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Furman cadets work with U.S. Army in Rwanda

Adam Johnson

Summer mornings began at 4:45 a.m. for Furman ROTC Cadet Adam Johnson ’17. Stationed at Gabiro, a military training facility outside Kigali, Rwanda, Johnson exercised to the tune of Swahili chants sung by Rwandan soldiers. Breakfast was simple, often a hard-boiled egg and toast.

Johnson, part of the first group of Army ROTC cadets to visit the country in five years, spent much of the day assisting soldiers, including his Rwandan roommate, in developing their English language skills.

It was an opportunity Johnson said he “couldn’t pass up.”

Johnson and fellow cadet Kyle Simmons ’17 traveled to Africa this summer as part of the U.S. Army’s Cultural Understanding and Language Proficiency program (CULP).  The competitive program, designed to promote cultural awareness, provides assignments in 40 different countries for an elite group of cadets at no cost. The Military History Department also sent Cadets to Malawi, Cambodia, and the Republic of Georgia over the summer.

“The Army’s programs prepare young men and women to become better cadets and leaders of character,” said LTC Gregory Scrivens, professor of military science at Furman.

Johnson and Simmons both applied to participate in an African program, but had no idea where they might be sent on the continent.

Simmons, a business administration major from Baltimore, was one of eight cadets assigned to Tanzania, where he spent a week in Dar es Salaam before traveling to the islands of Zanzibar.

His work in Tanzania primarily focused on school visits, educating teachers and students of all ages about English literacy resources available to them through the U.S. Embassy’s American Corner program.  He was also able to explore the island’s beaches, forests, and spice plantations.

Simmons said he reminded himself of the importance of “becoming comfortable being uncomfortable.” In some cases, it meant getting used to new foods, such as barracuda purchased from street vendors (which he described as excellent).  He also learned to handle other challenges, such as the language barrier, new customs, and tough questions about his homeland from people he met along the way.

“The only thing many people knew about America was what they saw on CNN,” said Simmons. “It opened my eyes to a whole other way of looking at things.”

After completing his stint in Tanzania, Simmons returned to Fort Knox, Kentucky, where he completed Cadet Initial Entry Training and received the First Command Financial Serves Award, recognizing his outstanding performance in his platoon.

For Johnson, a triple major in Spanish, political science and art history, his Rwanda trip provided some lessons in humble service, including his first experience with herding cattle.

“We had to follow them and guide them with a stick,” said Johnson, a native of St. Louis, Missouri. “They were very calm and fortunately, they didn’t stampede.”

Trips to see silver-backed gorillas and drives to the Tanzanian and Ugandan borders were all on the agenda.  “We saw every single corner of that country,” he said.

One of the most haunting moments for Johnson came when they toured churches outside Kigali.  There were coffins containing human remains and skulls scarred with bullet holes and machete wounds from the 1994 genocide.  “It was unsettling, to say the least,” he said.

Johnson described his daily English sessions with Rwandan military officers as an “extremely valuable exchange.”  Most of the Soldiers were first and second lieutenants, ranging in age from 22 to 35.

“We advise them, they advise us.  A group of college students aren’t threatening,” he said.  “This is what will strengthen the bonds with the Rwandan army.”

Johnson is now spending a semester abroad in Spain as part of Furman’s Study Away program.

“I will have seen half the world by the time I graduate from Furman,” he said.  “I’ve received so many opportunities while I’ve been here.”

The CULP request window is now open for the summer 2016 program. LTC Scrivens said he hopes “we will get many more slots throughout the world, and these positions will provide our Cadets and students a wealth of cultural knowledge that they will be able to use throughout their career and future.”

Learn more about Military Science at Furman.

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