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Defense Department Navigates Language Roadmap

By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 25, 2008 – The Defense Department has completed more than 90 percent of the tasks it set out to accomplish in a language plan launched four years ago.

Known as the Defense Language Transformation Roadmap, this broad strategy aims to address national shortfalls in foreign language skills in the United States. Current efforts are helping to equip the department and the military with improved language and cultural proficiency skills to better meet today’s diverse security demands.

“We believe the department, with help from the Congress, has transformed the way it values, develops, employs and deploys foreign language capability and regional expertise,” states a Defense Department news release.

One of the key challenges identified was the need to have more DoD personnel who are proficient or possess some language skills in the strategic languages needed today and in the future. The department responded by creating a culture of learning with greater emphasis on building and sustaining language skills. Efforts focus primarily on pre-accession education, meaning academics undertaken before becoming a military servicemember, and in-service training, according to the department release.

All three service academies, for example, now feature more robust strategic language and cultural program offerings. As a result, more cadets and midshipmen are studying languages of strategic importance to DoD. ROTC programs also reap the benefits, with students enjoying a wider array of destinations for study abroad.

The department has established centers of excellence in each military service to oversee and standardize training and impart essential and mission-targeted cultural training. It also increased the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center’s funding from a fiscal 2001 budget of $77 million to $270 million this fiscal year. DLIFLC, located in Monterey, Calif., is the department’s premiere language and cultural training center.

Meanwhile, DoD is reaching out to the nation’s heritage communities and informing them of opportunities to serve. On the civilian side of this effort, National Language Flagship Program initiatives allow students to progress from elementary school through high school with more advanced levels of language proficiency in strategic languages such as Arabic, Hindi and Urdu.

On the military side, the Army last month activated its first company of native linguists-turned-soldiers, which represent the service’s newest job: 09L, referred to as “09 Limas.” This new military occupation employs heritage speakers as interpreters and translators, representing a new phase in the service's reinvigorated approach to foreign language.

"We've found it's easier to train a linguist to be a soldier than to train a soldier to be a linguist," Army Brig. Gen. Richard C. Longo, director of training in the Army’s Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations, Plans and Training, said at a Pentagon roundtable last month.

In addition to adding key personnel in areas where language shortfalls exist, DoD is taking a closer look at its own stock. The department has taken steps to identify its current capabilities, a kind of self-assessment to determine and catalog the skills the forces already possess.

The department also has established quarterly reporting of language and cultural requirements. Currently, there are about 141,000 language requirements across the roughly 60 different languages and dialects deemed strategically important, according to the department release.

To ensure that the language transformation occurs smoothly and successfully, the department has appointed senior language authorities in each of the military services and agencies to conduct oversight, execution and planning. It also created the Defense Language Office to monitor and carry out the tenets of the Language Transformation Roadmap, and to institutionalize the department’s commitment to these critical competencies.

“The bottom line [is that] we are creating a framework that will allow us to build a globalized force with the right combination of skills, in the right numbers, that is equipped with the language and cultural proficiency skills to meet the diverse operational demands of the 21st century,” the release reads. “This is the beginning of a journey.”

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Related Sites:
Description of 09L Interpreter/Translator Military Occupational Specialty

Related Articles:
Army to Activate First Company of Native Linguists-Turned-Soldiers

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