by Kyle Newton ’20
Many juniors at Providence College expand their horizons by studying abroad. Unfortunately, with the time commitment of ROTC, many cadets are unable to have this experience. However, the United States Army does offer cadets the opportunity to go to countries all over the world through the Cultural Understanding & Leadership Program (CULP). CULP is offered to sophomore and junior cadets from across the United States, making the selection for CULP very competitive, as only a few hundred are selected out of thousands that apply every year. This year, cadets were sent to countries in every region of the world, except countries in the Middle East, though missions to that region are being established in the near future. Some of the locations included countries such as Togo, Peru, Estonia, and Nepal. I was fortunate enough to be assigned for a month-long mission to Vietnam.
My time in Vietnam was more fulfilling than anything I could have imagined. Not only did my company, which consisted of myself and 32 other cadets from across the country, engage in military to military activities, but we also performed many humanitarian acts. The importance of establishing different military bonds is essential for a strong relationship between two countries and in this case, due to the United States and Vietnam’s past conflicts, the diplomatic and military relationships are very delicate.
However, there was little to no animosity towards Americans. This came as much of a surprise to the cadets. The Vietnamese people explained that throughout their 4,000-year history, conflicts between Vietnam and China raged for approximately 1,000 years.
During the Age of Imperialism, Vietnam and the French government were in constant conflict for 50 years. Thus, the Vietnamese people explained that their animosity is towards the Chinese and the French, not the Americans, as the 15 years of conflict between our two countries was a time of foolish decisions on both sides. Our military to military engagements were beneficial for both nations, as bonds were strengthened, showing that our countries can put aside our political differences and form a lasting and beneficial relationship. Yet, the aspect of the mission that resonated with me the most was our humanitarian work throughout Vietnam.
The humanitarian work which I found the most fulfilling was the number of times our CULP mission visited the orphanages throughout Vietnam. In the capital of Hanoi, we visited the SOS Village of Hanoi. This is an establishment not only for orphans, but also for children who come from broken homes.
As gifts, we gave out school supplies to children ranging from elementary age to high school age. For most of these children, the school supplies we gave them were the first supplies they could call their own.
After this, the cadets spent the next few hours playing with the children. Activities ranged from face painting to attempting to make balloon animals, as many were unsuccessful, to playing sports. The joy on the children’s faces showed every cadet there that even when someone faces great adversity, happiness can still be found.
Later in our mission, we traveled to the city of Da Nang, on the coast of Vietnam. There we visited another SOS Village. The CULP cadets were able to provide food and milk to the children, as it is difficult for the SOS Villages to adequately feed everyone. Visiting the SOS Villages was a humbling experience, as it showed how fortunate many of us are growing up and living in a country as strong and prosperous as the United States, and that the work we did at those orphanages hopefully could lead to better lives for these children.
While studying abroad is a once in a lifetime opportunity for many Providence College juniors, it was not one that I was afforded due to the time commitment of ROTC. However, the Army’s Cultural Understanding & Leadership Program provided myself, and Providence College student Marc Davis ’19, the opportunity to travel to Vietnam, experience their culture, and strengthen ties between two countries whose past conflicts seemed to have jeopardized future relations. CULP has opened my eyes to different countries and cultures, and I am beyond grateful for the opportunity to represent the United States Army, as well as Providence College in Vietnam. I am excited to see how the relationship between our two countries will unfold in the future.