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Program Seeks to Preserve History With Playing Cards

By Meghan Vittrup
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 22, 2007 – The Defense Department will issue decks of playing cards to deployed troops starting July 31, but not for Texas Hold ’Em tournaments. The cards are training aids designed to help the servicemembers understand the archaeological significance of their deployed locations.

“It has been my experience that deploying personnel appreciate the history and heritage of the countries where they deploy,” said Laurie Rush, cultural resource program manager for the Defense Department’s Legacy Resource Management Program at Fort Drum, N.Y. “The soldiers here at Fort Drum have been extremely appreciative of our efforts to make training here as realistic as possible and to provide them with information.”

Each card has a picture of an archeological site, artifact or a brief statement about actions that should be taken upon discovering an archeological site. They explain what constitutes an archaeological site and what to watch for before carrying out missions near these sites. The cards are also are a great source for understanding the culture in which the soldiers are fighting, Rush said.

The queen of hearts card in the new deck also makes a bold statement about the importance of culture, saying that the ancient sites are important to the local community. “Showing respect wins hearts and minds,” the card reminds soldiers.

The idea behind the archaeological deck of cards began when a group of Middle Eastern archaeologists decided to work with the military archaeological community to educate military men and women about the places they are being deployed.

The cards will identify several rare archaeological sites and artifacts reminding troops that these areas are not only a part of Iraqi and Afghan cultural history, but also their own.

Each card in the new deck tells a story. The two of clubs card depicts the Nabi Yunis mosque in Mosul, Iraq. There is speculation that this mosque holds the ruins of the biblical prophet Jonah.

The six of hearts has a photograph of an artifact with a picture carved in stone. The card reads, “The world’s oldest complete legal code was found in Iraq on a stone carved with an image of Hammurabi, King of Babylon, ca. 1760 B.C.”

Previously, a set of 55 cards was issued to coalition forces in 2003, displaying names, photographs, and titles of the “most wanted” senior officials in Saddam Hussein’s regime. The idea was to put photographs of officials into the hands of troops so that during their missions to bring down the regime, they could quickly recognize the officials should they come in contact with them.

Similarly, the archaeological cards act as a guide using photographs and facts. Understanding how to work around archaeological sites is imperative to U.S. troops preventing unnecessary delays during the preparation of missions, Rush said.

The enemy has been known to use these historical sites and artifacts to their advantage, as evidenced by the recent destruction of the Golden Dome Mosque’s minarets in Samarra, Iraq.

“The enemy may use cultural properties -- including ruins, cemeteries and religious buildings -- as firing points,” a pocket guide that’s part of the training materials warns U.S. military personnel.

Officials are hoping that this new program will inform troops about the importance of protecting the past and respecting the things that are important to the Iraqi and Afghanistan cultures.

Rush said the program not only will include the playing cards, but also will incorporate Web-based training and simulated event training, as well as the construction of some mock ruins. She said the idea is to “increase training realism.”

“U.S. forces have been severely criticized for their part in damaging or failing to protect cultural properties when occupying archaeologically sensitive areas in military theatres of occupation,” according to a Training for In-Theatre Cultural Resource Protection fact sheet. “In military operations where winning hearts and minds is a critical component of success, protection of cultural property becomes vital to the success of the mission.”

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