US Army Corps of Engineers
Middle East District Public Website

First round of cultural awareness training complete for MED employees

Published Aug. 31, 2010

Dr. Michael Izady discusses considerations and concerns when interacting with the various cultures in MED’s area of operations during employee training. Photo by Jan Dove.
MIDDLE EAST DISTRICT, Winchester, Va. – Each year, the Middle East District formally develops a strategic plan to help guide organizational actions. The plan, with its organizational goals linked to employee performance objectives, helps keep MED on the direct path to successful project delivery.

During the fiscal year 2010 planning session, MED decided to pursue six major initiatives within the four focus areas of mission, workforce, financial and relationships.

One initiative was to provide cultural awareness training for the workforce. Leadership identified the need to significantly improve cultural awareness because of the large number of new employees. Even though MED has worked in the Middle East region for several decades, the district does not have a formal training program to teach the most effective means of doing business there. Experience was the teacher for learning the cultural and societal norms for the different parts of the world where MED works.

MED is changing that, having now planned and conducted its first formal cultural awareness training sessions.

This training will help ensure more effective relationships and interaction with our international partners, customers, business professionals and stakeholders. The training has an overall aim of building trust and improving international customer relationships. Project Manager Claude Crowder was the appointed team leader to bring the training to MED. “The goal for this training is to educate personnel on the cultural intricacies of all countries where we presently work and plan to conduct business,” he said. “Cultural awareness training is an initiative adopted to help posture our organization for success internationally.”

Other PDT members included Civil Engineer Ramin Sabet; Contracting Specialists Barb Stuart and Kathleen Achord; Equal Employment Opportunity Specialist Kimberly Alcorn and Program Manager Bernadette Green; Assistant District Counsel Shelly Taylor; Public Affairs Specialist Kristin Hoelen and Public Affairs Officer Joan Kibler; and Egypt Area Office Executive Administrative Assistant Weam M. Abdel Meguid.

Middle East District employees attend cultural awareness training, designed to improve interactions with customers and contractors in the Middle East and Central Asia.Photo by Jan Dove.
“When the PDT was determining what MED employees needed to know, I discussed the topics that were covered in similar training that I received,” said Green. “I’ve completed courses focused on the Middle East, South and Central Asia and Sub-Sahara Africa through the Air Force Special Operations School Hurlburt Field, Fla., George Washington University's Multicultural Institute, and other Department of Defense and private sector multicultural training programs.

“Our proposed training was also based on several surveys that I conducted when visiting our field offices during the past several years,” she said. “I asked our local national employees about what they wanted their U.S. colleagues to understand about them and their diverse cultures.”

In January, a Request for Information was released to determine if there were qualified commercial firms who could fulfill our cultural awareness training needs, and according to Stuart, “after reviewing more than 50 responses, roughly 15 were deemed 'qualified' to meet our district's training objectives.”

Concurrently, Crowder was talking with Philadelphia District personnel about cultural training that it offers via contract with various educational institutions. He attended those courses and presented another option for providing the training: using the resources that Philadelphia District already had in place. MED’s Corporate Board agreed with his recommendation.

That led MED to Dr. Michael Izady, who has expertise in Middle Eastern culture and who has taught many classes to other Army units and Special Forces personnel. He is currently teaching at Columbia University in New York. He has also taught at Harvard, the Free University of Berlin, and Fordham.

During late June and early July, MED employees who regularly travel to and conduct business in the Middle East and Central Asia were trained. Since effective interaction with these international citizens is critical, MED wants to equip personnel with the skills necessary to successfully interact beyond Western cultural environments and increase success in customer satisfaction on host nation projects.

Two distinct cultural awareness classes were held: two four-hour overview sessions and one detailed two-day class.

“In Winchester, there were 56 people who attended the two-day session of cultural awareness training,” said Ami Mitchell, training coordinator. “And another 109 attended the four-hour training.” Field personnel were provided digital video recordings of the training. MED has scheduled FY 2011 training sessions, which will be announced as soon as the dates are confirmed.

Julie Shoemaker

Release no. 13-034