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    Rachael Davies

    Rachael Davies, Cultural Specialist for Afghanistan

    When were you at Polam?



    What did you study at Polam?

    I was a pupil from aged 11 until I took my GCSEs. My options were PE, Art and Drama


    What do you do now?

    Today I am a Captain in the British Army working as a Cultural Specialist at the Defence Cultural Specialist Unit, advising specifically on Afghanistan.


    DCSU is a pioneering organisation set up in 2010 to address the knowledge gap in cultural understanding of Afghans during the ISAF led counter-insurgency operation.  I spent 18 months learning Pashto as part of my training for the role so that I could interact with Afghans without the need for an interpreter, as this can be a real hindrance in anthropological-based research.


    My Army career has been interesting and varied and involved a lot of international travel. I joined the Army at age 17 and have served on a part time and full time basis ever since, doing 3 tours of Afghanistan and serving the last 8 years as an Officer after graduating from the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst in 2006.


    I am a Royal Engineer officer by trade but have spent most of my career working in the ‘softer’ side of the Army, where my roles have primarily involved working in stabilisation and development in Afghanistan, focusing on local Afghans and the improvement of their community.


    Despite a fulfilling and challenging career in the Army I’m planning on leaving soon to enjoy a more stable family life in Darlington where I bought a house 2 years ago. I am about to embark on a career in teaching where I hope to use my experiences and leadership skills in the classroom. Right now I’m gaining teaching experience, applying for courses and setting the conditions for this rather momentous career change.


    Where are you based?

    Defence Cultural Specialist Unit located at RAF Henlow, Bedforshire


    What does your job involve?

    My job is split between working in the UK and Afghanistan. When I am not in Afghanistanmy primary role has been to teach Pashto on a weekly basis to soldiers who are about to deploy, including briefs about Afghan culture, history, religion, politics, and gender.  I have presented at national and international events to promote and explain the use of cultural specialists in modern combat, and to improve the level of cultural understanding amongst serving members of the Armed Forces.  Whilst in the UK I am further developing my knowledge of Afghan culture and keep up to date on current affairs and news.


    Whilst deployed in a combat role in Afghanistan, I work as an intermediary and advisor between British commanders and the local Afghan community.  On my last two tours I assessed local perceptions of security by conducting interviews in Pashto and holding forums with families, tribal elders and local municipal leaders. My in-depth local knowledge that I had built up over several months through community engagement, enabled me to help apply pressure to their local government representatives so that their voices could be heard, when in the past they had been ignored.  I often found myself chairing discussions between village elders and my own commanders over disputes relating to the illegal growing of poppy, and tensions between the local population, the insurgents and the Afghan Army and Police. Their problems were complex and often highly emotive.  Added to that the constant security threat, the austere living conditions and physically demanding patrols made for an all round challenging role.


    On the bases in which I worked during my time in Afghanistan, I tackled the problem of growing tension between Afghan employees and British troops during a difficult period when our numbers were rapidly reducing.  In order to improve relations following a high profile insider attack, I conducted cultural awareness training for British soldiers and taught them basic Pashto.  I also taught English to Afghan interpreters and briefed on British culture.  The result was a far greater understanding on both sides which encouraged mutual respect and better support.   I was also tasked with handling any culturally sensitive disagreements between ISAF soldiers and Afghan Security Forces or amongst the Afghan interpreters.  Here my skills in mediation, communication and influence were put to the test.


    Please see the BBC Festival of Remembrance 2013 programme for further details.  Clip available atwww.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p01lzcsd


    How would you say Polam helped you get to where you are today?

    First and foremost Polam gave me the confidence to be whatever I wanted to be.  I have never felt that being a woman would hold me back and my education at Polam reinforced a drive to succeed and always strive for excellence, even in a male-dominated environment.  The transition from school uniform to Army uniform was most definitely an easy one (not least for the colour choice) and I found the value placed by Polam on discipline, honesty, kindness and respect, gave me a great basis for an Army career where much of the school’s ethos is reflected in the British Army’s ‘Values and Standards’.  Polam is also responsible for my passion for the Arts and sport which I am still actively involved in today.


    What’s your greatest memory of the school?

    Almost all of my memories of school are of raucous laughter.  I enjoyed school more than most and have a great group of friends and supportive teachers to thank.  The learning environment was warm and inclusive and allowed individual expression and creativity.  I particularly remember the sometimes disastrous house plays and all the fun we had taking part in them.  Inter- House sports matches also rate highly on my fond memories list and the various talent shows I entered (Charlotte Nichols doing Shakira is one such contest that still makes me smile!).


    Who was your favourite teacher and why?

    Mrs Pollard (English lang and lit) because she had a great sense of humour despite her attempts at a serious demeanour. She was very patient with me when I took up time in her lessons to tell stories and she was very capable in getting us back on track after my deliberate tangent. She treated her pupils with respect and as the young adults we were fast becoming. Mrs Walker (Eng and Drama) was also a favourite teacher of mine for the same reasons.  I tended to be drawn to teachers who laughed at my jokes.