"Shortly after graduating my senior year, following ODS 2010, I began my career in the military which initially took me overseas to Europe, where Italy became my home for just under 3 years; 9 months of which I spent in the Wardak Province of Afghanistan as a member of a Reconnaissance element. We spent days in holes on the side of mountains blending in with our surroundings so as to remain hidden. Needless to say this is incredibly boring at times. Another member of my team was also a previous ODS counselor from a different state. We actually would play games we both knew in order to pass time and mess with the other guys to break the tension a little. It was fun interacting with someone else who had this experience and in a different area. He was able to show me new games, and I him.
… Cultural differences [including] language barriers made establishing bonds with local nationals rocky. However it becomes second nature to identify commonalities with which connections can be established. “Icebreakers” and hip pocket games like Black Magic are an easy go-to for a quick laugh when nobody can pronounce your name or what and why palawanee (a variation of wrestling) is your favorite sport. Early on in the deployment we lost two of our members in an incident where the enemy was dressed as friendly Afghan National Army, so it goes without saying [that] trust and friendship [were] key for us to accomplish anything at all.
We did a lot of teaching towards the end, and the only way to really affirm if they had grasped the concepts was by employing open-ended questioning, a technique I can now really thank you for. At the end of the day grown men and 6th graders process information the same. I have used this technique with my own soldiers as well in order to gain feedback for where our shortcomings and successes were on missions and training events. It can be like pulling teeth when they are tired and ready to go home in the middle of the night. However the information is still fresh and that is when we improve most. We call them “after action reviews” but the concept is the same as questioning kids after a class on niches or lichen. We use a format of asking 3 sustains and 3 improves. The shortcoming for many of the other team leaders is asking questions that are answered with a yes or a no. Unfortunately 6th grade answers are much more imaginative and easier to gain involvement.
Currently I am going on 5 years in service and am a team leader in a Special Operations Unit. I constantly get new soldiers of all ages with different backgrounds. For us, adhesion and teamwork are how we have achieved our status. My youngest soldier is 19 and single, the oldest 33 and married with kids. There is a definite separation in learning styles and communication. It comes down to getting those different demographics to work as a team. Then build them up with knowledge. So in reality, the same as a team-building game followed by a SUPER informative class on soil then followed up with a check on learning, and of course solidifying the experience in memories. Day to day these lessons have helped me and I put them to use.