Military Cross-Cultural Competence

Guest PostsMilitary Cross-Cultural Competence. Guest post by Lauren Mackenzie

Context & Definition

Although the importance of cultural awareness has been widely acknowledged by the U.S. military for decades, questions of how culture should be taught and who should teach it have received renewed attention since 9/11. The wide range of missions across the U.S. military, the hierarchical rank structure, and the variety of military occupation specialties require a broad, multi-dimensional approach to culture training and education. Several service culture centers have emerged to meet the needs of this diverse population in the last decade, to include: the U.S. Army’s Culture Center (Sierra Vista, AZ), the Navy’s Center for Language, Regional Expertise & Culture (Pensacola, FL), the Air Force Culture & Language Center (Montgomery, AL) and the Marine Corps Center for Advanced Operational Culture Learning (Quantico, VA). The culture centers house a mix of military and civilian faculty from the fields of communication, anthropology, international relations, and psychology to teach, research and assess the implications of culture for military personnel. The Defense Language and National Security Education website lists links to them all.

The unpredictable nature and location of military operations requires a set of universal and transferrable culture concepts and skills that personnel can employ wherever they go. The different branches of service have acknowledged the need for personnel to learn “how to learn” about culture, to observe cultural difference, and how to interact appropriately and effectively no matter where they find themselves in the world. As such, cross-cultural competence (3C) emerged as a key outcome of culture training and education. A commonly used working definition of military cross-cultural competence (Selmeski, 2007) is: the ability to quickly and accurately comprehend, then act effectively and appropriately in a culturally complex environment to achieve the desired effect – without necessarily having exposure to a particular group, region or language. However, each branch approaches the definition slightly differently. Sands & Greene-Sands (2014) review each military branch’s definition as well as the research, policy, learning, and application considerations for military contexts, to include the historical development of cross-cultural competence in professional military education and training. Along with cross-cultural competence, the military uses the terms “intercultural competence”, “cultural capabilities” and “culture-general competencies” (Rasmussen & Sieck, 2015) to characterize the skills and knowledge that are applicable in any culture.

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Lauren Mackenzie Profile

ProfilesDr. Lauren Mackenzie is Professor of Military Cross-Cultural Competence at the Center for Advanced Operational Culture Learning (CAOCL), Marine Corps University, Quantico, VA.

Lauren Mackenzie

She also currently serves as the Marine Corps University faculty council president as well as an adjunct Professor of Military/Emergency Medicine at the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences. She conducts research relating to cross-cultural competence, oversees culture-related curriculum development and outcomes assessment, and delivers communication and culture lectures across the Professional Military Education spectrum, to include the Marine Corps Command & Staff College, War College, Expeditionary Warfighting School, and the College of Enlisted Military Education. Recently, she was invited to provide “Intercultural Communication” presentations at the Women, Peace & Security annual conference, the FBI Academy, the U.S. Naval War College and the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, among others. From 2009-2014, Dr. Mackenzie served as Associate Professor of Cross-Cultural Communication at the U. S. Air Force Culture and Language Center where she taught resident electives at the Air Command & Staff College and designed and delivered the “Introduction to Cross-Cultural Communication” on-line course, completed by over 1,000 Airmen annually.

Dr. Mackenzie earned her M.A. and Ph.D. in Communication from the University of Massachusetts and has taught intercultural competence courses throughout the Department of Defense over the past ten years. Prior to working for the Department of Defense, she taught a variety of intercultural and interpersonal communication courses at the University of Massachusetts, the State University of New York Potsdam, and Columbus State University, among others. Dr. Mackenzie’s most recent publications are devoted to best practices in military on-line culture learning and assessment, with recent entries in the International Encyclopedia of Intercultural Communication and the Handbook of Communication Training. She is also the co-author with Dr. Kerry Fosher of the Culture General Guidebook for Military Professionals.

Selected Publications:

Mackenzie, L. & Post, K. (2019). Relationship repair strategies for the military professional: The impact of cultural differences on expectations and applications. Marine Corps University Journal, 10(1), 128-141.

Mackenzie, L. & Tenzek, K. (2018). Cultural variation in end-of-life conversations: Using Cultural Discourse Analysis as a tool to analyze case studies designed for professional military education. In M. Scollo & T. Milburn (Eds.), Engaging and transforming global communication through Cultural Discourse Analysis (pp. 91-110). Teaneck, NJ: Farleigh Dickinson University Press.

Steen, S., Mackenzie, L. & Buechner, B. (2018). Incorporating cosmopolitan communication into diverse teaching and training contexts:  Considerations from our work with military students and veterans. In D. Becker & J.D. Wallace (Eds.), Handbook of communication training: A best practices framework for assessing and developing competence (pp. 401-413). New York: Routledge.

Mackenzie, L. & Miller, J. (2017). Military cross-cultural competence. In Y. Y. Kim & K. McKay-Semmler (Eds.), International Encyclopedia of Intercultural Communication. Wiley Blackwell.

Mackenzie, L. & Wallace, M. (2015). Intentional design: Using iterative modification to enhance online learning for professional cohorts. In T. Milburn (Ed.), Communicating user experience: Applying local strategies research to digital media design (pp. 155-182). Lanham, MD: Lexington.

Mackenzie, L. (2014). Strategic enablers: How intercultural communication skills advance micro-level international security. Journal of Culture, Language & International Security, 1(1), 85-96.

Mackenzie, L., & Wallace, M. (2014). Cross-cultural communication contributions to professional military education: A distance learning case study. In R. Greene-Sands & A. Greene-Sands (Eds.), Cross-cultural competence for a 21st century military. Lanham, MD: Lexington.

Mackenzie, L., Fogarty, P., & Khachadoorian, A. (2013). A model for military online culture education: Key findings and best practices. EDUCAUSE Review. 48(4).

Areas of Interest:
Military Cross-Cultural Competence, Communication of Respect , On-line Military Culture Education, Intercultural Situational Judgment Tests


Work for CID:
Lauren Mackenzie wrote the guest post, Military Cross-Cultural Competence.