FORT LEE, Va. (March 26, 2015) -- While foreign military students are a common sight at the various schools here, an entire class of soldiers from the same country at the same time is a bit out of the ordinary.
That is the case for a Utilities Equipment Repairer Course class currently in the fourth week of training at the Ordnance School’s Tactical Support Equipment Department. All 10 students in the class are members of the United Arab Emirates Army.
Foreign students are rare for the 13-week advanced individual training classes, numbering roughly five per year and normally “mixed in with classes of American Soldiers,” said James Cann, division chief, 91C10 and 91J10 Courses, Quartermaster/Chemical and Utilities Division.
The UAE Soldiers, all of them enlisted privates first class, seem to be ready to take on the challenges of the classroom and are well-adjusted to American culture, said Cann.
“They seem to understand the program of instruction, and we teach strictly by the POI,” he said. “We did meet with the International Military Student Office to discuss several issues, but we didn’t have to make any special accommodations for them.”
The Utilities Equipment Repairer Course, which awards military occupational specialty 91C, prepares students to perform repairs and maintenance on air conditioning, refrigeration, heating and fire extinguisher systems.
Staff Sgt. Harry Davis, a 91C instructor who recently taught the students a class on leak-proof connections, said the Emiratis are very capable despite the fact that English is not their native language.
“There are only a couple who have language issues,” he said, noting the class leader usually bridges the gap for any language problems, “but most of them know English pretty well.”
The Emirati Soldiers attended an English preparation course prior to their arrival at Fort Lee.
In addition to a minimal amount of language issues, the students benefit from the increased comfort levels that comes with larger numbers.
“I think it is a better setting as opposed to if there was just one or two of these Soldiers in a mix of 14 or 15 students,” said John Childers, 91C course manager. “When you have 10, they can collectively help each other out, and that helps the transition period go a lot smoother.”
When the Emirati students graduate in early June, they are scheduled to undergo the 10-week MOS 91D Power Generation Equipment Repairer Course. In that setting, the larger number of UAE Soldiers may present some challenges, said Renee Kirkland, the 91D course manager.
“We teach our classes in groups so you want maybe one international student in a group,” she said, “but because there’re so many, some of the groups will have two. It will be more of a cultural mix than you would prefer.”
Kirkland has cause for concern. The 91D course is heavy on an instructional method called Skills Based Training, which focuses on critical thinking skills through student-facilitated learning.
Two same-country students in a group might negate what each could achieve without the support of a fellow soldier, she said.
“The countrymen will be more dependent on each other rather than the American students,” said Kirkland, noting it is natural for countrymen to gravitate toward each other. “That’s not necessarily what you want. I have to figure out a way to break the group dynamic so that everyone can learn from each other.”
Kirkland said she is looking forward to the class despite the challenges it presents.
“In all of the AIT classes here, one of the things you’re supposed to be teaching is cultural dynamics,” she said. “Why not use this as a good time to teach Soldiers what they might be facing in the real Army once they deploy? It’s a good thing if they can learn that from these soldiers.”
The UAE troops rs are scheduled to complete their training at Fort Lee in early August.
The UAE is located on the southeastern side of the Arabian Peninsula on the Persian Gulf. Its defense force numbers around 70,000. The country’s population is roughly 9 million.