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Humanities and the Military

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By Eileen Flynn
Published: Nov. 10

Sgt. Jeremy Couch and two fellow Texas Army National Guard soldiers enter the home of an Afghan family looking for information about escaped prisoners.

In one corner, they see a Quran and a prayer rug. In another, a pair of rifles.

Almost as soon as the soldiers sit down, they are besieged by demands for greater security. Thieves, the men of the house tell them, have been stealing their livestock.

The women hover anxiously, frequently nudging and whispering to the men. Couch, a stocky soldier with bright blue eyes, attempts to assuage the family’s fears while also trying to suss out information on the criminals at large. Neither group is satisfied.military

The soldiers finally leave.

A spontaneous burst of applause jolts everyone back to reality: a low-slung cinder block building at Camp Mabry in Austin where the soldiers are participating in a training exercise for their upcoming deployment. The “Afghans” are Middle Eastern Studies students at The University of Texas at Austin. Members of the audience — faculty and staff members and several other soldiers — offer a critique of the soldiers’ behavior.

The role-playing sessions came at the end of an intensive weekend-long language and culture workshop conducted by the College of Liberal Arts’ Department of Middle Eastern Studies and Center for Middle Eastern Studies for soldiers who will soon be deployed to Afghanistan.

Christopher Rose, outreach director for the center, and Adi Raz, Clinical Assistant Professor in the department, worked with Texas Army National Guard leaders to facilitate the training for the 20 soldiers on topics as diverse as the languages of Afghanistan, Islamic law and safety concerns in Kabul.

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