MCCHORD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash. & On the outside, the United Arab Emirates’ tent looks just like the 20-or-so others dotting Rainier Ranch, the off-duty area for the 2007 Air Mobility Command Rodeo competition.
But the similarities end when the front flap of the olive-green tent is opened. In a scene that could best be summarized as an Arabian bazaar meets Western bling-bling, two worlds & and strong mobility partners & effortlessly blend together inside.
Persian rugs, decorative lamps and a wall lined with Arabian cushions & there isn’t a single chair in the tent & are contrasted by the human element, most notably the younger members of the UAE Rodeo team. Chatting on cell phones, a few of them with their hats casually tilted to the side, they could fit in at any American shopping mall had they not been wearing their UAE military uniforms.
Cultural fusion &even the most casual form of it & is an integral part of Rodeo, where nations from all over the world come together to share airlift tactics and strengthen interpersonal bonds.
“Each team brings in a part of their culture to share with us. All of the international partners are vital & it all goes to relationship building,” said Bruce Balbin, AMC international relations advisor.
“We’re here for the experience & to get to know other people from different nations so we can plan for the next few (Rodeo) competitions,” said Maj. Jamal Al Awani, commander of the UAE team.
Although Major Al Awani & a C-130 H Hercules pilot for 14 years & has flown combat airlift missions side-by-side with Airmen from the U.S. Air Force in Afghanistan, he noted that many in his crew are new to a multicultural mission.
“This is a big experience for all the crew, but especially for the new members,” he said.
If history is any indication of how successfully teams from different countries have implemented lessons they’ve learned at Rodeo, than the UAE may have a lot to look forward to.
At Rodeo 2005, teams from the United States, Brazil, France and the United Kingdom worked together to teach the Pakistan team about airlift mission procedures and standards.
“Pakistan had never done a combat offload or engine running offload and they asked us how we do it and what kind of timing is needed,” said Chief Magno Ney, Brazilian team veteran.
“We learned a lot from the previous Rodeo working with the other teams, and this year we are competing in those events,” said Pakistan Wing Commander, Lt. Col. Rizvi Mazhar.
Competition is often tough at Rodeo and rivalries sometimes arise, but the true reason for the international event is to create better airlift capabilities.
“We already had airlift procedures before coming to Rodeo, but working with others, we found our weaknesses, corrected them and then implemented the changes,” Colonel Mazhar said.
Aside from presenting the opportunity to hone combat airlift skills, Rodeo is a venue where cultures come together on the human scale. At the end of each day’s competitions, Rainier Ranch becomes a giant cultural blender, where team members from all over the world come together.
However, the intermingling isn’t limited to the Ranch. Within two days of the international participants arriving, airmen from vastly different cultures were already bonding over shared passions.
“We just played the Saudis in soccer and beat them 5-0,” said Senior Airman Mike Richardson, a Reservist form the 446th Aeromedical Staging Squadron.
Airman Richardson is participating in his first Rodeo, volunteering as a “Wrangler.” The Wranglers are a team of 200 Airmen from the competition’s host units & the 62nd and 446th Airlift Wings & who are responsible for event set up and tear down.
Despite their strong showing against the Saudis, Airman Richardson is a bit worried about his team’s next informal game. “We’re trying to line something up with the Germans – they’re probably going to smoke us,” he said with a laugh.
However, whether they get “smoked” or not is irrelevant. Rodeo is a competition where everyone comes out on top, regardless of the standings at the end of the day.