Sunday, December 07, 2008

Progress in Raising Cultural Awareness within the US Military

As I have been somewhat disdainful of the initiative begun several years ago by Laurie Rush and others to raise cultural awareness within the military, I wanted to take this opportunity to report that this initiative has progressed dramatically since the original project to create decks of playing cards.

According to Laurie Rush,

Since last January, DOD has:
-Created the Central Command Historical Cultural Working Group
The working group has coordinated effectively with the State Department and has established a process for the military to consult when they recognize that a proposed project may be affecting an archaeological project. This process recently saved Tell Arba'ah Kabiir, where Diane Siebrandt was able to arrange a meeting between Iraqi subject matter experts and representatives of the Army during the expansion of a patrol base. The proposed expansion was redesigned and the site was saved. We also had a working group member serve as a de facto cultural resource manager at Warrior Base Kirkuk. Mr. Pinckney, an Airman and a professional archaeologist was able to review and monitor construction projects. He also helped develop an illustrated construction check list for military engineers.

The CENTCOM working group secured funding to bring military staff members to the upcoming AIA meeting.

The Central Command Working Group established an ancillary GIS working group. Since the January meeting, with cooperation of AIA colleagues,we have been able to bring 3000 sites into the Army Central Command and Air Force Central Command environmental data bases for Iraq. We are now hoping for a similar accomplishment for Afghanistan. There are 20 additional countries where the Commands could benefit from similar information.
-Central Command brought the heritage issue to the Eagle Resolve military exercises in Abu Dhabi as the lead topic at the Environmental focus group.
-We have translated the Soldier pocket cards into three languages and are getting ready to distribute them.
-The National Guard printed an additional 50,000 decks of the Iraq/Afghanistan playing cards and distributed them.
-With support from Laura Childs and the AIA Southwest Texas Archaeological Society, Dr. Rush went to San Antonio where she briefed six military agencies about the importance of heritage training. The week long visit has established an excellent network with a series of potential partner agencies like the Defense Language Institute.
-We have established an effective partnership with Air University. Staff there are going to include heritage property training in their cultural awareness modules.
-The US DoD Legacy program funded travel to a symposium at the World Archaeology Congress where Laurie Rush, Paul Green, Jim Zeidler, Cori Wegener, Joris Kila, Friedrich Schipper, and Darrell Pinckney all gave papers. Matthew Bogdanos was the discussant. We also used the opportunity to have an international military archaeologist meeting where we talked about international opportunities to train military personnel as coalition partners and to share materials. Two edited volumes are planned as a result of the symposium, one on Ethics and one on training military personnel about archaeology and heritage issues.

This is an extraordinary list of accomplishments, for which all involved deserve the thanks of anyone who cares about the protection of archaeological heritage in time of armed conflict (at least where that conflict involves the US).

The only caveat here is that all of these efforts focus on protecting sites from the harm that can be done to them by US military actions (particularly engineering projects). The much larger problem posed by the failure to protect archaeological sites and museums from looting is not on the radar screen.

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