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NATO School Teaches Communication, Cooperation

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

OBERAMMERGAU, Germany, Feb. 5, 1998 – Learning one nation's military acronyms is hard. Imagine being assigned to NATO or SHAPE, where military personnel from 16 allied nations, plus 28 Partnership for Peace countries now work.

Help is available.

Last year, about 5,800 military men and women, including more than 1,000 Americans, studied at the NATO School, which is specifically designed to teach them how to communicate and cooperate in the international environment.

The school introduces students to operations. Tucked away in this pristine Alpine village in Bavaria, about 50 miles southwest of Munich, it is far from the phones, faxes and e-mail of any military headquarters. That's the way it's intended to be, officials here said. Their goal, they said, is to give students a solid week, without interruption, to listen and learn, and to bond with foreign counterparts.

Instructors teach courses in NATO command and control, multinational crisis management, peace support operations, electronic warfare, nuclear surety and other specialties. Courses introduce students to the allied military community; advanced courses build upon the basics. General and flag officers attend courses on policy, planning and analysis as well as more technical areas.

Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe publishes the school calendar annually and distributes it throughout NATO and the allied commands. The most popular class is the NATO Staff Officer Orientation Course, taught 12 times a year and always full, said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Christopher "Red" Campbell, NATO School academic director.

"Ideally, an officer should attend that course in the first six months of his posting," he said. They may make contacts that can last throughout a military career.

"I still have networks with people I met at my first staff officers orientation course here 10 years ago during my first NATO posting," Campbell said. "That's really important, and we try to encourage the development of those contacts."

NATO School courses are aimed at teaching one thing, interoperability -- one of the most difficult problems NATO has faced throughout its nearly 50 year history, Campbell noted. Interoperability applies not only to equipment, but to personnel.

"If I land an American airplane at a British base, I need to ensure that gas nozzle fits in that aircraft," Campbell said. "Likewise, I need to be able to ensure I can plug a German officer into a U.K.-based NATO headquarters. That's where we come in. We introduce people to different nationalities, different uniform colors, different accents, and give them a good foundation from which they can then function in their appointment."

Who's eligible to attend classes depends on the course. Most courses are classified. Some are for NATO general and flag officers only; most are for officers on multinational staffs.

About 10 percent of the students are NCOs. "Some of our courses are somewhat more technical in nature. Those tend to be the ones NCOs are eligible to attend," Campbell said.

School officials are considering adding courses for NCOs in the future -- possibly as early as this year, he said. "We think there is a need for courses such as an introduction to NATO for senior NCOs, or perhaps a course for senior NCOs who are going to be posted to NATO's stabilization force in Bosnia."

Each course has anywhere from 20 to 100 students. Four classrooms hold a maximum of 237 students. Students come from national headquarters as well as from NATO and SHAPE, Campbell said. Many of the Americans who attend are from U.S. Army Europe, U.S. European Command and the Joint Staff.

A typical class begins at 8 a.m. and ends at about 5 p.m. Most work is done in the classroom through lectures and seminars. Normally, no homework is assigned because most students are not native English speakers.

"It is very difficult as a non-native English speaker to sit in a classroom for eight hours and pay attention to a different language and assimilate that information," Campbell said. "We try to give the student time to listen. We try to speak slowly and clearly. One of my key efforts is to get our native-English speakers to slow down."

German Air Force Lt. Col. Manfred A. Linder, NATO School operations director, knows what it's like to be a newcomer in a multinational assignment. He's trained in the United States several times and spent four years as an instructor in the United Kingdom.

"The hardest part of adjusting to the NATO environment, for a non-native speaker, is the language," Linder said. "Using a foreign language can cause unintentional misunderstandings, misinterpretations. In NATO, even when we use the same words, we sometimes mean different things. We all have national terminology and acronyms. Then, on top of that, NATO creates its own acronyms."

Working in the NATO world requires keeping an open mind, Linder advised. "You have to listen to how other nations do the same things. All of a sudden you find there is not only one way to do something, there are a couple of ways -- or certainly, in NATO, 16 different ways of doing it. They are all right. No one way is the ultimate. When we keep that in mind, we don't have problems."

The school teaches leaders to prepare for and run an operation like NATO's stabilization force in Bosnia. "When it's a NATO operation, we have to use policies agreed upon at NATO headquarters in Brussels," Linder said. "When you work with NATO, you have to know NATO doctrine and policies and work accordingly."

About 30 of the school's permanent party of 110 are Americans. U.S. Army Maj. Cindy Connally is an electronics warfare instructor in Oberammergau. It is her first NATO assignment, and she said it's proving to be a rewarding one.

"Most of my education has been focused on U.S. forces and it didn't really include a lot about the other nations we now work with," she said.

Teaching nonnative English speakers often affects the pace of her class. "Sometimes we have students whose grasp of English is not quite as good [as others]," Connally said. "Sometimes the student will ask a question, and the individual on the podium doesn't understand the question."

Overall, Connally said, learning from other people is exciting. "One of the great things about here is just the exposure to the various nations and how they do things a little bit differently. Making sure we use the NATO-approved language is certainly another challenge. This is a wonderful tour. I'm not sure if I've learned more here, or I've actually taught more."

U.S. Air Force 1st Lt. Tara Keene of the 52nd Operations Support Group at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, is one of three Americans who attended the Command and Control Warfare in mid-January. Her 24 classmates were from Italy, Norway, France, Spain, the Netherlands, Belgium, United Kingdom and Denmark .

Keene, an intelligence officer who hails from Tallahassee, Fla., said attending the course gave her a broader understanding which will lead to better interaction with other agencies, be it NATO or U.S. Air Force Europe.

"There are different terms that every country uses," Keene said. "Not everybody means the same thing by the same terminology." The course aims to "reach a common ground so everybody is on the same footing and speaking the same language."

U.S. Air Force 1st Lt. Mike Malone, a fighter pilot assigned to the 22nd Fighter Squadron at Spangdahlem, attended the NATO Advanced Electronic Warfare Course in mid-January. "It's a job requirement," said the Grants Pass, Ore., native. "I'm taking over as electronic combat officer in my squadron, so they were looking for schools for me to go to. I already had the basic school, so they offered the NATO advanced course and I said, 'Sure.'"

Malone's squadron works frequently with the German military and participates in exercises and missions with other NATO allies. Although, he said this is his "rookie tour" in Europe, it's not his first exposure to the multinational environment. Malone said he attended NATO pilot training at Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas, where he learned to overcome language and terminology differences "One air force may call something something different," he said, "but usually it's comparable."

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