West Point cadets visit NJ city to witness the cultural diversity they will encounter overseas

JERSEY CITY, N.J. — The men and women in crisp U.S. military uniforms walked in close formation through the bustling, traffic-choked streets, passing women in full Muslim hijab, sari-clad Indian mothers pushing strollers, worshippers heading to an Egyptian Coptic church, and small shops with signs in Arabic, Hindi, Korean and a dozen other languages.

It wasn’t a tour of duty overseas, but a field trip to Jersey City, just 60 miles down the Hudson River from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y.

The city of 250,000 is one of the most ethnically and religiously diverse places in America, and the West Point cadets are visiting as part of a class at the academy on peacekeeping and reconstruction called “Winning the Peace.” The class ends in a three-day crash course designed to make the future officers — and, ultimately, the soldiers under their command — more sensitive to cultural differences.

The program is in its eighth year but has taken on new urgency as the Army deals with the fallout from a string of embarrassing episodes in Afghanistan, including reports of U.S. soldiers posing with the bloody remains of suicide bombers, urinating on Afghan corpses and burning Muslim holy books.