02 July 2010

Best. Army Training. Ever.

I don't know what exactly trainer Timothy Baigent did to get where he got, traveling the country and teaching people a practical mix of cultural awareness and interpersonal communications skills. And I don't know how he can do it with such high energy, hour after hour, day after day. I can honestly say, however, that in about three hours at Camp Ripley, Minn., he gave us Red Bull soldiers some of the most useful and most memorable Army training that I can personally remember in my more-than-20-years in uniform.

Bottom-line up front, with a little hint of the A-Team intro: "If you are in an organization that needs cultural awareness or interpersonal communications skills, and if you can find him, hire Timothy Baigent."

Taking notes was a little like being a court stenographer at a Robin Williams concert. I'm really not going to be able to do it justice, but here are some snippets to give you an idea of the topics and tips discussed:

Homosexuality in Islamic cultures. "'Man-love Thursday,' does it exist? Yes. Is it on Thursday? No. It's everyday, and twice on Thursdays." [...] "You are going to see some crazy stuff. Be mature enough to counter your emotions. Don't fly off the handle. Realize that other people are different than you."

Don't over-promise. In fact, don't promise at all. "Don't make promises--use 'Inshallah' to your advantage! If you promise something, and you don't deliver, that's your fault. If you say, as the Afghans do--'God willing'--then, if something doesn't happen, it's between the other guy and his God."

Don't make jokes--jokes don't translate. "If you say, 'My kids are furry and have tails,' Afghans will not understand that you are talking about your dogs. Not only that, they will think that you have just compared their kids with dogs, and they will take offense." (Dogs are not highly regarded in Afghanistan.)

Avoid casual blasphemy. "Gid rid of these phrases: 'Oh my God,' 'Jesus Christ,' 'God damn it.' In parts of Islam, it is Jesus Christ who comes to bring judgment. You can F-bomb to your heart's content, but end the religious stuff now."

Don't expect things to run on time. Ever. "In this country, we're time sensitive. In the military, we're time sensitive on crack." Afghans, on the other hand, may not ever get to work on time because everything happens according to God's will, even traffic jams.

Don't expect Western life-experiences to translate. "Tell people in Afghanistan that you're a stay-at-home Dad and that your wife is the one who works, and see how well that works for you. Relationship over--you're a loser."

Use the acronym "C.A.R.E." to connect with people: "Concern, Acknowledge, Respect, and Empathize." By connecting with others, soldiers can build trust across gaps in language and culture. If someone trusts you, maybe they'll tell you about the bomb in the road. Maybe they'll tell you where the bad guys are. "I don't care if you do all this [communications] stuff naturally. I care that you do this stuff when the crap hits the fan, so that you can save the lives of people."

I've overheard soldiers tell their officers that the officers really missed out on some good training. I've witnessed solders applying Baigent's training tips during subsequent events, including discussions after a special screening of the documentary Restrepo. A lot of times, so-called "must have" training ends up to be a stack of PowerPoint slides go in one glazed eye and out the other end.

Not this one. This one stuck.


  1. Sounds like he was able to talk in a clear and animated way that engages everyone! I think the part about not make promises is really important -in fact, also a good one just to employ even if you're not downrange.

  2. Finally after how many years ...the US Army is actually giving useful training?
    Before we deployed to Bosnia, they had a person from a country other than Bosnia, give us our cluture training---they person had never even been to Bosnia and was just guessing. That was a crime and a total waste of US Tax Payers Money. (USTPM)

    Then, when we went to Iraq, some crap...some dude who'd never been to Iraq was being a USTPM. He was making up shit that almost got us in trouble when we got there. We looked like retards because of lame training.

  3. @ CI-Roller Dude: In 2007, I debriefed a lot of our Iowa soldiers who were on their ways to the Embedded Training Team (ETT) mission in Afghanistan. A common complaint was that trainers kept talking about Iraq. "Oh, you're going to the other war? Oh, well ... I'm sure it's going to be the same over there, too."

    I'm glad the Army is finally learning itself out of that one, even if has to bring in civilians, academics, immigrants, or anyone else who might know better than some Joe just reading it off a PowerPoint slide. You're right--the wrong training can be worse than no training at all! The first rule of training should be that of doctoring: First, do no harm.

  4. Dear men and women of the US Army… It is my greatest pleasure to share what I have learned over the years with you. I truly have the easy job, you do the real work. Again, if there is ever anything I can do to help you feel free to contact me ttamsen66@hotmail.com your commitment gives me the passion to do my job well. Thank you… very sincerely… Thank you for your service.
    Tim Baigent

  5. Just discovered your blog on, of all days, Independence Day. Love your writing style. Hope you have the opportunity to write a book once you return home. Informative, and very entertaining. I've read countless books in the last few years by Iraq and Afghan vets. The talent of these men and women is astounding. Thanks for all that you do, and Godspeed.

  6. @ Tim Baigent: It's exactly that kind of sentiment and passion that makes you such a class act! Hoorah!

    @ TD: Thanks very much for your kind words, and for reading Red Bull Rising. I'm glad you find it amusing, and more true than not. The challenge of a book may be beyond me--I'm just one voice in the wilderness--but I certainly am having fun taking and sharing notes along the way!

  7. Red Bull et all;
    I have seen many of you on seperate occasions in theatre and at the CTCs and am always impressed with the Red Bulls' professionalism and competence. It always meets or exceeds that of my regular Army brethren. I am now the Director of the TRADOC culture center in AZ. We develop the culture training course POIs for the mobile training teams and send Mr Baigent and others out to do the training. (I'm not at all taking credit for his great work just explaining my perspective) I appreciate the comments on his training, I agree he is a very dynamic and passionate instructor and using folks like him to conduct these missions is head and shoulders above our old style of green suiters with powerpoint. We also have numerous other training products I can mail or email to your unit for predeployment training (smartbooks, GTAs, interactive DVDs etc..)this is no cost to your unit. We have also just launched our AFG online training package that was designed by The University of Nebraska and military folks. It is a very high quality web based interactive course that is accredited by Univ of Neb and a few others for 2 credits; 30 hours (200-300 level I think) http://lms.acge.org/moodle/login/index.php
    some of our other training materiels are at
    Please let me know if we can assist you in any way before your deployment.
    MAJ Marc Meyle

  8. @ Marc: Aw, gee, shucks, sir! You should know that we Midwesterners can't take a compliment without blushing all over the place!

    More seriously, however: I'm very much looking forward to calling our units' attentions to the products you point out--and it's great that some of it comes from the University of Nebraska (we've got a whole squadron of Cornhuskers joining us on our deployment).

    Keep fighting the good fight!


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