A decade of war has reinforced to the U.S. Army the importance of cultural awareness. Senior flag officers and junior enlisted men and women have all heard presentations about Islam, and basic elements of Iraqi and Afghan culture. True, discussing the confluence of theology and terrorism remains largely taboo in the politically correct U.S. military, but few troops deploy without knowing basic information about Islam and cultural sensitivities. The notable exception was Gen. Janis Karpinski, whose unit embarrassed the United States at Abu Ghraib; she dismissed cultural awareness as below her and irrelevant to her mission.
Foreign language acquisition remains a problem. Paul Wolfowitz deserves credit when deputy secretary of defense for focusing military attention not only on cultural awareness, but also on the poor state of language acquisition among American servicemen. When I work in Germany, or among Bosnian, Romanian, or Polish troops, there are few that do not speak fluently a second language; few American servicemen do, however, except for many Hispanic soldiers or those from elsewhere who are first-generation immigrants. In recent years, the situation has improved, but only slightly. Senior officers will be the first to admit that the Army and the Marines still have a long way to go.