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US Air Force Academy Builds Relations with Algeria
A trip to the People&#39;s Democratic Republic of Algeria by an Academy captain and four cadets combined military and cultural elements and may have set a precedent. <br /> <br />&#34;The Academy hosted a group of four Algerian cadets last year
A trip to the People's Democratic Republic of Algeria by an Academy captain and four cadets combined military and cultural elements and may have set a precedent.

"The Academy hosted a group of four Algerian cadets last year and Spring Break was probably the first opportunity to send a U.S. delegation to their institution to develop this into a two-way exchange," said Academy French instructor Capt. Steven Bury.

Cadets had to have at least a 2.00 Grade Point Average with no probations. They completed an application and an essay specifying why they wanted to represent the Academy in that area of the world. Arabic language ability was desired but not required.

Each member required an entry visa from the Algerian consulate in Washington D.C., in order to enter Algeria.

The first portion of the trip involved a very formal meet and greet and dinner with the staff of l'Ecole Superieure de l'Air De Tafaraoui. This formal tea ceremony included the school commandant and his entire staff as well as a visit by the inspector general equivalent, Gen. Ali Mirabet.

Tourism is still somewhat rare in Algeria and it was the first known visit by Academy officials. After enduring centuries of conquerers, military rulers and controlling empires, including the Ottoman Empire, Turks and Napoleon III, Algeria finally broke free, and gained its long-sought independence from France in 1962.

It is the second largest country in Africa. Its main population centers are located along the Mediterranean Sea coastline. The huge landmass is dominated by the Atlas Mountains of the north and the vast barren reaches of the Sahara Desert, central and south. The country is more than 80 percent desert, including three gigantic sand seas.
The visit required extensive coordination with points of contact within the U.S. Embassy in Algiers.

The first few days featured extensive visits to the academic, technical, flight training areas and ES Air heritage museum.

March 26 through March 28 was spent experiencing the culture.

"We visited the fortress of Santa Cruz, went shopping in the city of Oran, visited the national Zabana museum, the Bey's Palace, the beach on the Mediterranean coast and the historic city of Tlemcen," said Captain Bury, a 10-year Air Force veteran from Plainwell, Mich.

"We learned a great deal about their culture, especially regarding Islam, said Cadet Squadron 1's Cadet 2nd Class Philip Veltre from Massapequa, N.Y. "Their pilot training system is very similar to ours. We really aren't that different from Algerians, especially on the military side of things."

It occurred to him that the best way to build relationships was by asking many questions and being open to learning and experiencing their culture.

"We showed respect for their way of life and doing thing," said Cadet Veltre. "One thing that helped us was that every night after dinner we would all sit down and 'hang out' and ask more questions and get to know each other even better."

Cadet 1st Class Keith Rizza said he learned a great deal about the Algerian Air Force and their Academy.

"Their academy is much more focused on graduating pilots than on the variety of career fields available after graduation from our Academy," said the Cadet Squadron 37 cadet. "It was interesting to see how similar their academy was to ours in some respects, such as academics, even though they had far less resources to work with."

He found Algerian cadet escorts great and believes lasting friendships were built over the few short days despite language and cultural barriers.

"We look forward to hosting the four cadets coming to our Academy for international week from April 13 to 19," Cadet Rizza said. "Our trip accomplished a great deal in improving Algerian-U.S. relations and specifically between our two academies. It would be great to visit Algeria again in the future as an air attache or exchange pilot."

It seems that international Airmen have a lot in common.

"I was struck by the fact that their esprit de corps and way of conducting business was similar in many ways to how we do things in the U.S. Air Force," Captain Bury said. "This was particularly true of their pre-flight air operations briefings. The cadets mentioned to me how similar this was to pre-flights they had been to back in the U.S."

The Algerian institution has a six-year program for cadets to become pilots and engineers. Graduates normally serve a full career of 25 years in the Algerian Air Force once they are commissioned. They also have a Reserve Officer training program for men coming from the Algerian Universities who will normally serve their mandatory 18 months of military service required under Algerian law.

"Very few of the reserve officers will serve beyond their 18 month service obligation," Captain Bury said.

The Academy group went shopping in Oran.

"Our food was taken care of by our hosts in a private dining room with the exception of one meal that we ate with the Algerian Cadets," said Captain Bury. "They eat a lot of lamb, turkey, cous cous, soup, deserts such as flan, crerme caramel and fruit. All meals were four or five courses and it's extremely common to have mint tea four to six times a day and after meals."

He was struck by the remarkable textures of the country that defies how some may imagine Algeria to be.

"The first thing you think of is the Sahara when you think of Algeria," said Captain Bury. "In fact, it's very lush and green with date, olive and apple trees, and grapes for wine. It also has a beautiful Mediterranean coast that we were fortunate enough to see even though most beaches are not open to the public this time of year."

The escort officer was particularly struck by the bonds of friendship Academy cadets forged with their Algerian counterparts. Everyone became very close friends in a short time and were sharing their experiences openly. The cadets from both the Academy and ES Air were sad to see the visit end.

"I was overwhelmed by the openness and the hand of friendship that was extended to us by everyone we came in contact with," said the French instructor. "They treated us incredibly well and shared their experiences with us in a way that we left Algeria having become friends and hopefully having established a tradition of exchange that will continue.

"This trip gave the cadets the unique experience of seeing another culture and military force through the eyes of an extremely accommodating and friendly host," said Captain Bury. "Every day we learned something new about the Algerian military, people and culture. It reinforced how important relationship building between countries is for future leaders and the importance of understanding foreign culture and language."