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Different Languages, Cultures Highlighted at Pentagon Event

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 22, 2005 – Learning about different languages and cultures is good for America and national security, a senior Defense Department official said here today.

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David S.C. Chu, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness (seated in the foreground) applauds as Great Falls Elementary School third graders from Great Falls, Va., put on a program spoken in Japanese at the Pentagon Nov. 22. The children are enrolled in a Japanese language immersion class. Photo by Gerry J. Gilmore

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David S.C. Chu, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, was the key speaker at the "A Lifetime of Language Learning" program held today at the Pentagon. The event highlighted the importance of learning about different languages and cultures, and was sponsored by the Defense Language Office.

Chu said the Defense Department has a long history of leading the nation in important social and economic initiatives. For example, he cited the department's involvement with the establishment of the Internet. Chu said the military also was instrumental in the creation of the General Education Development program, which enables non-high school graduates to obtain a high-school education equivalency certificate, as well as other programs.

"It is therefore appropriate that this department also be an advocate in support of efforts for the study of culture and language in our nation," Chu said.

Americans' interest in learning new languages and developing knowledge of other cultures affects not only national security, Chu said, but also America's economic, social and political standing in the world.

"This event today is just a reminder that through a lifetime of learning we can build a capability that will strengthen our nation to meet the challenges of today and the challenges of tomorrow," Chu said.

Chu then welcomed a group of third graders and teachers from the Great Falls Elementary School, Great Falls, Va. The students, members of a Japanese immersion language class at their school, danced and performed several songs in Japanese.

Afterward, Army National Guard Sgt. Mohamed Samir, who uses a pseudonym to conceal his identity, said a few words to event attendees. Samir is a military translator aide who recently served in Iraq. He is an American citizen who was born in Casablanca, Morocco. He speaks Moroccan, two types of Arabic, French, Spanish and English.

Samir said translator aides can serve as cultural liaisons between U.S. combat commanders and local officials in places like Afghanistan and Iraq.

"Best thing that ever happened to me," Samir said about his translator aide job. "I get to do what I've always dreamt to do -- to use my expertise of languages."

Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks on the United States, the Army has increased the numbers of soldiers who speak Arabic, as well as Pakistani and Afghani dialects, said National Guard Bureau spokesman Army Sgt. Maj. Michael Collins, who accompanied Samir. Collins said soldiers accepted into the translator aide specialty program undergo language training at Fort Jackson, S.C.

The Pentagon language event also featured information booths manned by defense organizations and vendors.

Midshipman Diana Castellanos, 21, manned the U.S. Naval Academy language studies department information booth. Castellanos said she already spoke Spanish before she entered the academy, where she is refining her capabilities in that language. The academy offers courses in Arabic, French, German, Japanese, Mandarin Chinese, Russian and Spanish.

She said she'd like to become a Marine upon graduation and perhaps use her language skills for a career in military intelligence.

"They might send me to Latin America to help with the war against drugs," Castellanos said.

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David S.C. Chu

Click photo for screen-resolution imageMidshipman Diana Castellanos, 21, manned the Naval Academy's language studies department information booth as part of the Defense Language Office's "A Lifetime of Language Learning" program at the Pentagon Nov. 22. Castellanos, in the Class of 2007, said she already spoke Spanish before she entered the academy, where she is refining her capabilities in that language. Photo by Gerry J. Gilmore  
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