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English in Military Culture, Academic Culture
and Omani Culture – Maintaining the Balance
by Neil McBeath
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English in Military Culture

Even in 1981, however, this particular sailor’s attitude was unusual among members of the Sultan’s Armed Forces. Military personnel are different from civilians. They have been trained to think and to act differently, and to see themselves as a caste apart from the civilian population.

Because the first challenge to the Renaissance of Oman was the Marxist insurgency in Dhofar, the first area where major change was effected was in the development and training of an expanded Sultan’s Armed Forces. This development was essential to prevent Oman descending into a period of protracted civil war, but it was also a personal commitment by His Majesty. As a professional soldier, a graduate of the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, His Majesty understood exactly how effective military training could be in the transformation of thinking.

Gardiner (2006) makes this clear in the context of an infantryman:-
“When training infantrymen – both officers and soldiers – you should start with the naked man, so to speak, and first teach him how to think and behave. He learns fieldcraft. He learns what gives you away when someone is looking for you: Shine; Shadow; Shape; Silhouette; Spacing; Movement. He learns to look, observe and listen, even to smell, and how to move without being seen or heard. He learns to look at things at things from his adversary’s point of view, both physically and mentally, because only by doing this will he learn how to surprise him, and avoid being surprised himself.

He learns how to survive, to endure and remain effective in arduous conditions; like a wild animal in a wild environment. He learns to welcome darkness as a friend, a protector and an aid to his movement and his flexibility; to think of bad weather as something which offers possibilities rather than something which must be sheltered from. He learns to look after his “oppo”, his friend, and develops a two way trust in his fellows and his superiors – teamwork. Then you introduce tools such as maps and compasses, so he can reliably navigate by night and you give him binoculars so he can extend his visual range.

Somewhere along this process, you start to introduce weapons and other equipment like radios and vehicles. You give him technical skills which add to his lethality, and extend his range to communicate and move. But these technical skills should always be built on the foundations of instinctive attitudes, values and behaviour. You equip the man. You don’t man the equipment. It’s all centred on the man, his attitude, his values, his personal skills; because wars are won by his endurance, his fortitude, his courage and his wits.

Every individual infantryman is a complete stand-alone weapons system. His feet are his mobility; his eyes, nose and ears are his sensors and his surveillance and target acquisition systems. In his rucksack he has his own logistics in the form of ammunition, food and water. But at the centre, serving all these is his computer, his brain. And the defining feature of any computer is the software. Only if the right software has been programmed will he be able to use the hardware and the tools and weapons to good effect. He operates within a wider framework of course, and rarely works on his own, but ultimately individual soldiers must make individual decisions which may affect the course of battles, or even wars.” (pp. 149-50).

This is an enormously long quotation, for which I ask the reader’s indulgence, but it is also a powerful statement of the reality that underlies military training.

There are, moreover, three points that should be emphasised. The first is the idea of starting with “the naked man”. In Oman in the 1970s, this was literally true. The Sultan’s Armed Forces Training Regiment had to inculcate habits of person hygiene that were entirely new to many of the early recruits. Indeed, one order stated that “Now you are a soldier you must wash your whole body at least once a day.” In fact, most recruits regarded copious supplies of fresh, clean water as such a luxury, that they needed no encouragement.

The next step in this process, of course, was teaching recruits to wear military uniform. Western-style underwear, trousers, shirts, boots, socks, belts and berets were all entirely new to young men whose civilian wardrobe consisted of a dishdasha and a couple of wizars. It took time to accustom them to uniform, and it took even longer for them to wear it with the degree of smartness that their officers demanded.

The second point concerns the idea that “he learns to look after his ‘oppo’”. His “oppo” is his fellow recruit, another member of the same regiment, who may be from a different tribe; a different region; who may hold slightly different religious beliefs but who must now be treated as if he were a close relation. His “oppo” is, quite literally, his brother-in-arms.

The third point is that about programming the correct software, because that was where I, as an Education Officer in the Sultan’s Armed Forces, entered the equation. Gardiner is describing the process that military personnel undergo during basic training. In Oman, the Sultan’s Armed Forces offers a career. Oman does not have conscription. The Sultanate has a professional, standing Armed Forces, where personnel can either proceed through the ranks to officer status, or can have direct entry to officer training. In either case, their basic training will be just that – basic. They will undertake further training, including language training, and learn increasingly advanced skills as their careers proceed.

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