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Breaking language and cultural barriers at Cope North 2o24

Updated: Feb 23


Capt. Kylie Green, chief of the Royal Australian Air Force Group speaks to KPRG news director Naina Rao at Andersen Air Force Base on Feb. 22, Photo by Mar-Vic Cagurangan

By Mar-Vic Cagurangan

 

The recently concluded Cope North 2024, which involved a large-scale multinational military exercise on Guam and the CNMI, highlighted the cultural and language impediments that posed a challenge to communications and interoperability among allies and partners.

 

While the focus was placed on the techniques and tactical process of working collectively, military officers from participating nations acknowledged the critical importance of bridging the language gap and reconciling cultural differences to achieve a seamless integration and execute a mission.


Approximately 1,700 U.S. airmen, marines and sailors trained alongside 700 service members from Japan Air Self-Defense Force, Royal Australian Air Force, French Air and Space Force, Royal Canadian Air Force and Republic of Korea Air Force in Cope North 2024 during the multilateral exercise that kicked off on Feb. 5 and wrapped up Feb. 22.


“We focused on our tactics and techniques that allowed us to hone in on things that we can improve on and things that we can later learn for interoperability,” said Lt. Ariana Wilkinson, chief of media operations at the 36th Wing Public Affairs of Andersen Air Force Base.


Ariana Wilkinson

“Being able to integrate with our allies and partners is one of the biggest strengths that we take away from this and being able to go forward and learn for the next version of Cope North,” she added.

 

For Cope North participants, Wilkinson said, working with foreign counterparts was a learning experience.

 

“Interoperability isn't just working together,” she said. “It is embedding with one another. So while you're learning and starting to grow, you're also starting to learn and grow with another's culture. That's what makes it really personal for us. With growth also comes understanding and learning how we can actually progress and go forward with our tactics.”


Cope North 24 has completed its first full weeks of operations, showcasing a multinational combat airpower strength amid rising geopolitical tensions in the Indo-Pacific region.


According to an earlier press release from Andersen Air Force Base, the exercises conducted on Guam, Saipan, Rota and Tinian focused on integrating commanders and junior enlisted ranks, with allies and partners leading the exercise for the first time in a trilateral command structure.

 

Capt. Kylie Green, chief of the Royal Australian Air Force Group, said this year’s exercise focused on agility and utilizing good communications.



“Language is definitely something that we've worked on really hard in terms of our interpretation and trying to gain an understanding of our partners,” Green said.


“This year has been an excellent opportunity for the sharing of our cultures as well as our training and our military objectives,” she added. 


Throughout the exercise, Green said, participants have developed personal and professional rapport with their foreign counterparts.


“We've started to understand the language as well as the culture and humor. Humor is a huge part, as you can imagine. And that's been really valuable to us,” Green said. “This year, we also had South Koreans, French and Canadians who came in to play in the exercise. So again, we were able to enhance those relationships as well.”

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U.S. Air Force Capt. Natalie King said language barriers were a challenge that must be surmounted to accomplish a mission.


“We have specific techniques and stuff that we have to do to make sure our foreign partners understand the plane, and we all have a shared mental model of how to do various mission sets,” she said.


Capt. Satori Ishiwata of Japan Air Self-Defense Force agreed that better communication among foreign forces requires a better "understanding of cultural differences and improving language abilities.”


“Cultural differences prevent us from communicating with foreign countries. We Japanese have to learn more English,” he said.


At any rate, interpreters and translators were present during the exercise, Green said.


“We have a really good group of folks who are able to interpret languages—the words as well as the culture, which has been an amazing enhancement to our workforce this year,” she said.,

 

If there is an actual conflict that requires a multinational response, professional translators and interpreters would always come in handy, Wilkinson said.

 

“There are individuals whose entire career is dedicated to being translators and they are ready to come in if they get a phone call to go,” she said.



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