Focused Language Training For Deploying Reserve Component Soldiers

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By Lt. Col. James Dodson and Sgt. Derek Dalmolin

A Combat Multiplier

A military mission is a complex operation involving an array of different organizations, equipment and environments. It is often confusing and dangerous. The ability to communicate between service members, local nationals and other organizations is paramount to mission success; a break down in this critical communication link can cause unnecessary fatalities, and, ultimately mission failure. For Operations IRAQI FREEDOM, ENDURING FREEDOM and JOINT GUARDIAN, communications is the coin of the realm. The foreign language training First Army provides deploying service members is mission essential and will help reduce the fog of war in the counter-insurgency environment to which they will deploy.

The Commander, First Army, mandated all deploying service members receive 40 hours of targeted foreign language training. The result of his campaign is a four-phased program providing deploying service members with mission focused training on the culture and history of their country of interest, as well as a strong foundation in the target language.

The new program utilizes existing technologies, blending them together to build a sound language and cultural foundation. Before being mobilized, the service member begins the first phase of the program by enrolling in Rosetta Stone – an online, interactive, language-instruction program. The software, centrally resourced by the Army, holds over 200 hours of training for each language. Rosetta Stone teaches listening, reading and pronunciation skills. First Army, in coordination with the Department of the Army, initiated a program to allow mobilizing Air Force and Navy personnel free access through AKO to the Rosetta Stone software. This first step of language education establishes the base for further learning and saves valuable post-mobilization training time.

Once service members are mobilized, they begin phase two of their language education. Although they will still possess access to Rosetta Stone to polish their basic understanding of the language, their main focus now becomes learning to use the language in tactical situations. The Defense Language Institute (DLI) or local universities send mobile training teams to each mobilization station (MOBSTA). These instructors focus on proper pronunciation and cultural awareness using the DLI curriculum. To set the conditions for the intricacies of learning a foreign language, the brigade commanders of First Army established language training facilities (LTFs) at their respective MOBSTAs. These LTFs are located on or near the forward operating base where deploying units receive the bulk of their post mobilization training. Additionally, the LTFs are outfitted with computers and sound cancelling headphones. The LTFs are housed in a hardened structure, allowing service members to better focus on their training.

In the third phase of language education, the Army implemented one of the most interesting and technologically advanced language software programs. Based on an in-depth video game, the Tactical Iraqi Language Trainer (TILT) and the Tactical Afghan Language Trainer (TALT) put the service member in control of a character which interacts with its environment through speech and action. The TILT and TALT programs both employ speech recognition software to ensure the service member’s pronunciation is correct. In order to progress through the missions, the service member must not only have a good grasp on the language, but must also control the character in a certain manner to show an understanding of the culture. Simple actions such as taking off sunglasses while speaking with a native character can make or break the conversation and prevent the service member from further engaging the simulator. With a more technologically savvy military force, incorporating language training through a virtual scenario makes sense, is relatively inexpensive and highly effective in enforcing the language lessons learned.

Language training for deploying service members does not end after formal language instruction. The fourth phase of language instruction focuses on language retention. The dictum ‘train as you fight’ is firmly entrenched in the First Army Language Training Program. On the training lanes at the forward operating bases, First Army employs foreign language speakers portraying local nationals, translators and insurgents to reinforce the service member’s newfound language skills. Not only is this a terrific way to verify that deploying service members can fully use what they have learned in the classroom, it also adds a dimension of stress and realism not found in the LTFs. Also, each deploying service member is provided with a packet which includes a DLI-produced foreign-language instruction CD and smart card to further aid their language retention throughout their deployment.

The four phased First Army Language Training Program is a response to the needs of soldiers in combat. Components of the plan were initially a reaction to those needs. The reactions evolved and were systematized G2, First Army Division East. He set the standard for the entire First Army program.

The intent of the First Army Language Training Program is not to make deploying service members 100 percent fluent in the target language, but to make them familiar enough with the language and culture of local nationals to enhance mission success. The benefits of this training are well worth the extra time and effort invested during both pre- and post-mobilization training. This additional training will result in improved relations, better intelligence gathering and a reduction of combat stress.

Authors: Lt. Col. James Dodson, First Army Division East Military Intelligence Officer and Sgt. Derek Dalmolin, Intelligence NCOIC

Lt. Col. Dodson is a Defense Language Institute graduate and is currently the Deputy Chief of Staff, G2 (Military Intelligence), for First Army Division East. As the Division G2 he oversees and supports intelligence training, to include language training, of soldiers mobilizing in support of Operations IRAQI FREEDOM, ENDURING FREEDOM, and JOINT GUARD.

Sgt. Derek I. Dalmolin is currently the G2 Non-Commissioned Officer-in-Charge (NCOIC) of the First Army Division East and is also the Division’s language training support coordinator. Sgt. Dalmolin spearheaded the Tactical Language Training Program now emulated throughout First Army.

By Lt. Col. James Dodson and Sgt. Derek Dalmolin

Military Friends of NewsBlaze originated these stories, sending them directly to us from Iraq, some from Afghanistan and some in the USA.