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Qatar Emiri Air Force hosts a family cultural exchange for coalition partners

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  • By Staff Sgt. Patrick Evenson
  • 379th Air Expeditionary Wing
Children laughed from all directions of the grass-carpeted stadium on the side of Al Udeid Air Base occupied by the Qatari Emiri Air Force. Grunts from camels and neighs from horses add to the ensemble of traditional Arabian music and greetings between new acquaintances.

The QEAF hosted the first Family Cultural Exchange for Soldiers, Airmen, coalition partners and command sponsored families at AUAB, Qatar, Dec. 1, 2017.

Although there have been events in the past to bring military members of both partner nations together, this is the first cultural event that focuses on the families of service members.

Col. Stephon Tonko, director of the Host Nation Coordination Cell, expressed the importance that relationship building activities have, beyond just the day-to-day occupational work that is usually limited to just military members.

“We work together every day alongside of each other,” Tonko said. “In this case [families] can be here watching and experiencing right along with the military members.”

Upon entering the towering stadium into the midafternoon sun, guests were greeted by a vibrant festival scene of tents, animals, cultural demonstrations and regional eats.

In one corner of the field, families and uniformed members rode and took photos with camels and horses. On the other side, children jumped and shouted with enjoyment on inflatable obstacle courses.

Festival-goers perused decorative jewelry and books about the Middle Eastern culture, while small cups of chai tea were offered and kept full by wandering attendants.

Situated near the back, next to a Qatari shipping exhibit, were baskets of freshly harvested oysters where guests could try their luck at opening them in hopes of discovering a pearl.

There was also a tent where henna tattoos, an ancient Middle Eastern form of body adornment dating back 5,000 years, were given as a temporary reminder of this new cultural experience.

“I am really impressed about how our Qatari partners have thought hard and creatively about how to represent their culture,” Tonko said, as he looked across the soccer field to where a traditional Arabian sword dance was being performed. “This is a fantastic display of different pieces of what and who they are.”

Although U.S. military members are deployed to Al Udeid for months at a time, they don’t always get much interaction with the local culture.

This event gave service members face-to-face interaction with the culture of their host nation, that may not have otherwise been had.

Senior Airman Abbie Kerns, assigned to the 379th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron, understands what a unique opportunity this is for service members and their families.

“I love the fact that I got such an opportunity to experience and learn about a new culture in the first place, because I know not everyone gets such a cool opportunity,” Kerns says. “Speaking with Qataris personally, helped me understand their point of view on life and the things they value most.”

As the afternoon events transpired, both General Fahed Al-Eraik, QEAF commander of AUAB, and U.S. Brig. Gen. Jason Armagost, commander of the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing, mingled with service members and each other’s families.

“It goes beyond just the military aspects of why we are here. It’s the partnership of cultures,” Armagost explained. “We have a shared goal of not just highlighting what we do as militaries together, but also highlighting how we live together and the cultures we get to share.”