in ultra-realistic combat scenarios with special effects explosions and make-up provided by Strategic Operations, a Hollywood production company specializing in military training.
In addition to the combat training, leaders within the MEU spent time eating an authentic Iraqi meal and learning the do’s and don’ts of Arabic culture while being guided by an actual sheik during the MEU’s Training in an Urban Environment Exercise held at Naval Station Norfolk, Va.
In a prior interview, MEU Commanding Officer Col. Ronald Johnson stated that the intent of the cultural immersion training during the work-up cycle was to educate the Marines in Arabic culture and language so that, “they understand that they’re not the only culture on earth,” a process helping them to better communicate and accomplish their mission with professionalism.
Currently, the Arabic language courses held aboard the ship during CERTEX are a means of fostering increased communication during scenarios Marines are likely to encounter while deployed, said Cpl. Paul C. O’Donnell, a class instructor and anti-tank guided missleman with Weapons Company, Battalion Landing Team, 24th MEU, 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment.
“When you’re over there, communicating with the people is a huge part of the job,” explained O’Donnell. “This helps us get more comfortable in the whole situation of dealing with people. The locals really like it when we try to talk.”
Throughout the MEU, certain Marines were sent to 30-day Arabic survival courses taught by local instructors from Coastal Carolina Community College – a crash course for small unit leaders to grasp a better understanding of the language so that they could pass the knowledge on to their fellow Marines during lulls in training.
“This is a good class and it helps you learn the basic information you need,” said Cpl. Charles Wakefield, a tow gunner with Weapons Co., BLT 1/8 and member of the language class. “I’m definitely more comfortable with the language.”
Spending nearly 50 hours learning the language throughout the MEU’s pre-deployment work-up cycle, Marines not only communicate with better clarity but have also increased their ability to locate, close with, and destroy the enemy, said Lance Cpl. Edward Flak, a javelin gunner with Weapons Co., BLT 1/8.
“It’s a pretty good class,” added Flak. “It teaches you stuff that you can use to speak to people and get helpful intelligence in return.”
Better equipped with linguistic knowledge, Marines serving with the 24th MEU are better prepared to face any enemy they may meet on an overseas battlefield. With the extra work spent gaining an understanding of the language and culture, the Marines have increased their ability to preserve and protect the innocent while punishing the wicked.
The 24th MEU is presently working toward earning its Special Operations Capable or SOC designation during CERTEX and is composed of its four elements: Command Element; BLT 1/8; Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 365(Reinforced); and MEU Service Support Group 24.