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Carolina Asia Center trains Fort Liberty soldiers

January 8, 2024
Carolina Asia Center

UNC faculty provide meaningful expertise to soldiers in Asian language, culture, history

The Carolina Asia Center (CAC) is sharing UNC’s expertise on East, Southeast and South Asia with students on campus in Chapel Hill and with the U.S. military. As one of six area studies centers at Carolina recognized as a National Resource Center by the U.S. Department of Education, the CAC is tasked with outreach that makes deep knowledge on Asia accessible for various audiences beyond campus. One aspect of this work has been providing training and education opportunities for soldiers from Fort Liberty, one of the world’s largest military bases, located in eastern North Carolina, to better understand Asia as they protect and promote America’s national security. 

The CAC’s relationships with Fort Liberty (formerly known as Fort Bragg) go back for several years, including training opportunities offered in 2022 to civil affairs units engaging with Asia. In 2023, this work has increased and broadened, to include training for language students at Fort Liberty, lectures on the base in Cumberland County and more visits from soldiers to the UNC-Chapel Hill campus. Additionally, the CAC is underwriting classes that are helping military staff enrolled as students at UNC to prepare for their work in national security after graduation. 

The Carolina Asia Center is UNC’s flagship Asia institute and the only pan-Asia National Resource Center in the southeastern U.S. Its work encompasses support for curricular and co-curricular study of East, Southeast and South Asia, to positively transform our understanding of and relationship with Asia and to equip students and others with the knowledge of Asia to assume leadership roles. In this way, the CAC furthers UNC’s institutional strategy for Asia, the only world region named in the university’s strategic plan “Carolina Next: Innovations for Public Good.” CAC’s faculty director Ji-Yeon Jo said, “As a pan-university unit dedicated to advancing the study of Asia, the CAC collaborates with faculty and students from various schools and departments across the campus to promote our mission and the university’s strategic goals. This collaboration has propelled us to become a prominent Asian studies hub in the southeastern U.S. through our diverse range of academic and cultural programs, extensive outreach initiatives and robust support for faculty and students, both on campus and in the broader community. We are honored to offer our services to U.S. military personnel to further enrich their understanding of Asia.” 

One way that the CAC has expanded its engagement with Fort Liberty in 2023 is working with soldiers who are from the U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School, are special operations forces and are learning the Indonesian language. In June 2023, several of these soldiers and their language instructors came to Chapel Hill as part of their cultural studies, to play on the gamelan and angklung instruments held by the Department of Music’s Gamelan Nyai Saraswati. The gamelan, a percussive orchestra from Java with unique tuning systems, provides a way for these Indonesian language learners to build cross-cultural competency and better engage with counterparts from Indonesia, a major US ally in the Indo-Pacific region. As part of this visit, the CAC also arranged an opportunity for the soldiers to practice speaking the language with Indonesian graduate students enrolled at UNC and to hear a lecture from one of Carolina’s experts about religion in the country. 

In July 2023, the Carolina Asia Center made a return visit to Fort Liberty by sending down associate director Kevin Fogg. Fogg lectured on Indonesian regionalism to soldiers enrolled in the language program and lectured on Chinese policy towards Muslims for a civil affairs unit training on Asia. The invitations to provide these lectures show not only how UNC’s high-quality work in Asian Studies is respected by the national security community, but also how the Carolina Asia Center is fulfilling its mission as a National Resource Center by making its expertise available to broad and diverse audiences, including the military. 

In November 2023, the CAC is again facilitating cultural engagement from civil affairs units at Fort Liberty with Asian diaspora communities in North Carolina. This year, a team of soldiers will meet with local members of the Nepalese community to learn about culture and social mores in advance of working on humanitarian issues in the region. 

The Carolina Asia Center is also proud to provide critical education on Asia for military students enrolled at UNC. The campus has very active ROTC programs for the Army, Navy and Air Force, and has a gold ranking (the highest tier) from the Military Friendly Schools survey in 2023. This means it is a good environment for students like John T. Davenport IV, who came to Carolina after serving several years as an enlisted soldier. His degree will allow him to be commissioned as an officer in the U.S. Army. 

Mr. Davenport is currently enrolled in “Modern East Asia,” a course fully funded by the CAC. The course covers the history of China, Korea and Japan since 1895. In his own words, “Coming into UNC with a prior service active-duty infantry background, studying Modern East Asia allows me to better understand the ever-changing global climate and great power struggle from an academic lens rather than with just a standard military lens. As I look to successfully gain a commission in the U.S. Army, the importance of Asian history cannot be understated, and it will arm me with the tools to operate as an effective and informed leader capable of understanding and analyzing the complex space in which our country currently leads.” Now in its third year of being funded by the CAC, the course has enrolled more than 10 ROTC or military-affiliated students. 

This range of engagement with the U.S. military is emblematic of the way in which UNC’s six area studies centers contribute strongly to the national interest in their work promoting greater understanding of the world beyond the U.S. From educating future leaders on UNC’s campus to training K-12 educators across North Carolina and throughout the Southeastern U.S., Carolina is working on multiple fronts to carry its expertise on global affairs beyond the low stone walls that border the Chapel Hill campus. The centers also actively promote to UNC students careers that serve national needs, keeping UNC-Chapel Hill at the forefront among the state’s universities in serving our country. The commitment of the area studies centers is matched by other units on campus, including notably the Diplomacy Initiative run by UNC Global Affairs. 

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