Crucial training prepares flag officers for deployment
Brig. Gen. Anthony Rock, former commandant of Air Command and Staff College, answers questions from Alabama Public Radio reporter Ryan Vasquez about the general's culture and language preparations for his command in Iraq. General Rock had spent a week in Iraq to familiarize himself with his new command following two weeks of intense Arabic language training. Col. Stephen T. Denker will assume command of ACSC next week. (Air Force photo/Melanie Rodgers Cox)
by Scott Knuteson
Air University Public Affairs
1/7/2011 - MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. -- When a seasoned Air Force flag officer is tasked to deploy, how does he prepare?
The former head of Air Command and Staff College, Brig. Gen. Anthony Rock, prepared in part by attending the Air Force Culture and Language Center's General Officer Pre-Deployment Acculturation Course, or GOPAC, where experts in language and culture helped to familiarize him with what he can expect to encounter.
"It's not just language. It truly is culture and language," General Rock said. "The culture training was more than just how to shake hands, how to drink tea."
The instruction is tailored to the general officer's needs and takes into consideration scheduling constraints. One-on-one language instruction, self-paced study, cross-cultural training and country specific field guides mean a more efficient, specialized experience.
The general has deployed to Iraq to take over the mission as the commander of the 321st Air Expeditionary Wing and the director of the U.S. Air Force's training and advisory mission to their Iraqi counterparts.
For his mission, General Rock underwent more than 60 hours of training focused on things like the differences between Sunni and Shi'a Islam, the history of Kurds in the northern part of Iraq and nuances of negotiation tactics unique to that region of the world.
The course is meant for flag officers deploying to the U.S. Central Command Area of Responsibility for more than 180 days and is centralized at Maxwell Air Force Base.
"It was a fascinating two weeks," he said.
The stateside preparation offered by GOPAC gave him a head start before he assumed his new role in Iraq.
On a recent orientation tour to Baghdad, the general saw first hand how his training will help.
"When you look them in the eye and use their language, it changes the entire dynamic," he said. "They know you've taken the time to care about them as a partner."
Just a few words, however elementary, can speak volumes across cultures.
"When I spoke a little Arabic, they were surprised," he said.
And it serves to bolster relationships in what can be a challenging environment.
"So much of what we do in that part of the world is based on trust and confidence in relationships. There are many people who talk about winning hearts and minds; I prefer to talk about winning trust and confidence," he said.
A few words in Arabic and the shared experience of serving their countries' air forces made for easier interactions during the visit and even led to a little friendly banter.
"[My Iraqi counterparts] asked me if I had ever visited Iraq before, and I said yes, but it was at a very high altitude, very fast, and I didn't land," said General Rock, who is an F-15C and F-15E pilot with more than 4,000 hours. "They said, 'yes, we understand.'"
Beyond the shared interest in flying and superficial differences of language and culture, though, lie profoundly similar core concerns.
"At the end of the day, what we really have in common is we are all Airmen with one purpose: to make sure our children and our grandchildren are raised in a more secure environment," he said.