CET bridges cultural gap, facilitates communication in OAR

The quickly created Cultural Engagement Team is charged with ensuring members of Operation Allies Refuge are aware of Afghan cultural differences and sensitivities.

The team, comprised of U.S. Air Force Public Affairs Officers, Information Operations Officers, U.S. Army Special Forces Soldiers, U.S. Department of State, U.S. Army Task Force 361st Civil Military Operations personnel, American Red Cross, USO and other civilian and U.S. Government partner organizations, ensures respect for Afghan culture is aligned with all aspects of care provided while at Ramstein.

“We want to make sure our Airmen, Soldiers, and volunteers are familiar with and understand the cultural differences.” U.S. Air Force Capt. Shelby Chapman, 86th Airlift Wing Public Affairs, Chief of Mission Partner Support. “We’ve been fighting alongside these people in Afghanistan for the last 20 years against a common enemy. Everyone’s intent here is to be respectful while we support the Afghan evacuees through such a turbulent time in their lives.”

Chapman, currently acting as the CET director of operations, explained the team uses a variety of methods to facilitate communication with the evacuees to provide understanding of their current situation and what to expect while housed at Ramstein.

“Transparency through communication was what the Afghan residents of OAR were craving and the CET continues to push honest, open, transparent dialogue,” said Maj. Keavy Rake, 48th Fighter Wing, Chief of Public Affairs from Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England.

Since the team’s creation Aug. 25, they shifted the viewpoint of OAR being a military operation to that of a humanitarian one. The team worked alongside OAR leadership to refocus internal communication efforts by elevating the importance of the human element within the professional airlift mission.

“Right now, the evacuees who transit here don’t really have a large sense of control over their lives because they don’t understand what’s happening,” Chapman said. “By refocusing our efforts on them as individuals, we’re able to acknowledge the cultural differences in order to facilitate communication successfully.”