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Case Studies in Operational Culture

Paula Holmes-Eber, Major Marcus J. Mainz

As the United States and its allies draw down from major combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, we have a unique opportunity to reflect upon the lessons we have learned in fighting wars that cannot be won through “conventional” means. In the past, U.S. political and military leaders have dismissed such conflicts as “irregular” and atypical, quickly returning to business as usual in their rush to forget wars that do not result in immediate and obvious success in the eyes of the public. Yet, unless we carefully record how our forces have adapted and learned from these conflicts, future generations will repeat the mistakes of their predecessors.

Paula Holmes-Eber is professor of operational culture at Marine Corps University and the Center for Advanced Operational Culture Learning (CAOCL). Her teaching and writing specialty is the application of culture to military operations. She holds a doctorate in anthropology from Northwestern University and is the author of two other books: Operational Culture for the Warfighter (with Barak A. Salmoni), and Daughters of Tunis: Women, Family and Networks in a Muslim City.

Major Marcus J. Mainz is an infantry officer who has commanded at the platoon and company level, including serving as a platoon commander for Company G, 2d Battalion 7th Marine Regiment; Combined Anti-Armor Platoon commander for Weapons Company 2/7; and company commander for 3d Battalion, 7th Marines. His operational deployments include tours in ar-Ramadi, Iraq, for Operation Iraqi Freedom 6-08 and AO West in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom 8.2 under Regimental Combat Team 5 and 8. From July 2009 to July 2012, Major Mainz was the primary instructor at the Expeditionary Warfare School for the Marine Corps Planning Process and Critical Thinking and was instrumental in developing the concept of the Green Cell to account for cultural factors in planning. Major Mainz graduated from the School of Advanced Warfighting in 2013 and is currently assigned as a planner for II MEF G-3 FOPS, Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.


Part I: 
Challenges across Service Cultures
Understanding the Environment and Social Structures: Keys to Accessing Indigenous Australian Communities for the Army by Major Nicholas Rose, Australian Army
The Challenge of Surviving within the Special Operations Culture by Lieutenant Colonel David K. Aragon, USAF

Part II: Cross-Cultural Challenges when Working with the Local Civilian Population
Operational Culture Challenge: The Fallujah Peninsula, Iraq
Operational Culture Onboard the al-Basrah Oil Terminal
Operational Culture Impacts in Rutbah, Iraq
Solving the Terrain Denial Dilemma in al-Anbar Province
The Successful Application of Operational Culture Dimensions in an-Najaf, Iraq

Key Leader Engagement
By, With, and Through: Working with a Neighborhood Council
The Cultural Grounds of the Delaram Gravel Conflict
An Angry Crowd: Operational Culture in Musa Qala, Afghanistan
Dynamic Dimensions of Dar-I-Bum

Gender Issues
The Dilemma of Female Detainees
Gender as an Operational Challenge and Opportunity in Military Operations
At the Checkpoint

Culture and Evaluation of Methods of Assessment by Major Corey J. Frederickson, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry

Part III: Cultural Challenges in the Joint Operating Environment

Security Cooperation and Advisor Training

Mirror Imaging the Afghan Local Police: Environmental Considerations for Developing Indigenous Police Forces
Working with the Iraqi Police in ar-Ramadi, Iraq
Redesigning an Afghan District’s Security Plan
Permission to Coordinate: There Must Be Homage to Authority in Ecuador 2009–10

Joint Operations
Coordination in a Multinational Flight Training Exercise
Coalition Compromise in a No-fly Zone over Libya
Regional Air and Missile Defense in the Western Pacific: Overcoming Cross-Cultural Differences

6 x 9
104 pages
PDF download

Marine Corps University