“Please Describe a Time When you had To Convince a Person or a Group of Your Idea.”

This is Essay #2 from my MIT Sloan MBA application.  Between the two essays, the school threw me some softballs…probably the reason I got in.

  • Essay 1: Please describe a time when you had to convince a person or a group of your idea. (500 words or fewer, limited to one page) December 27, 2012

The job of a United States Army Special Forces soldier (Green Beret) is to deploy to foreign countries, earn the trust of local soldiers or militias, live amongst them, train them, and conduct combat operations with them.   Being a Green Beret did not give me instant credibility with the elite Afghan Commandos. In addition, outgoing American forces warned us that this particular unit sometimes took a lackadaisical approach to missions and training. To be successful in training and conducting combat operations with the Commandos I had to first win their respect. Gaining the trust of the Commandos was a difficult task due to cultural and language barriers.

Cultural misunderstandings are disastrous for a Green Beret. To build rapport, I spent my free time with the Commandos, learning their traditions and language. I learned that they love professional wrestling, so to help foster camaraderie, I dressed like the famous wrestler Hulk Hogan and staged mock wrestling matches. I showed the Commandos that I valued them not only as soldiers, but also as friends. Dancing is an important part of Afghan culture, so I asked the Commandos to teach me traditional Afghan dancing. They respected that I took a vested interest in their culture. The Commandos knew that I meant no disrespect when I committed a cultural faux pas because they had witnessed my sincere attempt to understand and embrace their culture.

To help break down the language barrier, I asked the Commandos to teach me Afghan-Dari, their Afghan dialect. My language lessons reversed the roles of student and teacher and showed the Commandos that I was willing to learn from them. Familiarity with their language helped during training and missions and it allowed me to spend quality time with the Commandos. Asking a Commando how their family was in their native tongue carried greater weight than if I had asked it through an interpreter.

The more I assimilated into Afghan culture and showed respect to the Commandos, the more successful our training and missions became. The Commandos began to take planning and combat operations more seriously. Their improvement was so vast that even veteran Green Berets were surprised. Training a foreign army that does not speak English or share our cultural customs can be a frustrating experience. Training the Commandos taught me patience and how to find the appropriate balance between mentor and friend.

The news is dominated by stories about Afghan soldiers killing their American counterparts; I always felt safe and confident with the Commandos.   When I was wounded in combat, I lay exposed to continuous gunfire on the battlefield. The first responders to reach me were the Commandos. They risked their lives to save mine. I earned their respect and they earned mine.

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